John Burness, a Duke professor of journalism and public policy and former senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said he thinks the administration’s lack of action regarding Rose’s degree appears inconsistent considering the decision of Duke's DeWitt Wallace Center in rescinding the Futrell Award it presented to Rose.
“It’s kind of an odd circumstance where a unit within the university is saying, ‘He does not meet the moral and ethical standards that we believe are appropriate for the award we gave,’” Burness said. “But the university has not spoken to the question of whether he meets the moral standards in an honorary degree, so there’s a little bit of schizophrenia at Duke at this point.”
N.C. State University and Montclair State University have released statements saying they are considering whether to revoke Rose’s honorary degrees, while Fordham University and SUNY: Oswego have already rescinded such honors given to Rose. Georgetown University, another school that has granted an honorary degree to Rose, has declined to comment on the matter.
Several other famous men have recently lost honorary degrees since allegations of their sexual misconduct were released. University at Buffalo revoked Weinstein’s honorary degree in November 2017, while Marist College took away O’Reilly’s honorary degree in February. The University of Pennsylvania announced in February they were rescinding honorary degrees granted to casino owner Steve Wynn and comedian Bill Cosby.
Savannah College of Art and Design and the California Institute of the Arts have not commented on the honorary degrees bestowed upon Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, while Harvard University has also yet to say anything about the honorary degree given to former U.S. Senator Al Franken in 2002.
Some schools have a policy to not rescind degrees. The Juilliard School, which awarded an honorary degree to actor Kevin Spacey in 2000, is one of them.
Other universities do not have any policies that lay out criteria for revoking any awards. Since taking away O’Reilly’s honorary degree, Marist College announced it was in the process of creating such guidelines.
Sewanee: University of the South has faced backlash from students and faculty about not rescinding an honorary degree granted to Rose, but faculty senate recently announced it was initiating the creation of guidelines for revocation.
Burness said he is in favor of universities creating policies for revoking awards and degrees because he thinks more and more schools will have to face such decisions.
“It’s important that the institutions get ahead of this question and have very clear, established policies so they’re not having to do it on the fly and on the emotion of the moment, responding to pressure rather than saying, ‘Look, here’s the set of principles that governs our behavior and we will measure this against that,’” Burness said. “There has to be some degree of consistency.”
MJ-school professor Lois Boynton agrees with having standard policies for award and degree revocation.
"I think that there's value in having something that's going to guide your decisions — to be able to know this is a case we need to look at," Boynton said. "To be able to say, if this applies, we need to address this, as opposed to just sort of hoping you get it right."
When it comes to disgraced donors, the situation becomes even more complicated.
Burness, a former Board of Trustee member at Franklin and Marshall College, said the school found a complex way to return a donation by Cosby after they revoked his honorary degree.
"The position they took was if it's not good enough for us to have his name associated with us, then it's not good enough for us to have his money," Burness said.
But not all schools have done this. Steve Wynn’s name will be taken away from “Wynn Commons,” an outdoor area on University of Pennsylvania’s campus named for him after he gave a $7.5 million donation in 1995. However, the question of what to do with that money, if anything, has not been addressed. A separate scholarship under Wynn’s name will be kept, but his name will be removed.
Bill O’Reilly also made a large donation to Marist College in the last few years and started a scholarship fund under his name, but the college has made no announcement regarding these financial matters.
Boynton said deciding what to do about these donations can be dependent on the college's financial situation or whether the money has already been spent.
"Particularly in this economy, what's making the decision even tougher is (universities) don't have $7 million to give away," Boynton said.