Board of Regents revokes Charlie Rose’s honorary degree after protests

Photo courtesy of Google Images.

By Fleming Smith

Editor-in-Chief

The Board of Regents voted with a two-thirds majority to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree on March 20 at a special meeting, earlier than their scheduled June meeting. Vice-Chancellor John McCardell announced the Board’s decision to the University community this afternoon, March 21.

A statement to the media from the University reads, “In its 150-year history, the University had never revoked an honorary degree, nor, until very recently, did it have a process to do so. The Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees developed a process this month for the orderly review of an honorary degree once awarded.”

The statement continues, “This action followed requests to rescind Rose’s honorary degree from students, faculty, and members of the Board of Trustees, and recognized that it occasionally may be necessary for the University to consider the revocation of an honorary degree held by a still-living recipient.” Read the full statement below this article.

The Board of Regents initially decided to maintain Rose’s honorary degree, given in 2016, after student trustees Claire Brickson (C’18) and Mary Margaret Murdock (C’19) presented the possibility of revocation to them in early February. Rose, a former CBS journalist, admitted to sexually harassing several women last year.

After the Regents’ first decision, many students, alumni, faculty, seminarians, and community members reacted with outrage on social media. Students on campus quickly organized a protest, encouraging members of the Order of the Gown to boycott the gown until the decision was reversed.

Many of those who protested the decision also connected Rose’s honorary degree to issues of sexual assault on campus and the transparency, or supposed lack of transparency according to some students, with how these cases are handled by the University.

“This may be the first time the question of revoking an honorary degree has come up—but it is likely not to be the last time, and the University is now better prepared,” McCardell wrote in a statement issued through the University.

He also wrote, “The issues that many on our campus have spoken about are broader than the behavior of Charlie Rose—though that behavior as described is indefensible. These issues affect all college campuses as well as our larger society. The University has steadfastly stood and continues to stand against sexual misconduct of any sort on the campus and in the workplace. We will continue to work actively to combat sexual misconduct and to address the issue of campus sexual climate.”

Statements from the University highlighted the fact that Sewanee had never previously rescinded an honorary degree and that this situation allowed for a new four-step process. The process involved a written request that was approved by the Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees, the University Senate, and the Board of Regents, with the Board of Regents having “final authority” on revoking an honorary degree, according to the University’s statement.

During the campaign to revoke Rose’s honorary degree, several students formed a Leadership Coalition for a group called Speak Up Sewanee, which they envisioned as a way to protest Rose’s honor as well as other issues on campus. Brickson, Lala Hilizah (C’21), Eliana Perozo (C’18), co-director of the Bairnwick Women’s Center Sydney Peterson (C’18), Student Government Association president Brandon Iracks-Edelin (C’18), and Cotie San (C’18) began this coalition, and before spring break they started work on a list of demands for the University.

Speaking on the recent decision to revoke, the Leadership Coalition told their supporters, “Today, we celebrate. We celebrate a victory well deserved. We celebrate a moment in Sewanee history in which students, faculty, and the broader Sewanee community came together, mobilized, and demanded for our voices to be heard.”

They continued, “The revocation of Charlie Rose’s honorary degree is about much more than one decision, it is about the hundreds of students that protested, the dozens of professors who have supported this cause, and the sleepless nights that have gone by as students planned our next call to action…All of us made this happen.”

The Coalition emphasized that “we are here to speak up now, tomorrow, next year, and the years to come. So remember Sewanee, as long as there is injustice on our campus, WE WILL SPEAK UP.” Read their full statement below this article.

This story will continue to be updated; find The Purple’s previous coverage of the controversy surrounding Charlie Rose’s honorary degree, as well as open letters regarding the decision, on our website. Read McCardell’s and the University’s statements below, as well as a statement from the Leadership Coalition of Speak Up Sewanee.

A statement to the University community from McCardell:

“Dear Members of the University Community,

At a special meeting on Tuesday, March 20, the Board of Regents voted to revoke the honorary degree awarded to Charlie Rose in May 2016.

This vote completed a process of discernment, developed and pursued expeditiously by the Board in response to concerns over the Rose degree, and involving the University Senate, the Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees, and the Board of Regents. Each body required a two-thirds vote of its membership for the motion to revoke to pass.

John McCardell

Vice-Chancellor”

A statement to the media from the University:

“I wanted you to know the latest actions by the university on the matter of Charlie Rose’s honorary degree.

The University of the South has revoked the honorary degree it previously awarded to broadcast journalist Charlie Rose, after creating a procedure under which it could do so.

In the new four-step process, a written request for the revocation of an honorary degree was submitted to the vice-chancellor, who shared it with and received approval from the Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees, the University Senate, and the Board of Regents, in that order.

Background:

The University of the South awarded an honorary degree to Charlie Rose in May 2016. An honorary degree is awarded to recognize achievement by leaders in a wide variety of fields, after a review of lifetime accomplishments known at the time it is awarded.

In its 150-year history, the University had never revoked an honorary degree, nor, until very recently, did it have a process to do so. The Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees developed a process this month for the orderly review of an honorary degree once awarded. This action followed requests to rescind Rose’s honorary degree from students, faculty, and members of the Board of Trustees, and recognized that it occasionally may be necessary for the University to consider the revocation of an honorary degree held by a still-living recipient.

Under this new process, the groups responsible for the revocation of an honorary degree are the same groups responsible for considering the conferral of such a degree: the Board of Regents, the University Senate, and the Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees. The Board of Regents, in accord with its role in granting honorary degrees, has the final authority in the revocation of a degree.

Accordingly, on March 11, the Joint Regent-Senate Committee voted by a two-thirds majority to recommend revocation of the honorary degree conferred upon Charlie Rose. The University Senate later that week voted to recommend revocation, also by a two-thirds majority of its membership. The vice-chancellor conveyed that recommendation to the Board of Regents, which met on March 20. A two-thirds majority of that Board was also required for the revocation of the degree.”

A statement from Speak Up Sewanee:

“Today, we celebrate. We celebrate a victory well deserved. We celebrate a moment in Sewanee history in which students, faculty, and the broader Sewanee community came together, mobilized, and demanded for our voices to be heard. The revocation of Charlie Rose’s honorary degree is about much more than one decision, it is about the hundreds of students that protested, the dozens of professors who have supported this cause, and the sleepless nights that have gone by as students planned our next call to action.

All of us made this happen.

To the French teacher taking off time in class to acknowledge this movement. To the freshmen girl who was strong enough to announce her assault experience in class. To each and every victim/survivor who protested, who marched, who was too afraid, who wasn’t sure… This is for you.

Speak Up Sewanee, remember our work has just begun. We have the strength to demand change, and we are here to stay. While some of us will graduate, our fire will not burn away. Sewanee is not done speaking up, and we are not done escaping the shadows. Our liberation is bound in one another. There are still many of us that demand justice and demand that our representatives stand by us. We are only growing in numbers. We are here to speak up now, tomorrow, next year, and the years to come. So remember Sewanee, as long as there is injustice on our campus, WE WILL SPEAK UP.

Please share your ideas, thoughts, artwork, poems, and support on our forum at www.speakupsewanee.com.

With our voices,

The Leadership Coalition”

7 thoughts

    1. Wrong answer. They will accept with gratitude. The honorary degree from the University of the South come with an attachment, an accountability to act in a manner which will not disgrace our institution.

    2. Common response from sexual predators perhaps. Honorable potential recipients should be happy to be a part of it now.

  1. The University should revoke the degree and consider giving honorary degrees to those that have been sexually harassed by Mr. Rose

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