Coffee Talk #36
July 17, 2001
By Rick Walston, Ph.D.

Table Of Contents

Honorary Degrees and Bogus Degree Alert!

There are four divisions to this CT:

1. Honorary Degrees are not academic degrees, but they may be valuable and desirable under the right circumstances.

2. A real Honorary Degree will not cost anything, not even "administrative fees."

3. Anyone, including you , may give out Honorary Degrees.

4. An Honorary Degree is a recognition of past achievements, and is not a credential to empower one to do future work.

Have you ever heard of an honorary doctorate? (I shall also refer to it as an "HD" in this letter.) It is honorary because it is given to a person as an honor and not as an award for academic achievement.

1. Honorary Degrees are not academic degrees.
Even through an HD is not an academic degree, they may still be valuable and desirable under the right circumstances. Many people think that HDs mean something in academia: they don't. An HD is not an earned degree, and thus it is not a real degree.

I was stunned when I was doing my research for the latest edition of WALSTON'S GUIDE, and I came across a "school" in Georgia that had given Honorary Doctorates to nearly every person on its own faculty. The clincher was this: many of the faculty had only associate's degrees or bachelor's degrees. But, by some strange and convoluted reasoning, this school decided that now since these faculty members were "doctors," they could teach at all levels. So, here are people on the faculty whose highest academic degree is a two-year associate's degree and they are teaching at the master's and doctoral levels. This is the INCORRECT (and if I had my way, illegal) use of honorary doctoral degrees.

An HD is a type of Certificate of Appreciation. And, it is a valuable "award" when it is given for legitimate reasons and by legitimate organizations (and legitimate organizations never charge the recipient any monies whatsoever).

Some think that all HDs are given to people for their work in a certain field, and, theoretically, the best of the honorary degrees are given to people who have done something magnanimous in their field. For instance, CES has given HDs to people who have ministered for the cause of Christ in various venues for many years.

Thus, for example, if someone has been a missionary for 30 years and has done a great job of leading people to Christ while on the field, an organization might honor him/her with a Doctor of Missions.

But not all HDs are given in conjunction to their fields. Professional baseball players have been given HDs in Humanities. And, actors have been given HDs in Literature.

Comedian Dr. Jerry Seinfeld?
The honorary degree, however, has no more relationship or connection with academia than the comedian "Dr. Jerry Seinfeld" has with the world of medicine. It is, purely and simply, a title that some institutions (and some scoundrels) have chosen to bestow, from time to time, and for a wide variety of reasons. These reasons often have to do with money .

A Dime a Dozen?
More than 1,000 traditional, accredited colleges and universities award the Honorary Doctorate (anywhere from 1 to 50 per year, each). And, many bogus schools and degree mills sell them to anyone willing to pay the price. (Sadly, there seems to be no end to the self-deluded title seekers; many people have asked to buy HDs from CES . . . and no, we have never sold a degree, and all who asked were denied.)

--At best, honorary degrees are a nice way for a legitimate organization to recognize someone's achievements.
--At worst, many so-called honorary degrees are bought from diploma mills for money, from $10 to $1000s.

That's DOCTOR Moe!
My wife and I were just entering a restaurant as a local pastor was leaving. I knew him, but my wife didn't. I also knew that a week earlier, this pastor had received an "Honorary Degree" for a fee of $250. He was in his mid-50's and had no formal education whatsoever. He'd never taken a single college class in any topic. In fact, I'm not sure that he had actually finished high school.

As our paths crossed, I said hello and I shook his hand. Then, I introduced him to my wife. "This is my wife Sue. Sue, this is pastor Moe." Without a moment's hesitation, he shifted his voice into "loud-preacher mode," and belted out, "That's DOCTOR Moe!" Then, he went on to introduce me to his wife. I think his words were, "Honey, this here's Rick." I wondered if "Doctor" Moe's pastoral staff included Dr. Larry and Dr. Curly.

