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Of Honorary Doctorates In Ghana;The Use, Misuse And Abuse   
 
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01-Sep-2014  
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In recent times, there has been an upsurge in the award of honorary doctorates by institutions of higher learning to individuals within different strata of Ghanaian society.

Some of these individuals no doubt deserve it, others generate controversy, while many of these awards are unequivocally dubious.

An honorary degree or a degree honoris causa (Latin: “for the sake of the honour”) is an academic degree for which a university ( or other degree-awarding institution) has waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, study and the passing of examinations. Usually the degree is a doctorate or less commonly, a master’s degree and may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the academic institution (http:// honorarydegrees.vvu.edu/history).

For the sake of credibility therefore, it will be necessary to know the background of institutions awarding such degrees.

An Honorary degree is typically conferred as a way of honouring a distinguished visitor’s contributions to a specific field or to society in general. The university is expected to derive benefit by virtue of the association with the person in question.

It is, important to note that an honorary degree by definition is not recognised by employers as corresponding to an earned doctorate degree and should therefore not be represented as such.

Recipients of honorary degrees are at liberty to list such degrees on their curriculum vitae as an award but under no circumstance should it be listed in their education section. To check the abuse of such titles, some universities and colleges have policies on the use of the title ‘Dr’ in formal correspondence.

Historical Antecedents
History has it that the award of honorary degree dates back to the middle ages, when for diverse 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. Records have it that the first honorary degree was awarded to Lionel Woodville in the 1470s by the University of Oxford. Woodville later became the Bishop of Salisbury.

By the latter part of the 16th century, the granting of honorary degrees had become quite common, especially on the occasion of royal visits to Oxford or Cambridge.

Recent Practice
The modern practice is that honorary degrees are typically awarded at graduation ceremonies, at which the recipients are usually invited to make a speech of acceptance before the assembled faculty and graduates.

Typically, universities and colleges nominate a number of distinguished persons each year for honorary degrees. The nominees are expected to go through several committees before receiving approval.

Like everything in life, two extremes have seen established in awarding honorary degrees, that of honouring celebrities and formally assessing a portfolio of research. Between these two extremes, some universities and colleges use honorary degrees to recognise achievements of intellectual rigour comparable to an earned university degree.

To avoid some of these grey areas, some universities and colleges do not confer honorary degrees as a matter of policy. Others simply award medals. Institutions therefore seek to differentiate between honorary degrees and earned degrees and do not intend the two to be used as same.

Practical Use
Many universities insist that honorary graduates refrain from the use of the title ‘Doctor’. An individual who has an honorary degree conferred on him/her may add the degree title post nominally, but should be clearly articulated that THE DEGREE IS HONORARY BY ADDING “honorary” or honoris causa or “h.c.” in parenthesis after the degree title.

Some countries allow a recipient of honorary doctorate to use the title “Doctor” prenominally, abbreviated “Dr. h.c.” or “Dr. (h.c.)”. In some instances, they use “Hon” before the degree letters, for example, “Hon Dr.”

In recent years, the more acceptable practice for some universities is to use an entirely separate post nominal titles for honorary degrees. This is in part to avoid the frequent abuse or misuse of honorary degrees.

The acceptable norm is to use certain degrees, such as LLD or HonD as purely honorary. Most American universities generally confer the degrees of LHD (Doctor of Humane Letters), LLD (Doctor of Laws), PedD (Doctor of Pedagogy) ScD (Doctor of Science) the LittD (Doctor of Letters) and the DD (Doctor of Divinity) exclusively as honorary degrees.

Controversy
It is alleged that some institutions of higher learning grant honorary degrees in exchange for some favours, for example, large donations.
Similarly, awarding honorary degrees to political figures can sometimes result in protests from faculty or students. The year 2007 saw protesters demanding that the University of Edinburgh revoke an honorary degree awarded to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in 1984.
As a result, the university decided to review its honorary degree policy and revoke the honorary degrees awarded to certain personalities.

More importantly, a more rigorous selection procedure was adopted by the university with the express aim of reviewing the trend of awarding honorary degrees to celebrities. The simple truth is that awarding an honorary degree is no child’s play.

Conclusion
The real concern for a lot of academics and professionals is the fact that honorary degree recipients, especially those who lack prior academic qualifications sometimes insist on being called “Doctor “as a result of the award and thereby deliberately or inadvertently mislead the general public about their qualifications.

Such people come across as lacking confidence in their own abilities and suffering from inferiority complex. People who deserve such awards, no doubt, should be given. In the same token, such honorifics should be sincere, honest and truthful to let the public know that the degree is purely honorary. For universities and colleges, they must safeguard (or build) their reputation by establishing a rigorous process in the selection of recipients. Only proven, notable, concrete achievers should earn such awards.

Finally, universities and colleges must lead the fight to expose dubious institutions who award honorary degrees in exchange for donations, publicity stunt, or for other dubious reasons when it is clear as daylight such characters do not deserve the supposed awards.

Let us keep the sanctity of the academic institution by doing what is right as far as awarding honorary doctorates is concerned.

The writer is the Head of Marketing Department-University of Professional Studies, Accra and Vice President, Consumer Advocacy Centre-Ghana
 
 
Source: Daily Graphic
 
 

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