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An honorary degree[1] or a degree honoris causa (Latin: "for the sake of the honor") is an academic degree for which a university (or other degree-awarding institution) has waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, residence, study and the passing of examinations. The degree is typically a doctorate or, less commonly, a master's degree and may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the academic institution.

The degree is often conferred as a way of honouring a distinguished visitor's contributions to a specific field or to society in general. It is often given to graduation speakers at a university or college. The university often derives benefits by association with the person in question. The degree is not recognized by employers as having the same stature as a corresponding 'earned' doctorate and should not be represented as such. It is sometimes recommended that such degrees be listed in one's CV as an award and not in one's education section,[2] and some institutions of higher education have policies on the use of the title "Dr" in formal correspondence.

Historical origins and rationale[]

The practice dates back to the Middle Ages, when for various reasons a university might be persuaded, or otherwise see fit, to grant exemption from some or all of the usual statutory requirements for the awarding of a degree. The earliest honorary degree on record was awarded to Lionel Woodville in the late 1470s by the University of Oxford.[3] He later became Bishop of Salisbury.

In the latter part of the 16th century, the granting of honorary degrees became quite common, especially on the occasion of royal visits to Oxford or Cambridge.[3] On the visit of James I to Oxford in 1605, for example, forty-three members of his retinue (fifteen of whom were earls or barons) received the degree of Master of Arts, and the Register of Convocation explicitly states that these were full degrees, carrying the usual privileges (such as voting rights in Convocation and Congregation).[3]

Modern practice[]

Honorary degrees are usually awarded at regular graduation ceremonies, at which the recipients are often invited to make a speech of acceptance before the assembled faculty and graduates – an event which often forms the highlight of the ceremony. Generally universities nominate several persons each year for honorary degrees; these nominees usually go through several committees before receiving approval. Those who are nominated are generally not told until a formal approval and invitation are made; often it is perceived that the system is shrouded in secrecy, and occasionally seen as political and controversial. [citation needed]

The term honorary degree is a slight misnomer: honoris causa degrees, being awarded by a university under the terms of its charter, may be considered to have technically the same standing, and to grant the same privileges and style of address as their substantive counterparts, except where explicitly stated to the contrary. In practice, however, such degrees are not considered of the same standing as substantive degrees earned by the standard academic processes of courses and original research, except perhaps where the recipient has demonstrated an appropriate level of academic scholarship that would ordinarily qualify him or her for the award of a substantive degree. Recipients of honorary degrees typically wear the same academic dress as recipients of substantive degrees, although there are a few exceptions: honorary graduands at the University of Cambridge wear the appropriate full-dress gown but not the hood, and those at the University of St Andrews wear a black cassock instead of the usual full-dress gown.

An ad eundem or jure dignitatis degree is sometimes considered honorary, although they are only conferred on an individual who has already achieved a comparable qualification at another university or by attaining an office requiring the appropriate level of scholarship. Under certain circumstances a degree may be conferred on an individual for both the nature of the office they hold and the completion of a dissertation. The "dissertation et jure dignitatis" is considered to be a full academic degree.

Although higher doctorates such as DSc, DLitt, etc., are often awarded honoris causa, in many countries (notably England and Scotland, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand) it is possible formally to earn such a degree. This typically involves the submission of a portfolio of peer-refereed research, usually undertaken over a number of years, which has made a substantial contribution to the academic field in question. The university will appoint a panel of examiners who will consider the case and prepare a report recommending whether or not the degree be awarded. Usually, the applicant must have some strong formal connection with the university in question, for example full-time academic staff, or graduates of several years' standing.

Some universities, seeking to differentiate between substantive and honorary doctorates, have a degree (often DUniv, or Doctor of the University) which is used for these purposes, with the other higher doctorates reserved for formally examined academic scholarship.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has the authority to award degrees. These "Lambeth degrees" are sometimes, erroneously, thought to be honorary; however the archbishops have for many centuries had the legal authority (originally as the representatives of the Pope, later confirmed by a 1533 Act of Henry VIII), to award degrees and regularly do so to people who have either passed an examination or are deemed to have satisfied the appropriate requirements.

Between the two extremes of honoring celebrities and formally assessing a portfolio of research, some universities use honorary degrees to recognize achievements of intellectual rigor comparable to an earned degree. Some institutes of higher education do not confer honorary degrees as a matter of policy - see below. Some learned societies award honorary fellowships in the same way as honorary degrees are awarded by universities, for similar reasons.

