Sewanee revokes Charlie Rose’s honorary degree after months of pressure to take action

By David Paulsen
Posted Mar 21, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] Sewanee: The University of the South has revoked Charlie Rose’s honorary degree after facing increasing pressure from all sides to act in response to the sexual harassment scandal that derailed the broadcast journalist’s career last fall.

The final decision was made by the Sewanee Board of Regents in a March 20 meeting, the university said in a statement released March 21. The statement noted this was the first time Sewanee had revoked an honorary degree, and the action required the creation of a new procedure for reconsidering such degrees.

“In the new four-step process, a written request for the revocation of an honorary degree was submitted to the vice-chancellor, who shared it with and received approval from the Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees, the University Senate, and the Board of Regents, in that order,” the university said.

The Board of Regents initially had resisted requests to revoke the degree in February, but a month later it has reversed itself, joining the honorary degree committee and the University Senate in voting with at least two-thirds majorities to take action against Rose.

Charlie Rose at Sewanee

Charlie Rose delivers the commencement address in May 2016 at Sewanee: The University of the South. Photo: Sewanee

Sewanee, which is owned and governed by 28 Episcopal dioceses, presented Rose with an honorary degree when he delivered the university’s commencement address in spring 2016.

Known for his work as host of “Charlie Rose” on PBS and Bloomberg and co-anchor on “CBS This Morning,” Rose dropped in November by all three broadcasters after the Washington Post reported on eight women’s allegations that Rose had made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including lewd comments, groping and walking around naked in their presence.

Rose issued an apology for his “inappropriate behavior” and admitted he had “behaved insensitively at times,” though he also disputed the accuracy of some of the allegations. He was one of a series of prominent men from the world of entertainment, media and politics to suddenly fall from grace last year amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Pressure has mounted at Sewanee since November to revoke the degree. Two student trustees wrote to the Board of Regents in February recommending that action, but the regents rebuffed such calls, saying, “we do not believe it is our place to condemn the individual.”

Four Episcopal bishops and three Episcopal priests sit on the 20-member Board of Regents, including Florida Bishop Samuel Howard, who serves as an ex officio board member because of his position as Sewanee chancellor.


The full text of the university’s statement follows.

The University of the South has revoked the honorary degree it previously awarded to broadcast journalist Charlie Rose, after creating a procedure under which it could do so.

In the new four-step process, a written request for the revocation of an honorary degree was submitted to the vice-chancellor, who shared it with and received approval from the Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees, the University Senate, and the Board of Regents, in that order.

Background:

The University of the South awarded an honorary degree to Charlie Rose in May 2016. An honorary degree is awarded to recognize achievement by leaders in a wide variety of fields, after a review of lifetime accomplishments known at the time it is awarded.

In its 150-year history, the University had never revoked an honorary degree, nor, until very recently, did it have a process to do so. The Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees developed a process this month for the orderly review of an honorary degree once awarded. This action followed requests to rescind Rose’s honorary degree from students, faculty, and members of the Board of Trustees, and recognized that it occasionally may be necessary for the University to consider the revocation of an honorary degree held by a still-living recipient.

Under this new process, the groups responsible for the revocation of an honorary degree are the same groups responsible for considering the conferral of such a degree: the Board of Regents, the University Senate, and the Joint Regent-Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees. The Board of Regents, in accord with its role in granting honorary degrees, has the final authority in the revocation of a degree.

Accordingly, on March 11, the Joint Regent-Senate Committee voted by a two-thirds majority to recommend revocation of the honorary degree conferred upon Charlie Rose. The University Senate later that week voted to recommend revocation, also by a two-thirds majority of its membership. The vice-chancellor conveyed that recommendation to the Board of Regents, which met on March 20. A two-thirds majority of that Board was also required for the revocation of the degree.


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Comments (11)

  1. Richard D. Thorn says:

    Under this “new process” an Honorary Degree may be revoked. First it is Honorary. I would think that a statement indicating actions or the honorable has caused its FORFEITURE. Second , there is no due process basically because it is HONORARY meaning it has only an intrinsic value and nothing is really being taken. Third claims made some apologies and some denials. Next time call it the ” he who throws the first stone degree” more accurate as to revocation. Too much time spent on this. May need to reopen Salem Witch trials.
    Call for a full review of all Honorary Degrees ever granted in school’s history. Even posthumously.Then start with statues and paintings . Will make everyone feel better.

  2. John Merchant says:

    Will bishops of the church who received the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Sewanee be subjected to the same review when their moral character or their conduct is questioned or challenged? The fairly recent Bishop of Lexington’s suspension comes to mind. While I understand and appreciate the university’s concerns, I also fear those who, with every good intention, prepared this degree review process and voted to rescind Mr. Rose’s degree may have stumbled upon the proverbial slippery slope.

