We at the Record applaud the College administration, College Council (CC) and the Minority Coalition for revising the honorary degree and commencement speaker selection process. We hope that the increased number of students on the Honorary Degrees Advisory Committee – one of whom will be CC’s Vice President for Community and Diversity – will better reflect the opinions of the entire student body regarding commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. However, we believe the reform will only be meaningful if the Board of Trustees utilizes the increased number of students on the committee to better incorporate student opinion in the process.
As it stands, only the trustees can select honorary degree recipients, as they play an integral role in pursuing potential commencement speakers. But we think the College was right to acknowledge that the process by which Michael R. Bloomberg was selected as the 2014 commencement speaker could have benefitted from more student input. We at the Record urge the trustee on the advisory committee, as well as the rest of the board, to give legitimate consideration to student opinion, despite the fact that the real decision-making power ultimately rests with the trustees.
Additionally, the administration must emphasize the importance of this revamped committee if more student involvement is to be an overall benefit. If the elections for committee spots — three per class, save first-years (though elected sophomores can retain their spot for the next two years) — resembles the dismal state of recent College-wide elections, then it is likely that greater student representation on the committee will be for naught. The College, along with College Council and the Minority Coalition, who together took this important step to inject more student input into the process, should work to ensure these elections avoid the uncompetitive ballots and poor voter turnout seen in many other student elections of consequence. If a pattern of lackadaisical student interest in the committee’s important work becomes apparent, the College could perhaps consider appointing more faculty members to the committee.
Finally, we applaud the new committee’s commitment to exploring ways in which the rest of campus can contribute suggestions for commencement speaker and honorary degree candidates. While the Board of Trustees has historically done an admirable job in selecting compelling and noteworthy speakers and honorary degree recipients, further involvement from the College community will help ensure that commencement exercises continue this pattern of excellence.