Policy on the Awarding of Honorary Degrees

An honorary degree is one of higher education’s most significant accolades. It is the policy of Georgetown University to award honorary degrees on a selective basis to distinguished individuals who merit special recognition for genuine achievement and distinction in a field or activity consonant with the mission of the University. Only the Board of Directors may authorize the award of an honorary degree. The Board’s power to do so is codified in Article II, Section 1.2 of the Bylaws of the President and Directors of Georgetown College.

Criteria

A. An honorary degree may be awarded to an outstanding individual who satisfies one or more of the following criteria:

  • Eminence, in the course of a career, in some field of scholarship, in public service, or in an artistic, literary, governmental, religious, financial, or other endeavor; and
  • A significant reason for recognition by the University, in the form of an association or relationship with the University or a valued relationship between the individual’s achievements and the mission or life of the University.
  • A person whose life and/or work represents the highest values of the University’s Jesuit and Catholic identity, and its mission to advance the common good.

B. In recognition of Georgetown University’s commitment to gender equality and social, economic, national, racial, and cultural diversity, the Board of Directors is committed to the award of honorary degrees to recipients who reflect the diversity of interests, backgrounds, and concerns reflected in the University community and the society and world served by the University. Decisions to award honorary degrees will be made without regard to, and will not be based on, the political affiliations of recipients.

C. Persons not eligible for consideration include:

  • Anyone with a documented conflict of interest with the University, its leadership, or its Catholic and Jesuit identity.
  • Current faculty and staff of Georgetown University.
  • (Sitting heads of state or incumbent elected officials will be considered only under special circumstances.)

Procedures

A. The following persons or constituent components of the University are authorized to nominate candidates to receive honorary degrees:

  • The President
  • Georgetown College
  • The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
  • The School of Medicine
  • The Law Center
  • The School of Nursing and Health Studies
  • The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service
  • The Robert Emmett McDonough School of Business
  • The School for Continuing Studies
  • The McCourt School of Public Policy

B. Before any nomination (other than a nomination from the President) is forwarded to the Board of Directors for consideration, the nomination will be approved by the President and the appropriate Executive Vice President.   In the case of any nomination forwarded to the President which has not been approved by the faculty in the Executive Councils of the schools or campuses, the President will consult with the President of the University Faculty Senate.  While the number of nominations is not limited, except under unusual circumstances when the Board of Directors determines otherwise, an individual school will award preferably one but not more than two honorary degrees at a single commencement exercise.

C. An amount of focused due diligence will be conducted to ensure the nominee’s qualification and eligibility for the degree.

D. The Executive Committee of the Board of Directors will review all nominees and will forward its recommendations to the Board of Directors for approval.

E. The full Board of Directors shall consider nominees for honorary degrees to be presented at a school’s commencement exercises in May during the October regular meeting preceding that May ceremony.  Schools may propose both a primary nominee and one or two alternate nominees in October in order to avoid returning to the Board with a new nominee at a later date in the event that the school’s primary nominee is unable to attend the ceremony or accept the degree. The Executive Committee will convene a special meeting to consider alternate nominees only in extraordinary circumstances. 

Restrictions

A. A school may award an honorary degree to an approved candidate at any time within two years of the Board’s granting of that approval. After that time, the school must again secure the Board’s approval of the candidate in order to award the honorary degree.

B. Prohibition on Fees and Honoraria
Except under unusual circumstances when the Board of Directors determines otherwise, an honorary degree recipient will not receive a speaker’s fee or honorarium for accepting an honorary degree or delivering an address.

C. Presence at Commencement or Other Official Ceremonies
No honorary degree will be conferred unless the recipient is present. If a recipient is unable to attend the ceremony, the conferral of the degree can be deferred to an alternate opportunity.

Revocation

A. Honorary degrees are awarded for life.  Awardees reflect the values and personify the mission of the University.   If at any time during the life of an awardee the University becomes aware of documented evidence of criminal, unethical or immoral behavior or activity, the University has the right to rescind the honorary degree.   

B. The President will present to the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors evidence warranting the revocation of an honorary degree.  The Executive Committee will review and consider this evidence and, where it finds sufficient evidence to warrant revocation, forward its recommendation regarding revocation to the full Board of Directors for a vote. 

C. If revocation is approved, an awardee will be notified in writing of the Board’s decision by the Chair of the Board.

D. The Board of Directors, in its discretion, may rescind a standing approval for an honorary degree recipient within the two-year period described in Section IV, paragraph A.

Approved May 11, 2000
Amended
April 2019

RELATED INFORMATION

Honorary Degree Recipients