[degree]Zimbabwe\’s second president, Robert Mugabe, has recently been under fire from international media, United Nations and political powers, and now he has a new set of critics – university students. Mugabe, a rising star in African politics in the early 1980s, was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Massachusetts, University of Edinburgh and MSU. Outraged by the current state of Zimbabwe and Mugabe\’s recent political actions, some students from the three universities are now calling for their respective colleges to rescind his degree.
After ending an oppressive white rule and establishing an independent Zimbabwe in the late 1970s, Mugabe was hailed as a new political power player and the hope of Africa. He created universal suffrage, a black-majority rule and improved health and education for Zimbabwe\’s citizens.
For his accomplishments, MSU awarded Mugabe with an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree in 1990 when he spoke to graduating seniors about world health education during a commencement ceremony. The prospect of building better relations with Zimbabwe, the destination of two study abroad programs, also fueled the decision.
Now, students are trying to get that degree back.
In 2005, Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) voiced their opposition when the organization voted in favor of a bill which formally stated their desire for the administration to revoke Mugabe\’s degree. Two years later, on Thursday, March 15, 2007, ASMSU voted once again to urge MSU to rescind the honor.
\”The reason we want it revoked is because he is a violent dictator,\” Eric Hinojosa, ASMSU\’s Academic Assembly Chairperson, said. \”He was a rising star in African politics; it looked like he was going to be part of the rising power of Africa, but sometime after he got into power he turned into a more sinister character. He has killed people who opposed him and he has oppressed speech.\”
In the past 15 years, Mugabe has been accused of violent suppression of political opposition and is being held accountable for the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Mugabe\’s government is violating the rights to shelter, food, freedom of movement and residence, freedom of assembly and the protection of law.
Mugabe is also being held responsible for Zimbabwe\’s current economic standing in which the country has the highest inflation rate in the world and is ranked as Africa\’s worst economic performer. \”He is not somebody we wanted associated with our university,\” Hinojosa said. \”He is cheapening our degrees and making MSU look worse in the eyes of the public.\”
Hinojosa also said Mugabe\’s association with MSU reflects poorly on its on-campus international presence and its expansive study abroad program, two things which MSU is widely known for. \”To have his name associated when we are trying to build international relations and globalization does not help,\” he said.
MSU University Relations Vice President Terry Denbow said the university has received requests to revoke Mugabe\’s degree; however it is unlikely that such a step would be taken, primarily due to the fact there is no formal process to revoke a degree. \”There is a long list of honorary degree recipients and not one has been revoked,\” he said. \”In fact, I don\’t know of any university which has revoked a degree.\” Denbow said the university cannot revoke Mugabe\’s degree because there is no criterion upon which to settle the matter. \”There has to be an institutionally set up criteria for all recipients from which to base decisions on,\” he said.
Hinojosa acknowledged the problem and said establishing such criterion was necessary. \”I think there are members of the administration who are willing to develop criteria,\” he said. \”I have heard from people that they are looking into it and there might be a movement. They seem to be in private support.\”
Officials and trustees at UMass are reviewing the issue, but face similar problems given there is no formal procedure for revoking a degree at their university, either. Discussions came after students circulated a petition around campus.
The University of Edinburgh is also taking a closer look at the issue after receiving pressure from members of the British government to rescind his honor. Four British Labour Party officials, including Labour Party Legislator, Nigel Griffiths, an Edinburgh alum, proposed a motion in parliament calling for Mugabe\’s degree to be revoked.
Denbow also said if MSU were to revoke Mugabe\’s degree, they would have to review all of the degree recipients\’ actions since receiving the degree, which he deemed arbitrary. \”You can\’t just go and pick out a person because you disagree with what he or she has done since,\” he said. \”To be very honest, we have had many people we have had problems reconciling with their actions, but you can\’t just pick out person X or Y.\”
Social relations and policy sophomore Lillian Collins had a similar viewpoint. \”It seems like they shouldn\’t be able to revoke it just because he\’s become a criminal because then they\’d be revoking the degrees of all criminals and I\’m sure there\’s a lot,\” she said.
Other honorary degree recipients whose actions are apt to inspire discord include Reverend Jesse Jackson, former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, all of whom received doctorates of humanities and law, and received such for either speaking at commencement ceremonies or making sizable donations to the school. One could easily argue their actions since receiving their degrees have been less than desirable: Clinton\’s impeachment trial during the Monica Lewinsky scandal; Rice\’s role in the mishandlings in Iraq; or Granholm\’s failure to solve Michigan\’s deteriorating economic situation. However, one could just as easily argue that Clinton did wonders for the national economy, Rice initiated talks between Israel and Palestine, and Granholm helped raise the minimum wage. Thus, revoking any one of their degrees would prove equally as challenging as Mugabe\’s.
One truth that must not be overlooked is that Mugabe, as well as the other recipients, did not graduate from MSU as so many others have. His degree is not a reflection of his hard work at this university, but of this university\’s opinion of his hard work done in Africa, particularly. \”You have to remember that it was an honorary degree and think about what that even means,\” Denbow said. \”It\’s really just a degree in name; you have to consider how much stock one puts into that.\” The degree is in fact honorary, bestowed upon him in recognition of his accomplishments, and this carries a separate debate in itself. Is it right to give something freely, only to take it back?
\”Some are given for giving donation, for political support and some just get it for being a graduation speaker and honestly … part of the debate we had in the assembly back in 2005, is in our mind, they do not go through the same thing we did to get our degree and when that person is a genocidal murder, it\’s just not a positive thing to associate with and [it] seems unnecessary,\” Hinojosa said.
While it is unlikely Mugabe\’s degree will be revoked anytime soon, MSU has taken steps to distance itself from the leader. MSU has ceased its study abroad programs to Zimbabwe, and there is no longer any communication between the country and the university.
\”The university isn\’t affiliated with him anymore,\” said Collins. \”They have already broken off ties with him, but taking away his degree just seems pointless.\”
To Hinojosa, however, it\’s not enough. \”We understand that there was a reason they gave that to him in the first place, but now that\’s changed; he\’s proven to be a murderer, and the students through ASMSU have called for Robert Mugabe\’s degree to be revoked.\”

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