April 10th, 2009
05:09 PM ET
5 years ago

New commencement headache for WH

The commencement season controversies are continuing for the White House.
The commencement season controversies are continuing for the White House.

(CNN) – The commencement season controversies are continuing for the White House with Arizona State University's decision not to award President Obama an honorary degree when he addresses graduates next month.

The university says that the president's achievements have yet to rate the honor, and is directing reporters to use a statement given to the Associated Press. "His body of work is yet to come. That's why we're not recognizing him with a degree at the beginning of his presidency," Media Relations Director Sharon Keller told the AP Thursday.

The university's guidelines say the degree is merited by "significant contributions to education and society over the course of a person's career," though Sandra Day O'Connor and Barry Goldwater - both Arizonans - received the honor after the latter had served just over one term in the Senate, and the former was roughly three years into her Supreme Court tenure. Also honored: activist Cesar Chavez, legendary Arizona senator and former presidential candidate Mo Udall, and broadcaster Walter Cronkite.

The White House has not commented on ASU's decision.

Last month, the National Right to Life Committee called on the University of Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Obama to speak at that school's May commencement, and the bishop for the Ft. Wayne/South Bend diocese said he planned to boycott the university's graduation ceremony. Bishop John D'Arcy said his decision "is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life."

Notre Dame has said it has no plans to rescind the president's invite.

This year, President Obama will also address the graduating class at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (377 Responses)
  1. A. Darton

    I'm sensing alittle R-A-C-I-S-M. A African-Amercian who is a Harvard educated lawyer, who was a Senator, and now he is the President of the United States, but Oops this little black man really hasn't accomplish that much. I know the President is going to handle this bull the same way he handle everything else, with class and dignity. It's to bad ASU don't know the meaning of those words. As for as Norte Dame goes, and these Catholics I'm still trying to get over how those innocent boys were allowed to be toys for those Priests. I am against abortion, but I am for my right to make the decision.

    April 10, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  2. SAGG

    I guess Sen. McCain's warnings about cutting back funding if they gave his campain opponent that degree scared off the university. Just kidding, but it wouldn't have surprised me if he did...

    April 10, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  3. Bosworth

    It's their degree – they can give it to whoever they want to. Obama's career has been short. And so far, the only thing he's been able to show is that he can unite a large portion of the Democratic Party. ASU just doesn't want to look foolish 10 years from now if the Stimulus package, mortgate bailout, etc. etc. turns out to be a regrettable failure.
    If he's really so hot for an honorary degree from ASU, I'm sure they'll be happy to reconsider him in another year or so.

    April 10, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  4. E. E. Stevenson

    Agreed that, in some instances, the University of Arizona's decision to w/hold an honorary degree until the potential recipient's "body of works" merits same may be justified. However, in this instance, the university is dead wrong. For any minority (i.e. one of African or Hispanic or Asian or Native American) to ascend to the presidency of this country is already a complete and unparalleled successful "body of work." For any minority or, for that matter, a majority member of our population to accomplish that "body of work" in the fashion that President Obama has done would be beyond comprehension. He has already changed the face of American politics, given America and the world unparalleled sense of renewed hope, vision, a renewed sense of purpose, a renewed appreciation of intellectual achievement, and an unparalleled example of parental love/support/fidelity, et al, et al. Anything that follows during his presidency will simply be another layer on an already accomplished public life.

    Come on University of Arizona! ! You're fortunate to have been honored with the presence of this already remarkable and accomplished individual with an aleady accomplished "body of works."

    April 10, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  5. Tim

    Obviously, since the professors vote on who gets an honorary degree, we have a buch of Palinites at ASU.

    April 10, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  6. Cathy in AZ

    Shame on ASU – it seems that his educational background, his years as a community organizer and work in the senate would be sufficient. I think it has alot to do with the fact that John McCain is from AZ!

