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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Honorary Degrees

I was glancing through an online educational forum when I ran across a thread about professors and their doctorates. the essence was very dismissive of anyone that had not "earned a degree" but had instead received an honorary degree. To clarify BFU's position:

  • Bastiat Free University does not now award honorary degrees.

  • I do not have, nor am I seeking an honorary degree.

My viewpoint however is quite different then that espoused by the tenured professors in the forum.

It is not wisdom, understanding, or creativity adding value to various college degrees. Instead huge institutions value active compliance as demonstrated by fulfilling college graduation requirements. Submission to authorities, no matter how silly they are, is a virtue in bureaucratic organizations.

The purpose of education, as sold by the education industry, is career advancement, higher pay, and empowering a college graduate's job search. Modern schools and colleges are molded on the early industrial age Prussian formula - their purpose is to make compliant and uniform citizens. Students from government approved schools can be easily managed; the longer they stay in school the more uniform they become. In essence the entire formal educational process develops candidates for tedious jobs within bureaucracies.

"Academies that are founded at public expense are instituted not so much to cultivate men's natural abilities as to restrain them." - Baruch Spinoza

Brick and mortar colleges are where leather bound encyclopedias were a few decades ago - highly respected - unable to gracefully adapt to the information age. The tenured professors at these institutions frequently fall into the same category; respected but without adaptability.

"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists." - Eric Hoffer

Formal colleges and their instructors still retain value, but their effectiveness is increasingly one of perception, not of reality. Investments in existing higher education are producing diminishing returns as degrees become common place, as bureaucracies shrink, and as technologically empowered individuals exercise increasing personal choice.

So what do I see as the difference between attending college for an extra decade or so to receive a doctorate degree and receiving an honorary degree? The difference is in the route to sheepskin.

  • studying a set curriculum from preschool through grad school, taking decades to earn a doctorate degree, gets the professional stamp of approval. Those so honored have proven that they can follow senseless rules and wend through bureaucratic red tape in a manner that pleases authority figures.
  • Those that receive an honorary degree most frequently receive it for actual accomplishment in their field; they have achieved impressive results due to diligence, knowledge, and hard work.
Frankly I believe an honorary degree is earned, a scholastically awarded degree is a sign of survivorship. I value more highly the honorary degree as a sign that someone can think for themselves, adapt within a real environment, and create value. That has to be far more important than mere practiced recitation, no matter how diligent the student.

"
I know very well that because I am unlettered some presumptuous people will think they have the right to criticize me, saying that I am an uncultured man. What stupid fools! Do they not know that I could reply to them as Marius did to the Roman patricians: 'Do those who pride themselves on the works of other men claim to challenge mine?'" - Leonardo da Vinci

To my way of thinking, Leonardo earned an honorary degree - even if it was never awarded.

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