By Alyssa Luckhurst
Did you know you could nominate Pamela Anderson of Baywatch and Playboy fame for an honorary degree?
Ryerson students are permitted to nominate individuals for the university’s honorary degrees, but few are aware of their inclusion in this important administrative process. Provost and Vice-President Academic Diane Schulman said she placed ads in Ryerson’s student newspapers and sent messages to the dean of each faculty asking for nominations. But it may take more than that to catch busy students’ attention.
“There obviously needs to be more promotion,” said Chelsea Claridge, a second-year fashion design student. Though Claridge usually reads campus newspapers, she was unaware of the honorary degree nomination process.
She said she would likely have nominated someone and suggested that nomination forms be handed out in classrooms. “I don’t think anyone’s really going to go out of their way… I wouldn’t go searching on the internet for nomination forms unless I was strongly opinionated about nominating someone,” Claridge said. Honorary degrees are given to prominent individuals who have made significant contributions to their respective fields, the university, Canadian society or the world.
Recipients of Ryerson’s honorary degrees include Sam The Record Man founder Sam Sniderman, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels and South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela. At each convocation, one individual is honoured and 10 people receive an honorary degree at Ryerson each year. The recipients are not paid to come to Ryerson to accept the award. “You could not be more honoured by an institution of higher learning,” said Schulman, adding that an honorary degree from Ryerson holds a good deal of weight. “Ryerson is a significant presence in Canadian society. It stands for good contributions to society… It is a prestigious institution.”
Once the individual has accepted the degree, his or her name will always be connected to the university. The appearance of well-known public figure at a Ryerson ceremony creates swarms of publicity. Honorary degrees are also inspiring for many students. “When the graduands feel inspired by someone to go out in the community and make a contribution, then we’ve made a good choice,” says journalism professor Ivor Shapiro. Shapiro is one of 14 members of the Awards and Ceremonial Committee, an academic council standing committee chaired by President Sheldon Levy. The committee reviews all nominations and approves candidates who meet the criteria.
Once the committee has approved the nominees, their names are passed on to the president, who then contacts possible recipients. If a nominee declines the award or cannot attend the ceremony, the president approaches the next nominee chosen by the committee. “The committee look at the whole person and the accomplishments in their lives,” Schulman said. However, some universities have not been so thorough. On Oct. 16, University of Winnipeg students protested at the ceremony where Madeleine Albright was accepting her honorary degree. During the selection process, only Albright’s paper credentials were considered: notably, she was the first woman secretary of state and at the time was the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.
However, during her career, Albright initiated or supported numerous controversial policies in international relations, especially during the Kosovo and Bosnian wars in the Balkans. Similar student protests have occurred at universities across the world.
Broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson received an organic banana meringue pie in the face at Oxford Brookes University for glamorizing unsafe use of cars and promoting an environmentally un-friendly attitude. At the University of Western Ontario, students from the university’s three religious colleges appealed the degree being given to abortion activist Henry Morgentaler. In all cases, the universities did not reverse their decision. So who would Ryerson students choose as honorary degree recipients? Nicholas Alleyne, a first-year information technology management student, recommended Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates.
Alleyne said that would be a wise business move for Ryerson and suggested that Gates might give back to the Ryerson community with funding and job offers for promising ITM graduates. “Plus, he never graduated, so it would make him feel good.” Ellie Geronikolos, a first-year radio and television arts student, offered Canadian Stephen Lewis, the United Nation’s secretary general’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, as a worthy candidate.
Geronikolos praised the work Lewis has done supporting the African people by raising money and opening orphanages, as well as creating a greater awareness about AIDS throughout the world. She also said that connecting Lewis to Ryerson would inspire the students. “His work shows that we can make a difference. You can start off somewhere little, but if you have a dream you can accomplish it.”
The Awards & Ceremonial Committee are currently reviewing nominations made for the 2006 honorary degree recipients.