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

Commentary: Obama's ASU legacy

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/13/art.getty.obama.3.3.jpg caption="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. Patricia in Las Vegas

    SHAME on ASU for their stance on the honorary degree. While it is commendable that they named a scholarship program after our President, the other oversight is an embarrassment to them. Have they been out in the sun too long that their judgment is affected?

    April 13, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  2. pasadena, ca

    President Obama is certainly befitting of any degree from ASU. As this article points out he has made significant accomplishments. But Obama already has two far more presitigious earned degrees, more so than any unearned or earned degrees Arizona State University could award him. The scholarship is fitting because ultimately Obama's public and academic records far outweigh any administration or faculty at ASU. They should feel lucky that he is showing up to do their commencement when NDU and other more prestigious institutions could have easily secured him as a keynote speaker.

    April 13, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. Alfred E. Neumann

    I can now sleep easier at night knowing that the president will receive his honorary degree.

    April 13, 2009 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  4. Ghost

    We all know it was a crock to begin with, but we have better things to discuss than ASU's apparent lack of understanding. Besides, he has degrees that he EARNED that have 3 times the weight of ASU's. I myself would've told them to smooch my honorary you know what. But Obama is made of a different breed. He's been taking the lil racial incidents in stride and not letting them get to him. I can do no more than he.

    But I'm willing to bet the book he writes after he's left office will be a nice one.

    April 13, 2009 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  5. Kimm

    As an alumni I was proud to hear the news that President Obama was invited and had accepted to be the commencement speaker this year. I then learned that the invitation did not include the award of an honorary degree and that students have been selling tickets for cases of beer. I thought well it all fits, doesn't it. If the academic leadership won't honor the president why should the students? Seems to me to be like an invitation to dinner with seating in the kitchen. I guess they missed his incredible accomplishment of being elected president of The United States of America. I am no longer as proud as I was.

    April 13, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  6. Heber

    I'm sure the man with a Columbia AND a Harvard Law degree is losing sleep because he can't have an ASU degree.


    April 13, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  7. Jan Carter

    It appears that ASU may have found a way to redeem themselves, however only time will tell. I say this because if the scholarship is not funded then it becomes useless. Prayerfully, the administration at ASU will make sure that that does not happen.

    April 13, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  8. ike

    President Obama deserves both honors in every sense. There are no honors that will equate his acceptance to attend the ASU Convocation ceremony. Let the officials of ASU answer this question. Which honor superceed the honor of being the first citizen of the United States? It is unfortunate that academicians are playing dirt politics on this issue.

    April 13, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  9. Matt Sherwood

    Of course the University should wait until it offers BO an honorary degree. He has yet to live most of his life and much of his career is still ahead of him.

    Yes, it is extraordinary that his is relatively young and the first black president, but is this all he needs to do to get awards? Maybe that is all he needs to get votes, but not awards. I

    'm sure there are those who disagree, and think we should load him up with the NOBEL prize and every other award we can think of. Why not give him a Superbowl cup and a Heizman while we are at it?

    April 13, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  10. katiec

    Keep in mind that Arizona, with Mccains backing, refused for a time to recognize Martin Luther King's day as a holiday. They only did so under extreme pressure.
    And now, once again, a move is being made only under extreme pressure.
    This republican state is showing it's true colors and receives a failing grade of F, just like the politicians they support.

    April 13, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  11. anthony

    Give him the honorary degree too, ASU. You are risking becoming a national punchline by withholding an honorary degree to a person you invited to give a commencement address. If a Chinese politician and an owner of a baseball team can get honorary degrees from ASU, you can't say that the first African-American president of the United States is not worthy of one. Besides, you are talking about an honorary degree. Even Kermit the Frog has an honorary degree. If this controversy drags people will lose respect for ASU and it will diminish the value of real degrees from the school.

    April 13, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  12. Lesley Anne

    ASU handled this whole thing very badly. Their initial rejection of the idea of an honorary degree was made worse by their feeble and ridiculous explanation of it . Why didn't they just do this in the first place?

    April 13, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  13. dummies

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

    With that resume they should be handing out honorary degrees to just about everyone. I know this wont be posted b/c I said something bad about the messiah

    April 13, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  14. Scott the Independent

    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

    The fact that the language does not say "at the end of a person's career" makes their premise for not awarding the first African American President that currently holds the record for the most funds raised during an election campaign on the planet and being the first African American elected to head the National Law Review ever are some really good and solid accomplishments. Could this be political, after all John McCain is a senator in the state.

    April 13, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  15. Roy Arellano (San Antonio)

    I just want to know who else has received an honorary degree from this school; and if it was a President or some high-ranking politician, at which point in their career did they receive it (beginning, middle, or end). So if their is any contradictory previous actions then there is a reason to protest the choice. However, if this is the norm as proven by historical records then this is a non-issue. Let's honor this new era...our new citizenship awakening by being rational; just my humble opinnion.

    April 13, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
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