Charlie Rose’s honorary degree has been revoked: what now?

Sewanee: The University of the South. Courtesy of Sewanee’s flickr. 

By Sophia Henderson
Staff Writer

Now that Charlie Rose’s honorary degree has been revoked, it seems that we as a community stand at a crossroads. The #MeToo movement has garnered much attention in the past year, and Sewanee still has some catching up to do.

As members of a small and close-knit academic community, it is incumbent for us to ask ourselves what it means to live in such a community and to be effective stewards of this place.  Sewanee is unique in our traditions, from gowns to the Honor Code to class dress. Our predecessors have passed on to us the importance of honor, and this community is one of tradition.

Unfortunately, it seems another tradition this institution has maintained is an inability to take sexual assault seriously. If our institution is founded upon honor and wishes to uphold these ideals, we need to reconcile the glaring inconsistencies between the ways in which our institution regards violations of the Honor Code and the perpetuation of sexual assault.

Last week, the Leadership Coalition (the Speak Up Sewanee group which formed in response to the initial decision not to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree) released a list of 10 demands in the wake of the revocation of Charlie Rose’s honorary degree. In this list of demands, they explain that a forgotten citation in a paper and an essay purchased online to be submitted as one’s own are given the same punishment under the current system. Both can be punished with suspension.

The severity of these two infractions is clearly different. Yet, it seems that our institution is more concerned with forgotten citations than dealing with the problem of sexual assault on campus. The initial decision not to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree made this quite clear.

The outrage on campus surrounding this decision stemmed from something larger than the decision itself. It was as though the decision cemented the unfortunate truth many of us already suspected: Sewanee cares more about protecting individuals in power than it does about victims of sexual assault.

On a campus as small as Sewanee’s, many students know individuals found guilty of sexual assault are still members of the campus community, allowed to attend and graduate with a Sewanee degree. Yet, individuals who unintentionally forgot a citation in a paper can be and are suspended from Sewanee by the Honor Council. This constitutes a clear ethical contradiction, in which a violation of MLA formatting is punished more harshly than the violation of another human being.

As freshmen, we dressed up and filed eagerly into All Saints’ Chapel with the other members of our incoming class to sign the Honor Code. We promised to uphold the ideals of honor: not to lie, cheat, or steal. We learned the maxim of “Ecce Quam Bonum” (“Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity”). But it becomes more difficult to trust in these traditions and maxims about who we are as a community when there are adjudicated perpetrators of sexual assault allowed to remain on campus.

In short, the issue of sexual assault on Sewanee’s campus as well as other campuses around the country is a complex one, and it cannot be addressed completely in the span of one article. But one thing is all too clear: a community rooted in honor is one which does not tolerate sexual assault. Sewanee needs to reconcile the discrepancy between its treatment of lesser infractions of the Honor Code and treatment of violations as severe as sexual assault.


  1. Congratulations! Your hours and hours of time and outrage accomplished your goal of revoking an honorary degree. You must be so proud!

    What now?

    How about focusing on finishing the Easter semester as best possible! Learn, grow, have fun!

    Or, you could be perpetually aggrieved and outraged about everything. Perhaps come up with another list of demands. Why only 10? Maybe, you could organize campus wide protests over the selection of Dr Rice to give the 2018 Baccalaureate Address during Sewanee’s Commencement ceremony on May 13.

    Upon reflection, I believe I would opt for concentrate on a strong finish to the Easter semester. Enjoy!

  2. I have to agree with the previous responder. Where does this ridiculous outrage end? So you revoked Rose’s degree? So what?! Do you think he cares?

    Yale University has a perfect policy on this. “We do not revoke honorary degrees”. Period. Why? Because the degree was bestowed based on the best information we had at the time. We did our best due diligence. We bestowed the degree based on what we knew at the time.

    So Condoleezza Rice usgettng one this year. Who’s to say she won’t do something objectionable in the future. Will her degree be rescinded as well?

    This is poppycock. I am totally against the past actions of Charlie Rose. By all means, condemn his actions. But rescinding the degree? What a joke. He has the paper. And who gives a damn? It just looks like revisionist history. Yale has this one right.

Comments are closed.