At Issue

At Issue McGill University

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McGill Reporter
February 10, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 10
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At issue

The recent controversial vote in Senate about a proposed honorary degree for the Royal Bank's John Cleghorn has put honorary degrees themselves up for discussion. Proponents say the degrees salute remarkable careers or reward major contributions to McGill. Critics charge the degrees are too often offered to the rich and powerful in the hopes of currying their favour. What do you think about honorary degrees?


Professor Antal Deutsch
Department of Economics

John Cleghorn clearly has a remarkable career, and as the head of a successful fundraising campaign, has made a major contribution to McGill. His qualifications for an honorary degree on the terms stated are beyond question. What should be seriously looked into is the quality of decision-making on such matters at McGill. The Cleghorn story is not the first embarrassing (to us!) omission. The first (and only?) McGill graduate to become a member of the United States Senate (and the author of a best-selling academic text) could not get past the, shall we say, unusual procedures in our Senate. We should either clean up our act, or forget about awarding honorary degrees.

Robert Leckey, student
Faculty of Law

It's baffling that the Cleghorn thing is news as anything other than an embarrassing breach of Senate confidentiality. Let's keep an honorary degree in perspective. It wouldn't have gotten Cleghorn a tenure track job. He would have been no more and no less a scholar than he was before. Had we given him the degree, he's a smart enough guy that he wouldn't have asked people to call him "doctor" with a straight face. At least we're not giving out regular degrees to thank our corporate helpers, or ghost-writing doctoral theses for them.

Professor Prakash Panangaden
School of Computer Science

Honorary degrees should reflect extraordinary achievements in learning. There are extraordinary achievements in all fields of human endeavour, but it would be strange to consider all of them as potential occasions for the award of an honorary degree. For example, it would be strange to award Mario Lemieux an honorary degree or to admit Mikhail Gorbachev to the ice hockey hall of fame. In this spirit I would view the award of an honorary degree to Mr. Cleghorn as inappropriate.

Professor Eric Shragge
School of Social Work

The issue has been raised by the unfortunate proposal to give an honorary degree to a man who heads one of the largest corporations in Canada. The issue is not only Cleghorn or the bank, but the role of these corporations in our society. Fundamentally, their interests and behaviours are shaped by their "bottom lines" and the protection of their competitive position. The only accountability of this sector is to its shareholders. Why should the University honour a man whose basic goal is to perpetuate financial self-interest without any regard to the larger interest of the majority of the society?

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