Practical use[]

File:Ezra Stiles George Washington Honorary Degree.jpg

Letter from Ezra Stiles to George Washington announcing the awarding of an Honorary degree to Washington by President and Fellows of Yale College, 1781

In some countries, recipients of an honorary doctorate may, if they wish, adopt the title of "Doctor".[citation needed] Many universities, however, request that an honorary graduate refrain from such practice. A typical example of university regulations is, "Honorary graduates may use the approved post-nominal letters. It is not customary, however, for recipients of an honorary doctorate to adopt the prefix 'Dr' ." [4] In some universities, it is however a matter of personal preference for an honorary doctor to use the formal title of "Doctor", regardless of the background circumstances for the award. Written communications where an honorary doctorate has been awarded may include the letters "h.c." after the award to indicate that status.

Customary degrees (Ad eundem degrees)[]

See also: List of honorary degrees

Template:Ref improve section

Some universities and colleges have the custom of awarding a master's degree to every scholar appointed as a full professor, who had never earned a degree there. At the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge many senior staff are granted the degree of Master of Arts after three years of service,[5] and at Amherst College all tenured professors are awarded a Master of Arts degree at an academic convocation in the autumn, even though the school only offers an earned Bachelor of Arts degree (Amherst awards honorary doctorates at commencement in the spring to notable scholars and other special invitees). Brown University and Harvard University also award tenured faculty, who do not have a degree from their respective schools, the AM ad eundem.

These ad eundem degrees are earned degrees, not honorary, because they recognize formal learning.

Similarly a jure dignitatis degree is awarded to someone who has demonstrated eminence and scholarship by being appointed to a particular office. Thus, for example, a DD (Doctor of Divinity) might be conferred upon a bishop on the occasion of their consecration, or a judge created LLD (Legum Doctor) or DCL (Doctor of Civil Law) upon their appointment to the judicial bench. These, also, are properly considered substantive rather than honorary degrees.

Institutions not awarding honorary degrees[]

Some US universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),[6] Cornell University,[7] Vanderbilt University,[citation needed] Stanford University,[8][9] the California Institute of Technology,[citation needed] and Rice University,[10] do not award honorary degrees, as a matter of policy.

The University of Virginia (founded in 1819) was probably the first US university to explicitly have a policy of not awarding honorary degrees, at the behest of its founder, Thomas Jefferson.[11][6] In 1845, William Barton Rogers, then chairman of the faculty, vigorously defended this policy; in 1861 he founded MIT in Boston and continued this practice.[12][6] The University of Virginia does annually award Thomas Jefferson Medals in Architecture and in Law, as the highest honors accorded by that institution.[13][11]

MIT has on rare occasions award honorary professorships; Winston Churchill was so honored in 1949, as was Salman Rushdie in 1993. Similarly, the Stanford Alumni Association occasionally awards the Degree of Uncommon Man/Woman to individuals who have given "rare and exceptional service" to the university.[14] Though UCLA has imposed a moratorium on awarding honorary degrees, it honors notable people with the UCLA Medal instead.[15]


File:1975 Elena Ceausescu Honoris Causa Manilla.jpg

Elena Ceauşescu becoming Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Manila, Philippines, in 1975

Some universities and colleges have been accused of granting honorary degrees in exchange for large donations. Honorary degree recipients, particularly those who have no prior academic qualifications, have sometimes been criticized if they insist on being called "Doctor" as a result of their award, as the honorific may mislead the general public about their qualifications.

The awarding of an honorary degree to political figures can prompt protests from faculty or students. In 2001, George W. Bush received an honorary degree from Yale University where he had earned his bachelor's degree in history in 1968. Some students and faculty chose to boycott the university's 300th commencement.[16] Andrew Card, who served as Bush's Chief of Staff from 2001–2006, ultimately chose not to speak when the University of Massachusetts-Amherst awarded him an honorary degree in 2007, in response to protests from students and faculty at the commencement ceremonies.[17]

In 1985, as a deliberate snub, the University of Oxford voted to refuse Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for higher education.[18] This award had previously been given to all Prime Ministers who had been educated at Oxford.

