April 13th, 2009
02:35 PM ET
5 years ago

Commentary: Obama's ASU legacy

Arizona State University's refusal last week to present an honorary degree to President Barack Obama cast an unnecessary dark cloud over the school and forced officials to do something they apparently were trying to avoid.
Arizona State University's refusal last week to present an honorary degree to President Barack Obama cast an unnecessary dark cloud over the school and forced officials to do something they apparently were trying to avoid.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Arizona State University's refusal last week to present an honorary degree to President Barack Obama cast an unnecessary dark cloud over the school and forced officials to do something they apparently were trying to avoid: recognize the president for his accomplishments.

Instead of giving him a piece of paper, the school now has named its "most important scholarship program" after him - and the controversy still hasn't gone away.

Initially a university spokesperson told 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."

That is true - we do not yet know what Obama will accomplish as the 44th president of the United States. But ASU's own guidelines state that a degree is given to those who have made "significant contributions to education and society over the course of a person's career."

Now, you might not have voted for Obama, and perhaps you don't agree with his policies, but he was a U.S. senator, a community organizer, and a lecturer on constitutional law.

And isn't Obama's election as the first African-American president a "significant" achievement in this country?

Arizona Sen. John McCain - Obama's opponent in the 2008 election - noted the historic significance of Obama's victory in his election night concession speech.

So what would stop the ASU elders from doing so? After all, Sen. Barry Goldwater was awarded a degree after serving one term in the Senate, while Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had been on the Court for three years before receiving her honorary degree. Legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite and labor activist Cesar Chavez were also awarded honorary degrees.

ASU President Michael Crow said the school had always intended to honor the president, but hadn't decided how to do so. We do know that ASU had decided how not to recognize Obama: with an honorary degree.

As pressure built up over the past week, ASU needed to move fast to try and push that dark cloud off of the university. ASU's solution was unveiled over the weekend: Name a scholarship program after Obama.

"Naming this scholarship program after President Obama that will affect the lives of thousands of students is an honor befitting, not only the president's exceptional achievements, but also his values as an individual," Crow said in a statement released by the school. "The President Barack Obama Scholars program will be a legacy that will endure and inspire others for generations to come."

An honorary degree or a named scholarship program? I would take the scholarship program.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    He's well deserving of the Degree. He was the first African American to achieve the Harvard Law Review. Enough said! I won't even mention the obvious fact that he's the first African American President.

    April 13, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  2. David

    I love hearing him called a community organizer...I'm sorry CNN, but ACORN doesn't qualify you for anything but a voter fraud jail sentence....thanks

    April 13, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  3. Robin

    What is wrong with a named scholorship, which will help others?

    President Obama already has an impressive degree which he earned, why does he need an honorary one? Plus, a scholorship will help students, (many like a young Barack and Michele) get the degree and education they deserve. This is much better!

    Oh, and by the way CNN, what's with the picture of Gov. Palin on a story that has nothing to do with her? Are you trying to send Dems and Libs on a tirade?

    April 13, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  4. ray ray

    If Barry would just come out and say publically "NO BIG DEAL" this would all go away.

    Don't count on it, though. Barry doesn't like it when he gets any type of snub.

    April 13, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  5. I respect my President & as a citizen, you should too!

    Whether this was an attempt at damage control or was a genuine effort to honor the President, the initial decision was made, and the perception has already been made.

    Had they chosen wording other than implying that Obama's contributions to society weren't as siginificant as other honorary degree receipients, then this episode might not be as bad. But because they attempted to "shoot a slug" and undermine the President and his accomplishments, whether they were achieved under his administration or not," they made this bed themselves. Now the university and its supporters must lie.

    I know plenty of universities here in Houston, community colleges, technical schools, even elementary schools that would provide a more significant and meaningful welcome to the President of our country than this school did. Just deal with what YOU all dealt in the first place...

    April 13, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  6. G_in_Seattle

    The scholarship program is all fine and just dandy. Curious minds would like to know why do we have a mugshot of Gov. Palin attached to this article.

    April 13, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  7. Marie

    Why would anyone with a degree from Harvard cares about Arizona State University?

    April 13, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  8. Linda32

    He should have both and doesn't the scholarship blow their reason for not giving him the honorary degree out of the water?

    April 13, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  9. I respect my President & as a citizen, you should too!

    Whether this was an attempt at damage control or was a genuine effort to honor the President, the initial decision was made, and the perception has already been made. Had they chosen wording other than implying that Obama's contributions to society weren't as siginificant as other honorary degree receipients, then this episode might not be as bad. But because they attempted to "shoot a slug" and undermine the President and his accomplishments, whether they were achieved under his administration or not," they made this bed themselves. Now the university and its supporters must lie.

    I know plenty of universities here in Houston, community colleges, technical schools, even elementary schools that would provide a more significant and meaningful welcome to the President of our country than this school did. Just deal with what YOU all dealt in the first place...

    April 13, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  10. I respect my President & as a citizen, you should too!

    If he wasn't good enough to honor, then why make him good enough to speak? You should have reached out to John McCain in that area and left the other respectful universities in America invite the president to speak AND be honored. We at Rice University would be elated.

