Letter to the Editor: Sewanee should rescind Charlie Rose’s honorary degree

by Page Forrest

Contributing Writer

As more individuals find the courage to speak out regarding sexual harassment and assault they have endured at the hands of celebrated figures, many of us find ourselves revisiting how we view those celebrities. I was delighted when Charlie Rose spoke at Sewanee’s baccalaureate ceremony in 2016 and was awarded an honorary degree. The women who have come forward about Rose assaulting them over the past two decades have shifted my feelings to those of horror and disgust. It is imperative that Sewanee strip Rose of his honorary degree, as he is no longer deserving of the title.

There is an unfortunately widespread tendency to attempt to protect these sexual assaulters and malign their accusers: “What about innocent until proven guilty,” we say. Rose’s acts were heinous, but we are not charging him with a crime; from which that standard is derived. Sexual assaulters should not be lauded by society, no matter how intelligent or creative or competent they may be in their career. We owe it to ourselves and their victims not to honor them once we know the truth. Rose did not earn his degree at Sewanee, it was awarded based on his career and his character. Now it is clear that both are tainted by his actions.  

CBS fired Rose the day after the allegations were published, as is appropriate. His career is not ruined in a passive fashion, he ruined it himself by violating women’s bodies – he just did not realize that he would be caught. And more than likely, he won’t be off the air forever. How can one claim that holding men accountable for their actions ruins their careers when Mel Gibson is back in “family-friendly” movies after assaulting his girlfriend and saying things to her we cannot even print in this paper? When Roy Moore might get elected to the Senate? This probably won’t end Rose’s career. Rescinding his honorary degree probably will not impact him personally. But it will reflect on Sewanee. We have a moral imperative to revoke his degree instead of providing silent support by virtue of our complacency.