The Arizona State University community is expressing anger and embarrassment in response to ASU's decision not to award President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he gives the commencement speech there next month. An ASU spokesperson now confesses, "we blew it," and concedes that the university likely would have conferred the honorary degree, but once it became a controversy, ASU administrators were too worried about appearing insincere.
When the news hit last week that ASU would not honor Obama with a customary honorary degree when he addresses the graduating class, the Huffington Post asked for people with ties to ASU to email their reactions. A couple hundred members of the university's community (students, alumni, staff, and faculty) submitted their personal thoughts.
Nearly every email expressed shame over the decision made by their alma mater. One alumnus, Dr. Neil Francis, wrote from Thailand to say he will no longer wear his Arizona State University ball cap -- even halfway around the world. Several said that they did not believe the story when they first heard it: they thought the story was a satirical news piece or a holdover from April Fool's Day.
Many Huffington Post readers wrote in to say that they would be withholding donations. Some said they would even remove endowments from their wills. The detrimental effect that this debacle will almost certainly have on fundraising could not come at a worse time, since the state legislature has recently enacted major funding cuts.
Dianne Safford writes:
I have given to the school every year since graduation--and planned to bequeath money upon my death. All that has changed. In fact, I have asked for credits for money I gave to two scholarship programs just last month. I won't resume giving until [university President] Michael Crow resigns.
Bridget Quinsley says:
My husband earned his doctorate from ASU and has been making regular financial contributions throughout the years. We are both very upset that ASU is snubbing our President in this way. My husband has emailed the President of ASU to let him know that we will not be making any further financial contributions to the University and eliminate a legacy in our wills. We believe this was a politically motivated action and totally out of line.
Susan Trueblood, who also has two degrees from ASU, had a similar message for the university:
This decision has humiliated me personally and embarrassed the State of Arizona and the faculty and students of the university. It is shocking and actually absurd to say that the sitting President of the United States and a man who has authored two best sellers, been President of the Harvard Law Review and has broken a racial barrier that I never believed I would see in my lifetime, is not accomplished enough to receive an Honorary Degree when he speaks at the 2009 commencement. I will not donate to ASU until Michael Crow is gone. I will continue to donate to Arizona Higher Education but will shift my donations to the University of Arizona.
Among a couple hundred submissions to the Huffington Post, those in support of ASU's decision not to award the honorary degree were in the single digits -- and about half of those voiced conspiracy-related complaints about Obama.
Even Republicans wrote in to say that ASU should give Obama the honorary degree. The theme centers around fairness. Those who are not Obama supporters say that ASU should not have invited Obama to address the graduating class if they were not prepared to give him the traditional honorary degree. Some even said they disagree with the tradition of giving honorary degrees but argued that if the university gives them to anyone, then Obama must surely qualify.
Darlene Treese, who has three degrees from ASU (a bachelors and two masters) wrote:
From looking over the list of past recipients, it's apparent that "your rules have changed" and you have politicized the university into a laughing stock of true academia and belittled the efforts of your alumni. I am totally embarrassed to be affiliated with ASU and find after examining "your body of work" that all future support of ASU is - to use your words - "totally inappropriate".
Some questioned the motives of Saturday's announcement that ASU would honor Obama by renaming the ASU Advantage program, a scholarship for low income students, the President Barack Obama Scholars program. Carl Schuh, a doctoral candidate in the ASU Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, says renaming an existing scholarship program is good but not enough.
ASU and the state's other two universities are politically progressive, unlike Arizona itself. Unfortunately, once again, because of ASU's bureaucratic ineptitude, Arizona is perceived as racist and ignorant. It is the responsibility of ASU President Michael M. Crow to make a dramatic speech reversing what appears to be the university's stance on not honoring the President of the United States.
Although the ASU community is angry and embarrassed over the brouhaha, there is also a consensus that -- whether snub or snafu -- the incident will not affect Obama. Even so, students, staff, faculty, and parents want Obama to know that they honor his presidency. Quite a few alumni wrote to Huffington Post to say they are mailing copies of their diplomas to university President Michael Crow and asking him to give them to Obama. A local columnist reportedly heard the same. A few are emailing diplomas directly to the White House. According to well connected student politicos at ASU, this is not a concerted effort, but rather independent activity on behalf of a large number of like-minded individuals.
ASU now says they have not yet made a decision whether to confer an honorary degree on Obama, but he may receive a diploma (or several) when he gives the commencement address at ASU regardless -- the diplomas will just have other people's names on them.