An honorary degree, in
a degree honoris causa ("for the sake
of the honor") or ad honorem ("to the honor"), is an academic degree
for which a university (or other degree-awarding institution) has
waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, residence, a
dissertation and the passing of comprehensive examinations. The degree
is typically a doctorate or, less commonly, a master's degree, and may
be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the academic
institution or no previous postsecondary education. An example of
identifying a recipient of this award is as follows:
Business Administration (Hon. Causa).
The degree is often conferred as a way of honouring a distinguished
visitor's contributions to a specific field or to society in
It is sometimes recommended that such degrees be listed in one's CV as
an award, and not in the education section. With regard to the use
of this honorific, the policies of institutions of higher education
generally ask that recipients "refrain from adopting
the misleading title" and that a recipient of an honorary doctorate
should restrict the use of the title "Dr" before their name to any
engagement with the institution of higher education in question and
not within the broader community. Rev.
record for most honorary degrees, having been awarded 150 during his
In May 2017, Israel's Bar-Ilan
issued an honorary degree to
Magen David Adom, which is an Institute (rather than a person).
1 Historical origins
2 Modern practice
2.1 Practical use
2.2 Customary degrees (ad eundem or jure officii degrees)
2.3 Institutions not awarding honorary degrees
4 Use of title associated with honorary doctorates
5 See also
The practice dates back to the Middle Ages, when for various reasons a
university might be persuaded, or otherwise see fit, to grant
exemption from some or all of the usual statutory requirements for the
awarding of a degree. The earliest honorary degree on record was
Lionel Woodville in the late 1470s by the
Oxford. He later became Bishop of Salisbury.
In the latter part of the 16th century, the granting of honorary
degrees became quite common, especially on the occasion of royal
visits to Oxford or Cambridge. On the visit of James I to Oxford in
1605, for example, forty-three members of his retinue (fifteen of whom
were earls or barons) received the degree of Master of Arts, and the
Convocation explicitly states that these were full
degrees, carrying the usual privileges (such as voting rights in
Convocation and Congregation).
Honorary degrees are usually awarded at regular graduation ceremonies,
at which the recipients are often invited to make a speech of
acceptance before the assembled faculty and graduates – an event
which often forms the highlight of the ceremony. Generally,
universities nominate several persons each year for honorary degrees;
these nominees usually go through several committees before receiving
approval. Those who are nominated are generally not told until a
formal approval and invitation are made; often it is perceived that
the system is shrouded in secrecy, and occasionally seen as political
The term honorary degree is a slight misnomer: honoris causa degrees
are not considered of the same standing as substantive degrees earned
by the standard academic processes of courses and original research,
except perhaps where the recipient has demonstrated an appropriate
level of academic scholarship that would ordinarily qualify him or her
for the award of a substantive degree. Recipients of honorary
degrees typically wear the same academic dress as recipients of
substantive degrees, although there are a few exceptions: honorary
graduands at the
University of Cambridge wear the appropriate
full-dress gown but not the hood, and those at the
University of St
Andrews wear a black cassock instead of the usual full-dress gown.
An ad eundem or jure officii degree is sometimes considered honorary,
although they are only conferred on an individual who has already
achieved a comparable qualification at another university or by
attaining an office requiring the appropriate level of scholarship.
Under certain circumstances, a degree may be conferred on an
individual for both the nature of the office they hold and the
completion of a dissertation. The "dissertation et jure dignitatis" is
considered to be a full academic degree. See below.
Although higher doctorates such as DSc, DLitt, etc., are often awarded
honoris causa, in many countries (notably England and Scotland,
Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand) it is possible formally to earn
such a degree. This typically involves the submission of a
portfolio of peer-refereed research, usually undertaken over a number
of years, which has made a substantial contribution to the academic
field in question. The university will appoint a panel of examiners
who will consider the case and prepare a report recommending whether
or not the degree be awarded. Usually, the applicant must have some
strong formal connection with the university in question, for example
full-time academic staff, or graduates of several years' standing.
Some universities, seeking to differentiate between substantive and
honorary doctorates, have a degree (often DUniv, or Doctor of the
University) which is used for these purposes, with the other higher
doctorates reserved for formally examined academic scholarship.
Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury has the authority to award degrees. These
"Lambeth degrees" are sometimes, erroneously, thought to be honorary;
however the archbishops have for many centuries had the legal
authority (originally as the representatives of the Pope, later
confirmed by a 1533 Act of Henry VIII), to award degrees and regularly
do so to people who have either passed an examination or are deemed to
have satisfied the appropriate requirements.
Between the two extremes of honoring celebrities and formally
assessing a portfolio of research, some universities use honorary
degrees to recognize achievements of intellectual rigor. Some
institutes of higher education do not confer honorary degrees as a
matter of policy - see below. Some learned societies award honorary
fellowships in the same way as honorary degrees are awarded by
universities, for similar reasons.
Ezra Stiles to
George Washington announcing the awarding
of an honorary degree to Washington by the president and fellows of
Yale College (1781).
A typical example of university regulations is, "Honorary graduates
may use the approved post-nominal letters. It is not customary,
however, for recipients of an honorary doctorate to adopt the prefix
'Dr.'" In some universities, it is however a matter of personal
preference for an honorary doctor to use the formal title of "Doctor",
regardless of the background circumstances for the award. Written
communications where an honorary doctorate has been awarded may
include the letters "h.c." after the award to indicate that status.
The recipient of an honorary degree may add the degree title
postnominally, but it should always be made clear
that the degree is honorary by adding "honorary" or "honoris causa" or
"h.c." in parentheses after the degree title. In some countries, a
person who holds an honorary doctorate may use the title "Doctor"
prenominally, abbreviated "Dr.h.c." or "Dr.(h.c.)". Sometimes, they
use "Hon" before the degree letters, for example, "Hon DMus".
In recent years, some universities have adopted entirely separate
postnominal titles for honorary degrees. This is in part due to the
confusion that honorary degrees have caused. For example, an honorary
doctorate from the Auckland
University of Technology takes the special
title HonD since it is now common in certain countries to use certain
degrees, such as LLD or HonD, as purely honorary. Some universities,
including the Open
University grant Doctor of the
degrees to selected nominees, while awarding PhD or EdD degrees to
those who have fulfilled the academic requirements.
Most American universities award the degrees of LLD
(Doctor of Laws), LittD (Doctor of Letters), LHD (Doctor of Humane
Letters), ScD (Doctor of Science), PedD (Doctor of Pedagogy) and DD
(Doctor of Divinity) only as honorary degrees. American universities
do not have the system of "higher doctorates" used in the UK and some
other universities around the world.
Customary degrees (ad eundem or jure officii degrees)
See also: List of honorary degrees
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Some universities and colleges have the custom of awarding a master's
degree to every scholar appointed as a full professor, who had never
earned a degree there. At the Universities of Oxford, Dublin and
Cambridge, many senior staff are granted the degree of Master of Arts
after three years of service, and at
Amherst College all
tenured professors are awarded a Master of Arts degree at an academic
convocation in the autumn, even though the school only offers an
Bachelor of Arts degree (Amherst awards honorary doctorates at
commencement in the spring to notable scholars and other special
University and Harvard
University also award tenured
faculty, who do not have a degree from their respective schools, the
AM ad eundem.
These ad eundem or jure officii degrees are earned degrees, not
honorary, because they recognize formal learning.
Similarly, a jure dignitatis degree is awarded to someone who has
demonstrated eminence and scholarship by being appointed to a
particular office. Thus, for example, a DD (Doctor of Divinity) might
be conferred upon a bishop on the occasion of his consecration, or a
judge created LLD (Legum Doctor) or DCL (Doctor of Civil Law) upon his
or her appointment to the judicial bench. These, also, are properly
considered substantive rather than honorary degrees.
Institutions not awarding honorary degrees
Some US universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT), Cornell University, Stanford University, and
Rice University, do not award honorary degrees as a matter of
University of Virginia (founded in 1819) was probably the
first US university to explicitly have a policy of not awarding
honorary degrees at the behest of its founder, Thomas
Jefferson. In 1845, William Barton Rogers, then chairman of
the faculty, vigorously defended this policy; in 1861, he founded MIT
in Boston and continued this practice. The
Virginia does annually award
Thomas Jefferson Medals in Architecture
and in Law, as the highest honors accorded by that
MIT has on rare occasions awarded honorary professorships; Winston
Churchill was so honored in 1949, as was
Salman Rushdie in 1993.
