Honorary degree selection underway

by Sarah Rubenstein | 11/25/97 6:00am

While Commencement may be seven months away, the College has already started the process of selecting dignitaries, celebrities and intellectuals who will be awarded honorary degrees at the ceremony -- although the names of the recipients are a closely guarded secret.

As early as September, Cheryl Reynolds, the secretary to the Council on Honorary Degrees, sent a letter to the Class of 1998 requesting nominations for candidates.

Reynolds wrote that the College "seeks to honor men and women who have made outstanding contributions to the national or international scene, to intellectual or spiritual life, the arts, the professions, business and industry, or to public service in the broadest sense."

The Council, composed of six faculty members and Senior Class President Kathryn Bienneman, met for the first time at the beginning of October. After reviewing the nominations, it passed on a list of candidates to the Board of Trustees for discussion during their November 14 meeting.

According to Chair Paul Argenti, the Council tries to "solicit names from as many people" as possible, including faculty, administrators and students.

Many members of the Council hesitated to give details about the proceedings, and Bieneman declined comment.

Argenti attributes the secrecy of the process to the possibility of candidates declining the offer. "Part of the reason is that we don't really know" who will accept an honorary degree, he said.

After the Board of Trustees chooses possible candidates, the College president invites them to attend Commencement. If those invited decline, the Board considers other candidates.

The entire process can take several months, Argenti said.

Reynolds said the majority of candidates accept honorary degrees if they are able to attend Commencement. "I would say it's based on logistics," she said.

While the Council has already presented its recommendations to the Board of Trustees, it continues to accept nominations throughout the year. But nominations submitted after Oct. 1 are less likely to be given an honorary degree for the 1998 commencement.

The College awards honorary degrees to about eight people each year. Reynolds said it "aims for a balance" in the recipients and tries to make sure their contributions "span different fields."

Council member George Langford said, "Recipients are usually considered the best in their field. They visit with faculty and students while they are on campus, but it is really a way for the College to recognize the contributions of others."

Honorary degree recipients at the 1997 Commencement included Finnish Prime Minister Paavo T. Lipponen, author V.S. Naipaul, sociologist William Julius Wilson and playwright Edward Albee.