You have to understand, Honorary Degrees are not equal to earned degrees. In fact, they are NOT REAL degrees at all. Theoretically, a person who has never been to school a day in his life (much like "Dr." Moe) may be awarded an HD. Thus, from this fact alone, you can clearly understand that an HD is not an academic degree; it is, rather, a " Glorious Certificate of Appreciation" (at least the best ones are).

Another example: Let's say that I was given an honorary D.D.S (doctor of dental surgery) from Harvard University. Now would you allow me to pull your teeth? Fill your cavity? Do a root canal on you? In other words, if one has an earned (i.e., real) D.D.S. from a small, little-known but legitimate university, it is better than an honorary one from some well-known university.

Likewise, many people (like "Dr." Moe) have honorary degrees in theology and ministry, and they don't know the first thing about these fields.

2. A real Honorary Degree will not cost anything, not even "administrative fees."
Next, the HD must be free, completely free. If you pay one penny for the HD, it is not honorary. I got a letter, forwarded to me, from a "school" called New Wine Ministries School of the Bible. In their letter, they state that there is a $50 "assessment fee" as well as "an additional $300" fee for the "honorary degree." Excuse me?

Honorary degrees are only honorary if they are given without cost. Our school has bestowed a few honorary degrees, and we have not charged a single penny for the degrees. Some bogus schools like to say that they are "not selling the honorary degrees" but they are only "charging for administration costs."

This is like me saying to you, "I'll mow your lawn for free because I want to do that for you. However, there is a $50 administration fee." Look, if it is Free, it doesn't cost anything at all. If it costs something, it's not free (nor honorary).

The American Heritage Dictionary defines honorary as:
--Held or given as a mark of honor, especially conferred as an honor without the usual adjuncts (work) .
--Holding an office or title given as an honor, without payment. b. Voluntary.

THE PROBLEM
Remember, there is nothing wrong with honest HDs, and many of them are indeed a wonderful Certificate of Appreciation given by legitimate schools and other legitimate organizations. As I said above, CES has given HDs to well-deserving people, and we are happy to have been able to bless these people in this way. However, there are many ridiculous "schools" that advertise HDs for a price.

An honorary degree that costs money is bogus, but a free honorary degree is real. You might want to read that again, because it is the crux of this issue: An honorary degree that costs money is bogus, but a free honorary degree is real (yes, any free HD is real). If you paid any fees at all (e.g., administrative, printing, shipping, etc.), then my friend, you bought a degree, and it is not honorary.

3. Anyone, including you, may give out Honorary Degrees.
You can give out honorary degrees. Yes, you read that correctly. Even you can give an honorary degree, and you can give it to anyone you want to, and your honorary degree is just as legitimate as an honorary degree from Harvard.

Now, it may not be viewed by others as highly as an honorary degree from Harvard, but the honorary degree that you give is just as legitimate and valid as an honorary degree from any school. Surprised? Don't be. This is the key to helping people understand that an honorary degree DOES NOT MEAN academics.

This so-called "Christian" school that is selling their "honorary degrees" for $350 has no claim to giving honorary degrees that you do not have.

Let me pose a question: Why would you spend $350 dollars for a so-called honorary degree from a school that is suspect, when your spouse or a friend can print an honorary degree on your own home printer for the cost of a sheet of paper? I would not pay a dime for an honorary degree. I can just whip one up, and it is just as "real" as any other honorary degree.

Again, anyone can give honorary degrees . . . Churches and parachurch organizations can give them. Wives can give them to their husbands, and husbands can give them to their wives. Friends can give them to friends. Sunday School children can give them to their Sunday School teachers.

You might be asking, "But is this legitimate? Is it legitimate for just anyone to give honorary degrees?" Answer: YES . . . it is. That is the entire point. An honorary degree means nothing more than this: Someone or some group is honoring someone else for whatever reason they want to. That's all.