Similarly, the Stanford Alumni Association occasionally awards the
Degree of Uncommon Man/Woman to individuals who have given "rare and
exceptional service" to the university. Though
UCLA has imposed a
moratorium on awarding honorary degrees, it honors notable people with
Medal instead. St. John's College has not granted
honorary degrees since 1936, but its alumni association occasionally
offers honorary membership to retiring faculty, staff, and other close
associates of the college.
Elena Ceauşescu becoming Doctor Honoris Causa of the
Manila, Philippines, in 1975
Some universities and colleges have been accused of granting honorary
degrees in exchange for large donations.
Honorary degree recipients,
particularly those who have no prior academic qualifications, have
sometimes been criticized if they insist on being called "Doctor" as a
result of their award, as the honorific may mislead the general public
about their qualifications. It can be similarly misleading when
respected individuals are referred to as "Professor", especially in a
university or government context.
The awarding of an honorary degree to political figures can prompt
protests from faculty or students. In 2001,
George W. Bush
George W. Bush received an
honorary degree from Yale University, where he had earned his
bachelor's degree in history in 1968. Some students and faculty chose
to boycott the university's 300th commencement. Andrew Card, who
served as Bush's Chief of Staff from 2001–2006, ultimately chose not
to speak when the
University of Massachusetts-Amherst awarded him an
honorary degree in 2007, in response to protests from students and
faculty at the commencement ceremonies.
In 1985, as a deliberate snub, the
University of Oxford voted to
Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree in protest against her
cuts in funding for higher education. This award had previously
been given to all prime ministers who had been educated at Oxford.
In 2005 at the
University of Western Ontario, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a
gynecologist involved in a legal case decriminalizing abortion in
Canada (R. v. Morgentaler), was made an honorary Doctor of Laws. Over
12,000 signatures were acquired asking the UWO to reverse its decision
to honor Dr. Morgentaler. Several protest rallies were held,
including one on the day the honorary degree was bestowed (a counter
petition to support Morgentaler's degree gained 10,000
Few people object when an honorary degree is awarded in a field that
the awardee is noted for. McGill University's decision to grant
Joni Mitchell an honorary
Doctor of Music
Doctor of Music in 2004 was
unopposed, although it was timed to coincide with a symposium about
Southampton College at Long Island
University (now a campus
of SUNY Stony Brook) awarded an Honorary
Doctorate of Amphibious
Muppet Kermit the Frog. Although some students objected to
awarding a degree to a Muppet, Kermit delivered an enjoyable
commencement address and the small college received considerable press
coverage. The degree was conferred in recognition of efforts in
the area of environmentalism. Said the university: "His theme song,
'It's Not Easy Bein' Green,' has become a rallying cry of the
environmental movement. Kermit has used his celebrity to spread
positive messages in public service announcements for the National
Wildlife Federation, National Park Service, the Better World Society,
The Philosophy Faculty at Cambridge courted controversy amongst the
academic community in March 1992, when three of its members posed a
temporary veto against the awarding of an honorary doctorate to
Jacques Derrida; they and other non-Cambridge proponents of
analytic philosophy protested against the granting on the grounds that
Derrida's work "did not conform with accepted measures of academic
rigor." Although the
University eventually passed the motion, the
episode did more to draw attention to the continuing antipathy between
the analytic (of which Cambridge's faculty is a leading exponent) and
the post-Hegelian continental philosophical traditions (with which
Derrida's work is more closely associated).
In 2007, protesters demanded that the
University of Edinburgh revoke
an honorary degree awarded to Zimbabwean leader
Robert Mugabe in 1984.
University subsequently revealed plans to review its honorary
degree policy and strip certain figures of their honorary degrees who
did not deserve them. When considering revoking the honorary degree of
a political figure, such reasons as human rights abuse or political
corruption would be considered. As a result, it was announced that
Mugabe had been stripped of his honorary degree. The
planned to have a more rigorous selection procedure regarding
potential recipients of honorary degrees, in an attempt to rectify the
trend of awarding degrees to celebrities. Students at the
University of Massachusetts Amherst also asked the university to
revoke the honorary degree that was awarded to Mugabe over twenty
years ago, and on June 12, 2008 the trustees unanimously rescinded
Robert Mugabe's honorary degree. Michigan State
also rescinded its honorary degree.