    April 13, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  11. fella from Chicago

    Yeah, give him a legacy. It's so much better than a piece of paper which he'll have hundreds of before his term of office expires. Now get on with something important, like news on how the paper training is going with his new puppy.

    April 13, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  12. Ann, California

    I agree that the scholarship program honor is more significant although the circumstances under which it came about will always be questionable. ASU is trifling in this instance. I don't think, however, President Obama, who is always the statesman, cares one way or the other. It's really just egg on the face of ASU, a university in a state that has for too long been under a cloud, particularly, over racial issues. It's too bad they just don't seem to learn and too bad the students there are taking a hit just because they attend but really have nothing to do with the decisions of the school's administration.

    April 13, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  13. Kelby In Houston, TX

    "Naming this scholarship program after President Obama that will affect the lives of thousands of students is an honor befitting, not only the president's exceptional achievements, but also his values as an individual,"
    Yeah...right...whatever.
    The fact of the matter is that ASU refused to give him an honorary degree and you gave a, shall we say, less than plausible reason for it.

    "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."
    From that statement, I bring the question, "Who has gotten an honorary degree from ASU and what did they do to earn it?"
    He taught constitutional law, that's a major contribution to education
    He was a Community organizer, that is a major contribution to society
    He is The First Black POTUS...EVER...Is this not historically significant?
    These accomplishments make Mr. Crow's statement questionable. It makes ASU look like they are full of it.
    Isn't Arizona the same state that rejected the Martin Luther King holiday?
    That along with this just confirms that Arizona is a hateful racist state.

    April 13, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  14. Slider

    Mr. Preston:

    "'Now, you might not have voted for Obama, and perhaps you don't agree with his policies, but he was a U.S. senator, a community organizer, and a lecturer on constitutional law.'

    Mr. Preston, what were his "'significant' contributions? We tried to discuss them during the election, but journalists like yourself were collectively throwing your panties onto whatever stage he was speaking on.

    IF you can find one, Mr. Preston, you will be a paragon in your profession...

    April 13, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  15. Lillie

    Shame on ASU! The scholarship is much more important! Pres. Obama doesn't need the honorary doctorate from ASU. After all, he's the President of the United States with a Juris Doctorate in Law. Kermit the Frog has been awarded an honorary doctorate.....puts it all in perspective, doesn't it?

    Again, shame on the committee at ASU and the ASU President, too. Surely he signed off on it as well!

    April 13, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  16. Ula Nejad Sacramento, Ca

    That's their problem. Nostra dame is expected to use discretion at all times. Why is it that every good govt officical and high profile professionals drawn in by this guy? Even the media rarely ask follow up questions these days when doing an interview as noted by some media experts. I think his better half of an ape might care to explain in detail since it likes to get an A. Catholic standards, that kind of "A" grade is far fetched.

    April 13, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  17. Eddie

    I find it disappointing that a University expressed such a political and polirizing position while they have already offered honorary degree to several less qualified individuals. Their statement makes me not want to deal with ASU in any way regardless of whatever they are coming up with now.

    April 13, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  18. Philip Grant

    I guess I'm old school. If I don't like you, I won't invite you to my house.
    If I invite you to my house, then I won't insult you, either before or after you arrive. It would have been better if ASU had not invited the President at all, then to invite him, and then tell the world that he is not worthy of their honorary degree. Thats just plain bad manners.

    April 13, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  19. LMAOinAZ

    Hey, fair's fair; if President Obama wants a degree from ASU, he should have to buy one just like the rest of us did!

    April 13, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  20. IndyVoter

    "..he was a U.S. senator, a community organizer, and a lecturer on constitutional law."

    Not to mention a GRAMMY Award winner, an accomplished author, former President of the Harvard Law Review (1st AA to do so) and current President of the United States (1st AA to do so). Loving husband and honored father of two beautiful daughters (and a dog).

    Arizona State's actions speak for themselves. Their motive is evident. The scholarship, though notable, is just an afterthought, a cover-up.

    Nice try, but this won't be forgotten.

    April 13, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  21. Steph

    It is too late for ASU to try to recover from this. They look like unpatriotic idiots!

    April 13, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  22. rhoward

    If the University has set up and named a scholarship program after President Obama, I think it's an even bigger and better honor than an honorary degree. It will help deserving students to reach their educational goals which I think President Obama would rather have happen. Now maybe the media should drop this story and leave the University alone.

    April 13, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  23. sensi johnson

    Once again these things would only happen when there are other motives. Ignorance is not an excuse, and stupidity can be attributed to an individual's incompetence or his/her desire to be stupid. However when the administration of an institution like ASU decides to follow a similar path especially when the person in question is a minority, then there can be no excuse whatsoever that discrimination is a factor. Thanks but no thanks for the scolarship because the discussion will forever be marred with controversy.

    April 13, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  24. phoenix86

    ASU should have stuck by its guns and not given either. Obama hasn't done anything to warrant this honor. His election as the first black president of the US is an honor that belongs to the US voter, not to the individual running.

    Obama hasn't done anything yet to prove that the US voter was justified in putting him in the White House.

    April 13, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  25. Azar

    "Naming this scholarship program after President Obama that will affect the lives of thousands of students is an honor befitting, not only the president's exceptional achievements, but also his values as an individual,"

    Isn't it a contradiction?

    April 13, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
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