The eight Ivy League universities gave out 52 honorary degrees this commencement season. (Cornell chooses not to award honorary degrees but the seven other Ivies do.) Of the 52 honorary degrees awarded this year at Ivy League schools, 13, or 25 percent, went to Blacks. Last year, Ivy League schools awarded 11 honorary degrees to Blacks.
Cynics will charge that the large percentage of honorary degrees awarded to Blacks from Ivy League schools is meant to deflect criticism of low levels of Black students on their campuses and on their faculties. Others will claim that Ivy League schools honor Black scholars simply because it is the politically correct thing to do.
JBHE does not know what motivated selection committees to choose this year’s honorees. We simply report on the results. But there is no denying that this year’s class of honorary degree recipients has extraordinary credentials worthy of such honors.
Here are this year’s honorees (click on their photos to enlarge them):
- Beverly Wade Hogan is the president of Tougaloo College, a historically Black educational institution in Mississippi.
- Risa Lavisso-Mourey is the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- Arnold Rampersad is the Sara Hart Kimball Professor Emeritus in the Humanties at Stanford University. He has authored biographies on Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Ralph Elison, Richard Wright, and W. E. B. Du Bois.
- Geoffrey Canada is the president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone.
- Judith Jamison is the artistic director emerita at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
- Oprah Winfrey is a television personality, producer, and philanthropist and CEO of the OWN cable television network.
- Donald R. Hopkins is vice president for health programs at the Carter Center in Atlanta. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated book, Princes and Peasants: Smallpox in History (University of Chicago Press, 1983).
- Toni Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities Emerita at Princeton University. A Nobel laureate in literature, she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her novel Beloved. Her latest book is entitled, Home (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).
- Kwame Anthony Appiah is the Laurence S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. He is the author of many books including In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (Oxford University Press, 1992) and The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (W.W. Norton, 2010).
- Ursula M. Burns is CEO of Xerox Corporation. She was the first African American women to be named CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance in Nigeria. She is the former managing director of The World Bank. She is a graduate of Harvard College and holds a Ph.D. in economics from MIT.
- James Edward West is a research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Prior to his academic career, he spent many years at Bell Laboratories where he co-invented the electret microphone.