University Senate votes unanimously to recommend revocation of Rose’s honorary degree

charlie rose
Charlie Rose, former CBS reporter who admitted to sexual misconduct with several women during his career, was awarded an honorary degree from Sewanee in 2016. Photo courtesy of the University of the South Flickr.

By Fleming Smith


On Monday afternoon, the University Senate voted unanimously on a motion recommending to the Board of Regents that Charlie Rose’s honorary degree immediately be revoked. They also voted unanimously that the Senate’s honorary degree committee draft a procedure for the reconsideration of honorary degrees, as currently no explicit policy exists.

In a statement e-mailed to the student body from Vice-Chancellor John McCardell on Tuesday, he made clear that the motion would be communicated to the Board of Regents, but it was not specified what actions they make take in response.

The next scheduled meeting of the Board of Regents will be in June, although the Chair, Joseph DeLozier, can call for the Board to meet at any time.

According to the Office of Marketing and Communications, the Regents will likely consider the advisory motion “as they review and decide upon the to-be-proposed reconsideration process.” However, it is unlikely that the Regents will revoke Rose’s honorary degree based on the motion alone.

In his statement, McCardell wrote, “This past week has made us all painfully aware of both our institutional aspirations and the ways in which we still fall short of meeting them. I pledge my own continued involvement and energy in articulating and advancing those aspirations, civilly and respectfully, and those many things we need yet to do to bring us closer to their attainment.”

McCardell also reiterated the University’s commitment in standing against “sexual misconduct of any sort” and stressed the procedures and actions previously taken by the University. He encouraged every member of the community to “come forward with your own best thinking and suggestions,” which he said would be welcomed by him and members of the Task Force on Campus Sexual Climate.

The task force, co-chaired by Provost Nancy Berner and Dean of Students Marichal Gentry, seeks to ensure the University’s commitment to addressing campus sexual misconduct and to offer recommendations for improvement, according to the Provost’s website.

The University Senate comprises McCardell as Chair, the University’s Deans, full professors with at least 12 years of service to the University, and the University Chaplain. The Senate can make resolutions and recommendations for the Board of Regents, and a committee including Professors Pamela Macfie, Bran Potter, Mishoe Brennecke, and Regent members approves all honorary degree recipients.

As Macfie previously discussed with The Purple, the draft for a proposed process of reviewing honorary degree awards must be approved by the Board of Regents, and the Senate does not have the power to revoke any honorary degree. 

Professor Martin Knoll, secretary to the Senate, clarified to The Purple that “in the end, the Senate does not have the authority to unilaterally rescind an Honorary Degree. Only the Regents can do this.”

Professor Jennifer Michael, Chair of the English Department, made the motion in the Senate to recommend the revocation of Rose’s honorary degree.

“I’m very pleased that my Senate colleagues spoke with one voice today. We feel that this is a matter of great urgency, not only for our own sense of integrity and justice but also for Sewanee’s reputation,” she commented to The Purple.

As the motion is only a recommendation due to the limits of the Senate’s power, Michael said, “We hope they will act on this quickly.”

Regarding the motion to create a process for future cases, Michael said that the “development of a process in committee will take some time.” She added, “It was clear, however, that we did not wish to delay action on the Rose matter.”

Check The Purple for more updates as the story progresses, and read our past coverage of this matter online.

Vice-Chancellor John McCardell’s statement in full:

“Dear Members of the University Community,

The University Senate is, according to the Ordinances of the University of the South, “composed of the Vice-Chancellor as Chair, the Provost, the Deans, all full professors in all departments, and the Chaplain of the University.” The Senate, among other responsibilities stated in the Ordinances, “shall have power to originate and discuss any proposal necessary for the good government, academic proficiency, repute, and common weal of the University, which they may think expedient to lay before the Board of Regents.” The Senate also “shall approve all candidates for honorary degrees.”

At its meeting on February 26, 2018, the Senate acted on a slate of nominees for honorary degrees as recommended by the Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees. The Senate unanimously passed a motion to instruct the Honorary Degree Committee faculty members to draft procedures for reconsideration of a granted honorary degree. These procedures will then be taken to the Joint Regent-Senate Committee for discussion and eventual action.

As a result, there will be a process, where none had existed, for the orderly review of an honorary degree once awarded. The Ordinances of the University currently state that “recipients of all honorary degrees must be approved by the Board of Regents.” For this reason, any new, or revised, process for the granting or the reconsideration of honorary degrees will ultimately require the approval of the Board of Regents. The Senate members of the Honorary Degree Committee will work to ensure that the views of the faculty are solicited and communicated in the course of their work.

The Senate also passed unanimously an advisory motion to rescind immediately the honorary degree awarded to Charlie Rose. This motion will be communicated to the Board of Regents.

This is a summary of the official actions taken. To these I would add the following:

  1.      The University has steadfastly stood and continues to stand against sexual misconduct of any sort on the campus and in the workplace, has clear rules to that effect, and has well-established procedures for dealing with allegations that those rules have been violated.
  2.      The University continues actively to work to combat sexual misconduct, and a special Task Force, co-chaired by Dean Marichal Gentry and Professor Kelly Malone, has been working diligently to update the 2012 Rethink Report and to make recommendations that will continue to address the issue of campus sexual climate.
  3.      As there can be no mistaking the commitment of the University to these matters, so can there also be no mistaking the need for every member of the community to come forward with your own best thinking and suggestions. I know the Task Force will welcome those ideas; I will, personally, welcome them as well.

This past week has made us all painfully aware of both our institutional aspirations and the ways in which we still fall short of meeting them. I pledge my own continued involvement and energy in articulating and advancing those aspirations, civilly and respectfully, and those many things we need yet to do to bring us closer to their attainment.

John McCardell