Erma Bombeck, Hugh Downs, Howard Pyle, Jerry Colangelo, Art Buchwald, and Steve Allen to name a few from the check list of entertainers, sports owners, gossip columnists, and satirists that Arizona State University claims had lofty enough credentials to merit an honorary degree. In fact, since ASU ladled out its first honorary degree to Federick M. Irish and John Matthews on May 28, 1940 the cast of second tier politicians, writers, entertainers, artists, business tycoons, oil and gas magnets, and sports notables the school has dished out the award to flows off the pages.
Some years ASU just couldn’t seem to shelve out enough of the paper symbols. In 1987 it gave out seven honorary degrees. In 1994 it gave out seven more. And in five other years the school handed out three or more honorary degrees. The recipients were the usual suspects and they were spread all over the map, artists, writers, entertainers, politicians, and business moguls. The only thing consistent about who ASU officials chooses to toss the paper too is there is no consistency.
The ASU honors committee mission statement is a study in brevity. It simply reads that faculty, the six person honors committee, and the president will “single out people who have made contributions to society.” This purposely vague criteria for an honorary degree says everything and nothing. It pretty much makes the degree a subjective judgment call which comes down to money, politics, celebrity, or merely the like or dislike of a person. That’s a far cry from the lofty, sanctimonious and smug academic nonsensical reason ASU officials gave for snubbing President Obama with the degree.
ASU president Michael Crow though has the final say so over whether President Obama will get the degree or not is. That could be another problem. Crow has been called insensitive, pig headed, and an unapologetic bigot for his alleged treatment of students, faculty, and especially women and minorities. The bill of particulars against Crow is that he fired 1/3 of the minority faculty at ASU west without justifiable cause, and that he has not hired an African American to serve as dean or a vice-president. He’s also alleged to have fired a tenured African American professor even though a faculty committee that he appointed recommended that the professor be retained. Crow supposedly has turned a tin ear toward demands that he tell who and how many African-Americans the school has granted tenure to during his watch.
This is not the first time that Crow has been sledge hammered by charges that he’s a closet bigot. Before taking the top spot at ASU, he served a stint as vice provost at Columbia University. Crow supposedly played hard ball in a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by a Latina professor. Columbia eventually was forced to shell out millions to settle the claim.
This is mostly hearsay and does not tag Crow as a president with a vendetta against women and minorities. So when the news broke that President Obama wouldn’t get the honorary degree, all eyes quickly turned to Crow to do quick damage control and weigh in in favor of granting the degree to Obama. But that didn’t happen. Crow gave a cryptic promise to a reporter that ASU would “honor him in every way possible.” No mention was made of the honorary degree being that honor.