  3. Jim Newman says:

    I very much agree with Mr. Merchant. The Church and Swanee in a rush to do what is popular and “faddish” will find themselves in great difficulty. Sad.

  4. Feeling very ambivalent about this ‘rush to judgment’. If Mr. Rose had been a clergy person, would the same action have been taken?

  5. Frank Harrison says:

    I agree with John Merchant with this provision: Why limit the question to bishops? Will it be the case that anyone suggested for an honorary degree must first pass a “public moral test”? And, second, whilst sexual harassment (vague and ambiguous all be that term) is most serious, so are other activities such as fornication, lying, breaking one’s word, etc. Would all of these, and more, be included in the public moral test? Finally, would it be the case that someone actually had to be found guilty, not merely accused, of such actions or would hearsay rule the day? Talk about slippery slopes!

  6. Jim Newman says:

    Bravo Frank Harrison…this was not an act of “due process”… this was an act by a MOB.

  7. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I agree with John Merchant’s reference to the “proverbial slippery slope.” Fashionable as it may have been to “revoke” the degree, if the Board of Regents really wanted to get in on the action it might have apologized for the fact that Sewanee had awarded an honorary degree to Charlie Rose in the first place. For Mr. Rose from the beginning has been a grossly overpaid member in good standing of the largely leftist journalistic fraternity which in recent years has increasingly dominated public life in our society and continues to do a lot of damage in the process.That is not something which I would have expected Sewanee to encourage even for the sake of publicity.

    The honorary degree business is indeed a racket. My own undergraduate institution, Harvard, once honored Alexander Solzhenitsyn (happily, I was there to listen to his famous speech). Nowadays Harvard is just as likely to feature honorary degree recipients such as the influential but worthless Oprah Winfrey and is proud to advertise the fact.

  8. I believe that the whole idea of “honorary degrees” needs to be revisited. However, Mr. Rose is still alive and “practicing his profession”. He is still capable of doing harm to others by his behavior. Behavior which was acceptable in the past can rightly now be no longer tolerated. I do not think we can criticize people for the behavior who lived in a time when a woman could not become a lawyer or a physician or a priest. That was the legally accepted standard at the time. We need to remember and salute those who tried and eventually succeeded in changing the system.

  9. PJ Cabbiness says:

    This is an example of modern day McCarthyism and the logic underlying this action is purely Salem in nature. To punish a person, regardless of sex, on the presentation of mere allegations without due process is certainly neither Christian or American. In the present age, one’s reputation or livelihood can be damaged or destroyed by a mere statement without proof or trial. Mr. Rose has not been charged with nor convicted of any crime and, to my knowledge, no judgment has been entered against him in any civil matter associated with this subject matter.

  10. Al Pearson says:

    Where have Thorn, Merchant, Newman, Klauber, Harrison, Oberdorfer, Cabbiness (the overwhelming majority of commenters!) been for the last six months during which congressmen and other public figures have admitted sexual harassment of women and no longer have their seats, jobs? No more is it acceptable that men can engage in sexual harassment of women with impunity. In the revocation of Mr. Rose’s honorary doctorate, Sewanee has placed itself on the proper side of this issue. To allow a confessed (Mr. Rose has acknowledged enough offenses to put him unquestionably in the offender category) offender to remain on Sewanee’s roll of honorees would be a serious detriment to its stature. Meanwhile there is still work to be done. I.e., there are yet many in the electorate who have no qualm with President Trump’s reputation for sexual harassment of women.

  11. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    Mr. Pearson evidently did not read my own comment with sufficient care. I was not suggesting that Mr. Rose did not deserve to be fired for his sexual misadventures. The CBS/PBS honchos presumably knew about these at the time they signed contracts with Charlie Rose that were enormously lucrative to him and presumably to the networks. They should lose their jobs but that clearly will never happen.

    What I was proposing is that the hoopla about taking back the honorary degree for the recipient’s sexual transgressions is misplaced because the offenses committed by Charlie Rose and his confreres in the media professions represent a far larger threat to the survival of our country. He should never have been awarded the degree in the first place irrespective of his sexual behavior.This is the sort of topic that Sewanee students should be debating instead of the now-fashionable themes in play that are of far less long-term importance and will likely be forgotten.

    Of course I realize that my last sentence will invite criticism along the usual lines that I just have to be a homophobic, misogynous, racist (have I forgotten something?) person even though anybody familiar with me knows that not to be true.

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