Honorary degrees give recognition to significant individuals

Bob Galuski, Editor in Chief

Sean Payton, the head football coach of the New Orleans Saints, former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar and former Congressman Terry L. Bruce, along with numerous others, all share a connection—they all have honorary degrees from Eastern.

Nominations for individuals deserving of an honorary degree ends Monday, and all forms need to be turned into Robert Martin, the vice president for university advancement.

Applications for the honorary degree nominations can be found on Eastern’s website.

Martin said the individuals who are usually nominated have national or state prominence in education, public service, research, business or specific to their particular profession.

There is also a category for significant donations, he said.

“If somebody gives a major gift, we really consider them,” Martin said.

The number of nominations accepted by the committee is four; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean the committee will approve any of the nominations.

“In 2014, the committee did not select any nominees for honorary degrees,” Martin said.

Martin also said the significance of the degree also serves to give acknowledgment to a certain individual.

“I think it’s both a feather in our cap and it recognizes an alumni who has excelled in their field,” he said. “It’s like Gordon Grado, who is one of the top oncologists of the nation. He already has a medical doctorate, but this is an honorary degree.”

Martin also said figures such as Payton, who received an honorary degree, not for his coaching, but instead for his volunteer work during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“You don’t need to have a doctorate, and there is no requirement to have a degree,” Martin said.

The only people who cannot be nominated are elected officials in office, members of the Board of Trustees or staff currently working at Eastern, just to avoid a conflict of interest.

“It makes it more of a distinction when you put more criteria in there,” he said.

Martin said while the committee only accepts a maximum of four nominations each year, they usually have anywhere between six and 12 applicants to choose from.

“Some years are more; some years are less,” he said.

He said the process would be him going over the nominations and letting the committee decide. Then the names would go to President Bill Perry, who has the right to accept or deny the nominations. Once Perry accepts the nominations, Martin will present the nominations to the Board of Trustees, who has the final say so on honorary degrees.

Martin hopes for the nominations to be presented to the board at its next meeting in January so that there is time to contact the nominees before the commencement ceremony in May.

“It would be nice to get a few members here,” he said. “Sometimes they speak at commencement, but it’s not necessary.”

He said the longest commencement ceremony occurred when Payton accepted his honorary degree.

“Every guy wanted to stop and shake his hand,” Martin said, laughing. “A few of the girls did, too, but it was like every single guy stopped to shake his hand.”

The committee also has it set up so that nominees not selected can only be nominated twice before they must go beyond what gave them the initial nomination.

“That’s so we don’t go over the same list of lesser-qualified names year after year,” he said.

The honorary degree program began in 1949, and when it was initially created, more than four nominations were accepted.

Martin said it is interesting to see the different names that come up on the list.

Jan Tarble, in particular, who was honored with the degree in 2007, would not let the degree read doctorate.

“She felt she would take the degree, but wouldn’t let it say doctorate,” Martin said. “I thought that was interesting.”

Along with Tarble, familiar names like Burl Ives (1985), Quincy V. Doudna (1985) and Richard Lumpkin (1993) also appear on the list.

“It’s a wide variety and it’s hard to make the list,” Martin said.

Bob Galuski can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].