The Meaning of an Honorary Degree

So, I just discovered the flap over President Obama’s upcoming honorary degree from Notre Dame University. Evidently, a significant number of bishops find this development objectionable.

What does an honorary degree mean? Does conferring one suggest that the granting institution accepts carte blanche everything the conferee stands for?  I certainly hope not.

Can we recognize significant contributions of people with whom we have ideological differences on other matters?  I certainly hope so. 

I fear that the “either-or” posturing that seems to have overtaken so much of American public life is a very bad omen.  I know, it’s not new, but it’s still worrisome.  I think what is new is that every one of these scrapes winds up on cable news, with reporters fanning the flames of false controversy with internet “tell us your opinion” surveys.

I can almost hear one objection: “What has Barack Obama done that warrants an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame?”  I’ll leave that question to Notre Dame to answer.

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

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