[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.
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.
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.