    April 10, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  7. Lee from Maine

    As a professor of some thirty years experience in higher education, I am embarrassed and appalled at this cliché demonstration of arrogance in academia. Why ask the President to speak if you feel his accomplishments don't merit the awarding of an honorary degree? Get off your high horse Arizona State. How dare you turn this event, one that should celebrate the accomplishments of your students, into a cheap political ploy? You should be ashamed of yourselves, but that would require some real self-reflection in real-world terms. This is exactly the way much of academia unfortunately has earned its reputation of down-the-nose snootiness. Kudos to Notre Dame for having the guts to act responsibly and respectfully.

    April 10, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  8. Bruce Taylor, Berkeley, CA

    Arizona State is what it is: puerile, which should explain its infantile behavior.

    April 10, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  9. CHANGE we need

    Looks like no Bail Out for ASU...

    Congratulations to the ASU staff for holding their ground! Now, if the rest of America can get the point and do the same!!!!

    April 10, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  10. Ajay Jain, Garland, TX, USA

    President Obama should boycott the Arizona State University's commencment!!

    April 10, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  11. Liz

    Good for them...Our President needs to prove he is more than an excellent speech giver with the help of his teleprompter before he receives honorary degrees from any college or university

    April 10, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  12. Pat F

    Obama is and always will be a polarizing figure. He is by far the most politically radical president in US history.

    April 10, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  13. In the know

    Don't the colleges think ahead before asking someone to attend their ceremonies offering an honorary degree.

    April 10, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  14. CTP

    A-S-WHO? Obama has degrees from Columbia and Harvard... I think he'll be ok without a degree from this Arizona school.

    April 10, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  15. Rob

    Obama should just not attend, its obvious that some people in the ASU administration are still bitter over the defeat of their Senator, John McCain. Send Biden instead, ASU doesn't deserve Obama's time.

    April 10, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  16. MP-Pennsylvania

    We still have double standards and the reality is minority people have to do more than white people all the time for any positive recognition. But obama is half white!!!!!

    April 10, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  17. Jeff

    My guess is that President Obama will humbly accept ASU's decision, whether it is warranted or not. So far my take of him is that he has his ego in check and does not stand on ceremony or pomp and circumstance...truly admirable traits that over time will help to define his great breadth of good work for "a greater society" if you will. The right wing GOP has criticized his visibility as seeking celebrity or to assuage his ego. The truth rather is that he is keeping his campaign promise to make government more transparent, including the presidency, in stark contrast to the previous secret/ covert and invisible Bush presidency. Time will tell. It always does.

    April 10, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  18. EP

    Harvard, Columbia....Arizona State?

    April 10, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  19. Liddee

    This is laughable! Seriously, Obama not only went to better schools than ASU, served in the Senate and became the first African American President of the United States. Still "his body of work is yet to come"... GET REAL!

    April 10, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  20. JR

    Since Arizona State is one of the biggest party schools in the country, maybe if Obama held a kegger they would reconsider.

    April 10, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  21. tom

    good. he hasn't earned it.

    April 10, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  22. Shadysider

    What, winning a democratic presidential eIection against a 20+ year senator from your home state wasn't enough? It's Arizona State! – Can't you get a degree in the mail! I am pretty sure that anyone who got into Harvard and was president of the Harvard Law Review would have no trouble at ASU. How partisan can one get? LOL!

    April 10, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  23. Perusing-Through

    WHICH IS IT? Is this retribution from ASU because the President supported the Steelers in the Super Bowl; or is this retribution because that young 'whipper-snapper' from Chicago (Senator Obama) beat Senator McCain of Arizona in the most historic Presidential election ever? :-)

    April 10, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  24. jotan

    This is ARIZONA for goodness Sakes. They only just recognized MLK day 10yrs agao? He is lucky to have even received an invite to speak, in "THIS" state. I look forward to seeing the President of the United States of America.

    April 10, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  25. James Watkins

    Who cares about Arizona State University? The President didn't ask to go there. They contacted him. The degrees the President has are better than anything Arizona State Univ. can offer. Honary degrees don't mean anything. They gave Barry Goldwater one, so that proves it doesn't mean a thing. If I was him I was the snub the ASU. He has thousands other schools he could go to and that would appreciate him. He could go to an intelligent school like Stanford.

    April 10, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
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