In 2005 at the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a gynecologist involved in a legal case decriminalizing abortion in Canada (R. v. Morgentaler), was made an honorary Doctor of Laws. Over 12,000 signatures were acquired asking the UWO to reverse its decision to honor Dr. Morgentaler.[19] Several protest rallies were held, including one on the day the honorary degree was bestowed (a counter petition to support Morgentaler's degree gained 10,000 signatures).[20]

Few people object when an honorary degree is awarded in a field that the awardee is noted for. McGill University's decision to grant musician Joni Mitchell an honorary Doctor of Music in 2004 was unopposed, although it was timed to coincide with a symposium about Mitchell's career.[21]

In 1996 Southampton College at Long Island University (now a campus of SUNY Stony Brook) awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters to Muppet Kermit the Frog. Although some students objected to awarding a degree to a muppet, Kermit delivered an enjoyable commencement address and the small college received considerable press coverage.[22] The degree was conferred in recognition of efforts in the area of environmentalism. Said the university: "His theme song, 'It's Not Easy Bein' Green,' has become a rallying cry of the environmental movement. Kermit has used his celebrity to spread positive messages in public service announcements for the National Wildlife Federation, National Parks Service, the Better World Society, and others."[23]

The Philosophy Faculty at Cambridge courted controversy amongst the academic community in March 1992, when three of its members posed a temporary veto against the awarding an honorary doctorate to Jacques Derrida;[24] they and other non-Cambridge proponents of analytic philosophy protested the granting on the grounds that Derrida's work "did not conform with accepted measures of academic rigor." Although the University eventually passed the motion, the episode did more to draw attention to the continuing antipathy between the analytic (of which Cambridge's faculty is a leading exponent) and the post-Hegelian continental philosophical traditions (with which Derrida's work is more closely associated).

In 2007 protesters demanded that the University of Edinburgh revoke an honorary degree awarded to Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe in 1984. The University subsequently revealed plans to review its honorary degree policy and strip certain figures of their honorary degrees who did not deserve them. When considering revoking the honorary degree of a political figure, such reasons as human rights abuse or political corruption would be considered. As a result, it was announced that Mugabe had been stripped of his honorary degree. The University also planned to have a more rigorous selection procedure regarding potential recipients of honorary degrees, in an attempt to rectify the trend of awarding degrees to celebrities.[25] Students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst also asked the university to revoke the honorary degree that was awarded to Mugabe over twenty years ago, and on June 12, 2008 the trustees unanimously rescinded Robert Mugabe's honorary degree.[26][27]

In April 2009, Arizona State University's President Michael M. Crow refused to give an honorary degree to US President Barack Obama for his perceived lack of adequate qualifying achievements thus far.[28] Also, controversy[29] was ignited about Notre Dame awarding Obama an honorary degree, as the institution is Roman Catholic and Obama holds pro-choice views on abortion and supports embryonic stem cell research.[30]

In May 2009, Saint Joseph's University gave an honorary degree to Chris Matthews, host of Hardball. Since Saint Joseph's is a Catholic, Jesuit University, this has sparked controversy with the pro-life movement, as Matthews is notably pro-choice.

In February 2012, Rosmah Mansor, the wife of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak was controversially awarded with an honorary doctorate by the Curtin University for "services to childhood education". A Facebook page called "Boycott Curtin University till Rosmah Mansor's Doctorate Revoked" was set up and Curtin has been forced to close its own Facebook page. The university was also forced to delete a number of comments on its Facebook page, which it says are potentially defamatory or in breach of the commonwealth criminal code.[31] The university through a statement from Vice Chancellor Jeanette Hacket, defended the award.[31] She said Ms Rosmah had been selected "through a process which engages several committees within the university" and was being recognised for founding and driving the Permata early childhood centres in Malaysia, which "enable children below the age of five to experience quality early learning". However, one alumnus and Malaysian citizen said the Permata centres had been funded by Malaysian taxpayers, and it would have been an abuse of taxpayers' money for Rosmah to claim the credits.[32]

See also[]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:Honoris causa ceremonies

