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Faculty poll: 80% say Obama should get degree

A faculty-led straw poll completed on Thursday at midnight suggests most ASU faculty members believe President Barack Obama should receive an honorary degree when he speaks at commencement on May 13.

More than 700 faculty members voted through e-mail from Tuesday to Thursday, with 79.5 percent voting in favor of awarding Obama an honorary degree.

Physics professors Mike Thorpe and Jose Menendez conducted the nonscientific poll, which prompted faculty members to respond to the statement, “President Obama should receive an honorary degree when he visits ASU as the commencement speaker on May 13.”

“It’s very much a straw poll … but I think the result is decisive enough,” Thorpe said. “I think we have some sense now, limited in scope, of the sentiment of the faculty.”

Thorpe and Menendez created an e-mail account and sent the instructions for completing the poll to all ASU faculty. Participants responded with a “yes” or “no” in the subject line, and a computer program tabulated the responses. Duplicate responses were subtracted from the final numbers, and both professors verified the results independently.

Participants were instructed not to include comments in their e-mails because they would not be read.

Thorpe said he does not know if there will be any sort of response from the University, but he felt it was important to hear from the faculty, who are traditionally responsible for awarding honorary degrees.

“The fact that, worldwide, people were talking about ASU denying an honorary degree to Obama somehow implicated us,” Menendez said. “I thought we had to do something to find out what faculty would think.”

Thorpe said the recent controversy surrounding ASU advances the University to the likes of Oxford and Yale universities.

In 1985, Oxford University received a great deal of criticism for refusing to award an honorary degree to the first female prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, Thorpe said.

Yale University garnered similar attention in 2001 for awarding then-President George W. Bush an honorary degree when he spoke at commencement.

“Great universities thrive on controversy,” he said. “Controversy has two sides, and as long as people are respectful of others’ opinions, it’s positive.”

Thorpe said there are also different parts of the ASU community that could perform similar polls.

Film-production senior Patrick Baker asked student leaders at all four campuses on Friday to poll students on the subject so their opinions could be heard.

“I challenge the student government presidents to conduct a student poll that equals the faculty one, so that our community, nation and President Obama can hear our voice,” Baker said in an e-mail.

Political science professor Rodolfo Espino, who participated in the faculty poll, said he felt students, staff and local community members should all have a voice, even though an e-mail poll is not the best way to express it.

“The only expression was a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ” he said. “That’s all they’re reading.”

Many faculty members might have liked to give more explanation for their vote, Espino said, but the poll would not take that into account.

He was also surprised at the large number of faculty who responded, considering how busy they usually are. He said that adds to just how important the issue is to the ASU community.

“It’s important to keep in mind how sensitive a lot of faculty feel about this,” he said. “We’re all representatives of ASU. … We don’t want to make the situation any worse than it is.”

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