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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » 'Honorary degree protested'

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Author Topic: 'Honorary degree protested'
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It's graduation time again, and with graduation often comes these 'honorary degrees' some universities like to give out.

Yesterday Ryerson University (Toronto, Ontario) awarded Margaret Somerville an honorary doctorate degree. Not really sure what it was for, or what work she's done, but i DO know that there were many people protesting her getting this degree.

From the Toronto Star
From the Toronto Sun

Somerville is against gay marriage and insemination of lesbians. She feels marriage is about procreation. As far as i can tell, these opinions of hers have nothing to do with the work for which she was awarded the honorary degree. In fact, Ryerson denied knowing anything about Somervilles opinions regarding gay rights until after they'd already offered the degree and she'd accepted.

So, what's a university to do?

Many feel that once they (Ryerson) found out about Somervilles thoughts/opinions, the degree should've been rescinded. On the other hand, whether or not she is a gay rights activist has nothing to do the work for which she was being awarded for. It would be different if they thought she was a gay rights activist and found out she wasn't; this would be obvious grounds to revoke the degree. But Ryerson claims to support equal rights ... Should they be awarding honorary degrees to anyone who doesn't? What does this say about the university itself, that 1) they did not know this about her (apparently it's no big secret) before offering the degree, and 2) gave her the degree anyway even after they knew ...?

Does one have to do with the other (her work and her opinions/thoughts)? Why/Why not? Should she have been given the degree anyway? Why/Why not? Should this make students at Ryerson question their schools' commitment to supporting equal rights?

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Posts: 7168 | From: Ontario | Registered: Sep 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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If the school supports "equal rights", then they ought to support her personal right to have her own opinion about those sort of matters.
Especially considering that "these opinions of hers have nothing to do with the work for which she was awarded the honorary degree".
It would have been very hypocritical of them to take the degree away because of this.

[ 06-20-2006, 11:56 AM: Message edited by: ax50607 ]

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The thing is... when the school gives out an honor of this sort, they are NOT just acknowledging academic accomplishment. They are saying, "We are willing to put our name to this person." They are giving a PERSONAL HONOR. All of the honors that she deserves for her academic work she has already earned systematically through the system that is set up for everyone--in this particular case, they singled her out, and said, "You are worthy of something special; something more."

When you do such a thing, you ARE making the receiver a representative of your school. If you wish your school to stand against discrimination, intollerance, and oppression, then honoring a person who supports these things is very contrary to your goals.

However, now that the award is already given, it would be even more damaging to the school's image to revoke it--especially considering that the lady in question received the award for her work in science.

Calling Somerville "a scholar that has world recognition," Levy rejected suggestions the university was trying to have it both ways by giving the degree but denouncing her same-sex views.
I actually think that this is the best they could have done. It would be tactless to revoke the honor, but it must also be made very clear that the decision is a somewhat regretful one on the basis of her discriminatory views and that the school does not wish to be represented by her sentiments, even though they still appriciate her works in the field of science.

PERSONALLY? If the world worked according to my emotions, I would rip the honor straight out of her hands and ask what the **** something as narrow minded as discrimination has to do with the great tradition of academic thought.

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Gumdrop Girl
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Well, if Somerville is getting the honor for her work in say ... astrophysics, then I don't think it matters what her (warped) views on gays happen to be.

However, if it's for civil rights work, then I'd have a problem.

[ 06-27-2006, 12:56 AM: Message edited by: Gumdrop Girl ]

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The Wikipedia citation on Dr. Margaret Somerville:

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

- Galileo

Posts: 3442 | From: Stirling, Ontario, Canada | Registered: Sep 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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