In April 2009, Arizona State University's President Michael M. Crow
refused to give an honorary degree to US President
Barack Obama for
his lack of adequate qualifying achievements thus far. Also,
controversy was ignited about Notre
Dame awarding Obama an
honorary degree, as the institution is Roman Catholic and Obama holds
pro-choice views on abortion and supports embryonic stem cell
In February 2012, Rosmah Mansor, the wife of the Prime Minister of
Najib Razak was controversially awarded an honorary
doctorate by the Curtin
University for "services to childhood
education". The university honored Rosmah for founding and driving
the Permata early childhood centres in Malaysia although some alumni
and students contended that the government-funded centres are "an
abuse of taxpayers' money."
Between 1985 and 2014, dozens of colleges and universities awarded
honorary degrees to Bill Cosby, who became widely accused of
serial rape in 2014 and 2015. Because of the sheer
number of allegations; an unsealed 2005 court deposition in which
Cosby admitted to giving drugs to women he wanted to have sex with;
and an increasing movement for universities to send strong
no-tolerance messages about sexual violence, nearly 20 colleges and
universities have rescinded his honorary degrees, many of which had
never previously enacted such a measure.
Use of title associated with honorary doctorates
By convention, recipients of honorary doctorates do not use the title
"Dr" in general correspondence, although in formal correspondence from
the university issuing the honorary degree it is normal to address the
recipient by the title. However, this social convention is not
always scrupulously observed. Notable people who have used the
honorary prefix include:
Benjamin Franklin, who received an honorary master's degree from The
College of William and Mary in 1756, and doctorates from the
University of St. Andrews in 1759 and the
University of Oxford in 1762
for his scientific accomplishments. He thereafter referred to himself
as "Doctor Franklin".
Billy Graham had been addressed as "Dr. Graham", though his
highest earned degree was a BA in anthropology from Wheaton
Stephen Colbert, who received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from
Knox College in 2006, frequently made light of the concept of an
"honorary doctor" by offering up scurrilous medical advice in a bit
called "Cheating Death" on his television program The Colbert Report
after being awarded a D.F.A.
Edwin H. Land, who invented the
Land Camera instant camera, and was a
co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation, received an honorary doctorate
University and was often referred to as "Dr. Land",
though he did not have any earned degree.
Memoirist and poet
Maya Angelou had no earned degrees, but she
received dozens of honorary ones and she preferred to be called "Dr.
Angelou" by people other than family and close friends.
Richard Stallman, the founder of the
Free Software Foundation
Free Software Foundation in the
field of Information Technology, has been awarded fourteen honorary
doctorates from various international educational institutions from
1996 through 2014 including the North American Lakehead
2009, and now refers to himself as "Dr. Richard Stallman" in speeches,
talks, videos, and email.
Sukarno, the first President of Indonesia, was awarded twenty-six
honorary doctorates from various international universities including
Columbia University, the
University of Michigan, the
Berlin, the Al-Azhar University, the
University of Belgrade, the
University and many more. And also from domestic
universities including the Universitas Gadjah Mada, the Universitas
Indonesia, the Bandung Institute of Technology, and the Universitas
Padjadjaran. He had often been referred to by the Indonesian
Government at the time as 'Dr. Ir. Sukarno', combined with his
degree in architecture (Ir.) from Bandung Institute of Technology.
Author and lexicographer Samuel Johnson, who had some years earlier
been unable (due to financial considerations) to complete his
undergraduate studies at Pembroke College, Oxford, was awarded the
degree of Master of Arts by diploma in 1755, in recognition of his
scholarly achievements. In 1765,
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin awarded
him the degree of Doctor of Laws and in 1775 Oxford bestowed upon
him the degree of
Doctor of Civil Law
Doctor of Civil Law by diploma.
Former Peruvian president and politician Alan García, who for many
years held the title of Dr. in official presentations as head of state
and as a civilian throughout his academic career. Heavily criticized
by the media when discovering his last degree to be a Master's in
economic development and not completing his doctoral studies in law,
he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the
University of Delhi in
1987, while making an official visit to
India in his first term as
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Honorary degree.
Freedom of the City
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Levels of academic degree
ISCED level 5
Higher National Diploma/Diploma of Higher Education/Certificate of
ISCED level 6
ISCED level 7
ISCED level 8
Candidate of Sciences
No dominant classification
Ad eundem degree
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