Celebrities With Degrees: Controversial Honorary Doctorates | Top Universities

Celebrities With Degrees: Controversial Honorary Doctorates

By Jane Playdon

Updated August 24, 2016 Updated August 24, 2016

Talk about celebrities with degrees, and it’s not long before you reach the subject of honorary doctorates. These are doctorate degrees awarded by a university to someone in recognition of an achievement, without him/her actually having completed a degree course – or even set foot on the university campus.

For example, Nick Cave, Australia’s dark music maestro was awarded a Doctor of Laws honorary degree in 2008 by Monash University, Melbourne. The vice chancellor, Richard Larkins, said it was in recognition of Cave’s “substantial achievements in the creative arts and in raising Australia's profile internationally”.

In 2010 Cave received another Doctor of Laws from the UK’s University of Dundee, joining an illustrious list of people awarded with the same degree from that institution, including the Queen Mother in 1967.

As if that wasn’t enough, the University of Brighton, also in the UK, gave Cave yet another doctorate in 2012, only this time it was a Doctor of Letters, in recognition of his contribution to the arts and his patronage of the annual Brighton Film Festival.

So Nick Cave now has three honorary doctorates, arguably deserved. But if you’ve just spent several years slogging away to get your doctorate, you may well wonder whether all these celebrities with degrees really deserve their academic titles. Here’s my pick of some of the more contentious awards…

Doctor of Amphibious Letters for Kermit the Frog

Kermit the Frog was awarded a Doctor of Amphibious Letters in 1996 from Long Island University. While it certainly ranks as bizarre, Kermit did in fact raise a serious topic in his acceptance speech, telling the audience that when they are saving the environment, they are saving the homes of many of his relatives.

Doctor of Media for Dannii Minogue

Kylie Minogue’s sister was awarded a Doctor of Media in 2011 from Southampton Solent University for her “major contribution to the entertainment industry”, according to the university’s vice chancellor Professor Van Gore. Cue the incredulous Twitter comments, with many wondering what the “major contribution” entailed.

Doctor of Humane Letters for anti-feminist

Phyllis Schlafly, an activist known for campaigning against legal changes designed to promote equal rights for women, was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters by Washington University in 2008. This did not go down too well with some, who started a Facebook page called "No honorary doctorate for anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly". At the ceremony, about a third of the graduates turned their backs on her, along with some faculty and family members.

Doctor of Letters for advocate of BDS movement

Judith Butler, a supporter of a movement for boycott, divestment and international sanctions (BDS) against Israel, received an honorary Doctor of Letters from McGill University in May this year. This prompted pro-Israeli groups to send a letter of protest to the university’s chancellor Arnold Steinberg, asking for the honor to be withdrawn on the alleged grounds that she was “pro-terror and anti-Israeli”. However, Butler responded to allegations against her the previous year, denying everything but her support of BDS, which she said was “partially true”.

Robert Mugabe: Received and revoked

Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe has been awarded around a dozen honorary degrees, but some have been revoked. In 2007 he was stripped of his doctorate for "services to education in Africa" from the University of Edinburgh, once the institution became aware of his alleged role in atrocities in Matabeleland. The University of Massachusetts Amherst and Michigan State University did the same in the following two years.

You can even buy a degree yourself!

As well as all these celebrities with degrees they didn’t really study for, there are several places where you can buy a degree without completing a course – essentially conferring an honorary doctorate on yourself! The University of Berkley (not to be confused with the University of California, Berkeley) is an online institution that offers honorary doctorates “to a select group of highly accomplished individuals such as yourself”. For a minimum fee of US$2,000 and a “brief autobiographical sketch”, you can pick your title.

Or how about the Cambridge Ministry Church Institute (not to be confused with the University of Cambridge)? For US$99, the institute says, “you too may deserve to be in the position showing you are an expert”. Just try not to wince too much at the bad grammar and punctuation on the page…

What do you think? Do celebrities deserve to be granted degrees they didn’t study for? If you could award yourself an honorary doctorate, what would it be for?

Image credits: Julio EnriquezDisneyGage Skidmore

This article was originally published in September 2013 . It was last updated in August 2016

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Written by

Jane Playdon is a TopUniversities.com author and blogger.

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