Does the President Deserve an Honorary Degree from Arizona State?

The grand history and tradition of granting honorary degrees to persons emeritus has enticed the hoi polloi of American society for generations. With apologies to Aunt Josie, my Uncle Jack McCoy received such an honor from the School of Hard Knocks in the early seventies for his performance art dissertation on "Lighting Campfires Using Wood Soaked in Kerosene and Surviving" but was sadly denied any recognition in the mainstream media for his efforts.

The tradition of giving honorary degrees dates back considerably further, however. According to some sources, Lionel Woodville was the first to receive such approbation in the 1470s from Oxford, prior to his appointment as the bishop of Salisbury. This historic pedigree may vex observers all the more upon learning that Arizona State University has declined to offer President Barack Obama similar accreditation on the occasion of his commencement address there this spring.

The reason given seems simple enough on its face: they only offer these degrees to people for their "body of work, somebody who's been in their position for a long time." This should be fair and justly spoken in the minds of most educators. Surely the bar would be set high for those seeking such an honor without completing the prerequisite course of study.

Of course, some schools are a tad less rigid in their assessments. Stephen Colbert was granted an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Knox College after hosting his own television program for less than one year. When it comes to presidents, Harvard University has issued a number of such honors, with the last going to John F. Kennedy in 1956. Aside from his family name, Kennedy has served in the military and done short stints in the House and Senate, but it is difficult to imagine he would have met Arizona's stringent requirements.