Obama won’t receive ASU honorary degree

04-08-09 Obama
President Obama speaks at Mesa’s Dobson High School earlier this year. ASU announced that President Obama will not receive an honorary degree when he visits ASU for the spring commencement ceremony. (Matt Pavelek | The State Press)
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009
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ASU will not award President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he speaks at the commencement ceremony on May 13.

University spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said Tuesday that the University awards honorary degrees to recognize individuals for their work and accomplishments spanning their lifetime.

“Because President Obama’s body of work is yet to come, it’s inappropriate to recognize him at this time,” Keeler said.

Previous recipients of honorary degrees from ASU had long-established careers in their fields of work, Keeler said, and they aren’t necessarily affiliated with ASU.

Last spring, the University awarded an honorary degree to James Duderstadt, a professor emeritus of the University of Michigan and an international leader in higher education.

In 2006, degrees went to Wu Qidi, vice minister of education of the People’s Republic of China, and Frank H. T. Rhodes, former president of Cornell University.

Keeler said there are typically only one or two people each year who receive an honorary degree from ASU, though the University will not award one this spring.

“It’s someone who’s really outstanding, who has made outstanding contributions in their field,” she said.

Obama will receive an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame, where he will deliver a commencement speech on May 17.

Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said Obama would be the ninth United States president to receive an honorary degree from the university.

Notre Dame awards between eight and 12 honorary degrees each year and always gives one to its commencement speaker, Brown said.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first U.S. president to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1960. Other presidents who have received degrees from Notre Dame include Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Brown said Notre Dame awards degrees based on accomplishments in a wide range of professions.

“We seek to honor people who have made significant contributions to society,” Brown said.

Laurie Chassin, Regents’ Professor of psychology at ASU, served as the co-chair of the Honorary Degrees Committee before taking a sabbatical this year.

Chassin said the committee members choose candidates they feel should receive the awards, and the committee then votes to recommend candidates to the administration.

“As a committee, we evaluate the [candidates] and say, ‘Yes, the achievements of this person are of such a caliber that we would be proud to grant them an honorary degree,’” she said.

Paul Patterson, dean of the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness, has been on the committee since summer 2008.

Patterson said the committee has only considered a few candidates since he joined and did not have time to review Obama’s case since learning he would attend this spring’s commencement.

President Michael Crow told the committee that significant contributions to education and society over the course of a person’s career merit consideration for an honorary degree, Patterson said.

“We’re looking for people who have made great accomplishments,” he said. “It’s a recognition to true contribution to society.”

Reach the reporter at adam.sneed@asu.edu.