ASU: No Sitting Politicians Get Honorary Degrees–Except One Arizona Republican

April 13, 2009 6:30 a.m.
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The mini-drama surrounding Arizona State University’s refusal to award President Barack Obama an honorary degree may have a second act.

Obama is scheduled to deliver a commencement address at ASU next month, and last week, the university touched off a bit of controversy by suggesting that he hadn’t “been in [his] field” for enough time to deserve an honorary degree just yet.

There were, unfortunately, some problems with that rationale.

But over the weekend, the university announced the formation of the “President Barack Obama Scholars” program. And, though they haven’t decided to give Obama a degree, Politico’s Jonathan Martin reported on Saturday that ASU President Michael Crow sent an email to faculty and students re-justifying that decision.“Since my appointment,” Crow wrote, “we have not awarded honorary degrees to sitting politicians, a practice based on the very practical realities of operating a public university in our political environment.”

And that’s, perhaps, the rationale they should have used in the first place…except that it’s not completely true. Crow became ASU president on July 1, 2002 and on Dec. 19 of that year, ASU awarded an honorary agree to Robert Stump, a lame duck Arizona Congressman who was finishing up his last term in office.

That may or may not be enough of a contradiction to reignite last week’s flame war–but at the very least one imagines Crow and ASU will be a bit more circumspect about who does and does not receive an honorary degree for the remainder of his term.

Late update: Julie Newberg, a spokeswoman for ASU, emails to say that Stump “was selected before Dr. Crow arrived.” Emphasis mine. I have no way to corroborate this–I asked in response if Crow had raised any objections to the award, and received no answer. And though the information in the post is accurate (Crow wrote “[s]ince my appointment we have not awarded honorary degrees to sitting politicians”), it seems fair to provide this bit of context.

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