Honorary Degrees

In 1832 four honorary MA degrees were conferred. One honorary AB degree was also conferred upon Perez Dickinson, later a prominent member of the board of trustees. (It should be noted that the 1827 master’s bestowed upon James McBath and other master’s “in course” degrees could also be considered, at least to some degree, honorary.)

Until 1889 the university had a policy of conferring honorary degrees upon citizens of merit or renown. Most were DD or LLD degrees (the former being frequently given as part of the prerequisite for delivering the baccalaureate sermon at commencement.) Between 1832 and 1918, the university awarded 33 honorary degrees: 2 AB, 2 AM, 1 doctor of music (MusD), 1 doctor of sacred theology (STD), 1 doctor of philosophy (PhD), 12 doctors of law (LLD), and 14 doctors of divinity (DD).

In 1879 the trustees decided that, since the PhD was to be awarded as an earned degree, it should not be conferred honoris causa but only upon examination. The only deviation in the policy occurred in 1887, when John M. McBryde was awarded the PhD pro merito. In 1889 the board discontinued the practice of conferring honorary degrees. The only honorary doctorate awarded between cessation of the practice and revival of the practice of conferring the honorary doctorate in 1951 was the 1918 conferral of an honorary AM degree upon William Rule of Knoxville.

In 1951 General Clifton B. Cates and Ernest E. Norris, president of the Southern Railway System, were awarded honorary doctor of law and honorary doctor of science degrees, respectively, at the June commencement. In 1960, at the inauguration of Andy Holt, two honorary doctorate degrees were conferred—one upon Dr. Grayson Kirk and the other upon Dr. William G. Carr. In a January 29, 1988, memorandum to the Academic Affairs Committee and the board of trustees, Academic Vice President John Prados wrote that “the administration recommends no change” in the “conservative” policy. He indicated that UT policy does allow the awarding of honorary degrees, but “the University has not been in the practice of awarding such degrees.” The UT system established a formal policy that each campus could award up to three honorary degrees each year, and UT Knoxville established procedures for selection of candidates to recommend for degrees.

US Senator and Ambassador Howard Baker was awarded the doctor of humane letters honorary degree from the Knoxville campus in 2005 at the spring commencement ceremony. Dolly Parton was awarded the doctor of humane and musical letters in 2009 at the Arts and Sciences spring college commencement; Albert Gore Jr. was awarded the doctor of laws and humane letters in ecology and evolutionary biology at the 2010 Arts and Sciences spring college commencement; and Charles O. “Chad” Holliday was awarded an honorary doctorate in engineering at the College of Engineering’s 2012 spring college commencement. In 2013 two honorary degrees were recommended and approved by the board of trustees. John Seigenthaler was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws at the College of Law’s spring college commencement. Mary Costa, selected to receive the honorary doctor of humane and musical letters, was unable to attend the College of Arts and Sciences’ spring college commencement, so presentation of her degree was postponed. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Noble Wilford received an honorary degree at the spring College of Communication and Information Commencement in 2014. Edward Osborne Wilson received an honorary doctor of science and letters degree at the winter Undergraduate Commencement in 2014. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, received a doctor of humane letters at the College of Communication and Information Commencement in spring 2015.

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  • Title Honorary Degrees
  • Author
  • Keywords Honorary Degrees
  • Website Name Volopedia
  • Publisher University of Tennessee Libraries
  • URL
  • Access Date January 30, 2023
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 8, 2018