| Honoris causa ceremonies



  1. Although the spelling honorary is correct in all instances, the term for such an award is spelled honor in American English and honour in British English; see spelling differences.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Buxton, L. H. Dudley and Gibson, Strickland, Oxford University Ceremonies, Oxford University Press (1935)
  4. Oxford Brooks University Regulations. (PDF) URL accessed on 2012-04-03.
  5. University of Cambridge. Statutes and Ordinances II.6: Status of Master of Arts. URL accessed on 2013-03-08.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 No honorary degrees is an MIT tradition going back to ... Thomas Jefferson. MIT News Office. URL accessed on 2006-05-07.:"MIT's founder, William Barton Rogers, regarded the practice of giving honorary degrees as 'literary almsgiving ... of spurious merit and noisy popularity....' Rogers was a geologist from the University of Virginia who believed in Thomas Jefferson's policy barring honorary degrees at the university, which was founded in 1819."
  7. Dear Uncle Ezra, Cornell University. Dear Uncle Ezra – Questions for Thursday, May 15, 2003 – Cornell University. URL accessed on 2010-09-05.
  8. Stanford Bulletin: Conferral of Degrees. URL accessed on 2010-09-05.
  9. Stanford Bulletin 2008/2009: Conferral of Degrees. URL accessed on 2010-09-05.
  10. The Rice Thresher Online | NEWS | Cosby to speak at '02 graduation. URL accessed on 2010-09-05.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Rector and Visitors of The University of Virginia (1995). Chapter 4: University Regulations: Honorary Degrees. Rector and Visitors of The University of Virginia. URL accessed on 2006-05-07. "The University of Virginia does not award honorary degrees. In conjunction with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, the University presents the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture and the Thomas Jefferson Award in Law each spring. The awards, recognizing excellence in two fields of interest to Jefferson, constitute the University's highest recognition of scholars outside the University."
  12. Andrews, Elizabeth, Nora Murphy and Tom Rosko William Barton Rogers: MIT's Visionary Founder. Exhibits: Institute Archives & Special Collections: MIT Libraries. URL accessed on 2008-05-16.
  13. U.Va. To Bestow Annual Thomas Jefferson Medals For Architecture And Law. University of Virginia News. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. URL accessed on 8 March 2013.
  14. Stanford University - Degree of Uncommon Man and Uncommon Woman Award. URL accessed on 2012-04-03.
  15. UCLA Policy 140: Awarding of the UCLA Medal. URL accessed on 2010-09-05.
  16. Post Store. Yale Boycott. URL accessed on 2010-09-05.
  17. includeonly>"UMass faculty, students boo Card", The Boston Globe, May 26, 2007.
  18. BBC News "On this day archive" 29 January 1985 Thatcher snubbed by Oxford dons, BBC News. Retrieved April 9, 2007.
  19. includeonly>Martin, Sandra. "Abortion rights crusader Henry Morgentaler, revered and hated, dead at 90", 29 May 2013. Retrieved on 4 August 2013.
  20. includeonly>"Morgentaler signatures",, 2005-06-16. Retrieved on 2010-09-05.
  21. JMDL Library: A doctor's advice: Montreal Gazette, October 28, 2004[dead link]
  22. Southampton College News: Kermit's Commencement Address at Southampton College. URL accessed on 2010-09-05.
  23. Southampton College, [1], Kermit the Frog named 1996 Commencement Speaker at Southampton College. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  24. Wheen, Francis (2006). 'How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World', HarperCollins.
  25. includeonly>MacLeod, Murdo. "Degree of anger at roll of dishonour", 2007-01-14.
  26. includeonly>"UMass students aim to revoke honorary degree for Mugabe", The Boston Globe, April 6, 2007.
  27. Contact:Robert P. Connolly617-287-7073. UMass Mugabe. URL accessed on 2010-09-05.
  28. includeonly>"Obama turns controversy into jokes, lesson at commencement", CNN, May 14, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-05-16.
  29. controversy, How the Gold Dome Tarnished, TFP Student Action, 05-21-09.
  30. includeonly>Storin, Matthew V.. "Church and state; Obama and Notre Dame", The Boston Globe, May 17, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-05-17.
  31. 31.0 31.1

Academic degrees
Associate's degrees (U.S.) AA, ABA, ABS, AS
Foundation degrees (U.K.) FdA, FdEd, FdEng, FdMus, FdBus, FdSc, FdTech
Bachelor's degrees B.Accty, AB or BA, BSc or SB, BBus, BCom or BComm, BCS, BEc, BEng or BE, BS or BSc, BFA, BD, BHE, BJ, BPharm, BPE, BHK, BCL, LL.B., MB ChB or MB BS or BM BS or MB BChir or MB BCh BAO, BMus, B.Math, BTech, BBA, BAdm, MA (Oxon.), MA (Cantab.), MA (Dubl.), MA (Hons)
Master's degrees MA, MS or MSc, MSt, MALD, MApol, MPhil, MRes, MFA, MTh, MTS, M.Div., MBA, MPA, MJ, MSW, MPAff, MLIS, MLitt, MPH, MPM, MPP, MPT, MRE, MTheol, LLM, MEng, MSci, MBio, MChem, MPhys, MMath, MMus, MESci, MGeol, MTCM, MSSc, BCL (Oxon), BPhil (Oxon), ThM
Specialist degrees Ed.S., SSP, B.Acc., C.A.S.
Doctoral degrees PhD, EdD, EngD, DNursSci, DBA, DC, DD, DSc, DLitt, DA, MD, DDS, DMD, DMA, DMus, DCL, ThD, JD, OD, DO, PharmD, DrPH, DPT, DPhil, DOM, OMD, DPM, PsyD, DSW, LL.D., J.S.D., S.J.D. S.T.D

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