There are no laws or academic regulations governing the granting of honorary degrees, just as there are no laws or academic regulations governing the granting of Certificates of Appreciation. It is not uncommon for churches to give honorary degrees to their pastors or people associated with the church in some level of leadership.

My students could give me an honorary degree. However, if they did, I suppose that it would be an Honorary Degree in Red Ink Bleeding (except that might not be honorary; it would be an earned degree).

Bogus Degrees: So, in the end, do not be fooled by all of this honorary-degree hype by schools who charge "administrative fees" for their HDs. They are just hocking degrees, and those who pay for these "degrees" are just buying them. And, under these actions of selling and purchasing degrees, these schools are called diploma mills.

4. An Honorary Degree is a recognition of past achievements, and is not a credential to empower one to do future work. It is important to make clear that HDs must be given as an honor and not for the completion of academic work. The school (mentioned above) actually says in its letter that if you don't pass the committee's review, they might give you an honorary bachelor's or master's degree instead, or, they might "award the honorary doctoral degree, contingent upon your completing some additional requirements." Excuse me? An honorary degree has no "additional requirements." That's exactly what makes it an honorary degree.

If it is honorary, there is no "work" to do. If there is work to do, it's not honorary. If the person's past achievements put him/her at a level that a school (or some other organization) wishes to show their appreciation to that person by granting him/her an HD, fine. But, the idea that one can "complete some additional requirements" is simply ridiculous.

One of our faculty members wrote and asked me exactly how the HD worked, and if the attacks by some against others with HDs were justified. Here is my response:

Dear James,

As you have probably now seen from my Coffee Talk on this issue, I poke fun at Honorary Degrees that COST MONEY. But, here is the thing, and part of your firepower:

Many legitimate honorary degrees are good . . . but an honorary degree does not say someone is qualified to go out now (future tense) and do "doctor" stuff. Only earned doctoral degrees do that.

Honorary degrees are a sort of a "Thank You" to the person or a "Demonstration of Appreciation " for what that person has done (past tense).

So, your friend's honorary degree is not supposed to--nor does he believe--that IT (i.e., the HD) qualifies him to do apologetics or anything else. IT (the HD) is simply a "certificate of appreciation and recognition" for his prior work in the field (and not a qualification for future activities).

If one used the HD as one uses an earned degree--i.e., as a qualification for future ministry--that would be wrong.

So, in essence the difference is one of chronology as well as certification.

1. An earned degree is an earned qualification (credential) with a prospect toward the future: i.e., "You have completed this prescribed study; now we certify you to go out and do what you have learned."

2. An honorary degree is a recognition (certificate of appreciation) by others with a view to the past, i.e., "You have done thus and so for x-amount of years, and we thank you and recognize your past work and achievements."

As long as a holder of an HD understands this, then there should be no problem.

And those who ATTEMPT to ascribe the certification and future aspects to the HD are missing the point.

Hope this helps.
Ric, Ph.D., no honorary degrees


Your own personal Honorary Degree
And, just so you all will have one, to all who has read this letter . . .



There, now you have an honest-to-goodness honorary doctoral degree, the D.C.T.R.

You may print it out, fill in your name and date, and hang it on your wall. And, yes, it is just as legitimate as any other honorary degree, and it didn't cost you a cent.

Important footnote:
Again, let me clarify: There are honest and good HDs that are given by legitimate organizations. However, honest Honorary Degrees will cost the recipient nothing. No charge. And, when this is the case, the HD can be a valuable award and a wonderful way for a legitimate school (or other legitimate organizations or people) to show their appreciation to the recipient.


Send comments about this, or any, Coffee Talk to Rick Walston at:
CES - @ - ColumbiaSeminary.edu

(Please note that you will need to take out the spaces and hyphens before and after the @ sign . . . this is placed this way to avoid spam emails.)

Coffee Talk Table Of Contents

 

Coffee Talk Articles are Provided by
Columbia Evangelical Seminary (CES)
To learn more about CES, click on Logo