It’s time to retire the honorary doctorate. They diminish both the institution awarding them, and the person receiving them.
Whether it’s John Howard or Kylie Minogue, the honorary doctorate is merely a statement that the nomination committee likes someone. And that the University is desperate for some celebrity to rub off, fall on the ground, be picked up and then mistaken for its own academic reputation.
A cursory exam of Sydney and Wollongong Unis’ criteria doesn’t help. “Outstanding scholarship” seems to go in the right direction. You might get a Thomas Edison getting a honorary doctorate there. But it’s the “exceptional achievement” and “significant service” that causes the problem.
Giving away PhDs to people who have already gained status, income, institutional and peer recognition, and lots of influence without real academic achievement, is either grubby university promotion, or simply running with the herd. In either case it is wrong and should stop.
No offence to my old Liberal mate John Howard, but he should have known better and refused the offer.
The whole thing is a slap in the face for those who struggle over years with real research problems to get their PhDs. Even if we are grossly oversupplied in most areas, and the PhD is more like a site ticket to be poorly paid for rearranging chairs in a tute room.
Even the idea of Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi getting one irks me. Recognition is fine. But why pervert a measure of real academic achievement – well, a close as we have to one – for a bit of PR?
UPDATE Same goes in spades for Paul Keating. What is Macquarie University thinking?