Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Linkokwing honorary doctorates are an insult to tertiary education

I first discovered the title ‘Doctor’ (Dr) when I commenced my studies at UB many years ago.

Back then, the title was prestigious, hallowed and embodied the tenets of an authoritative voice. During our time it was presumed that holders of such titles were men and women whose academic achievements were the envy of many. Such people would normally have completed extensive training and study required to obtain the qualification. They would have earned a doctorate degree, the highest academic degree offered and this required considerable time and effort hence the qualification carried with it substantial prestige and accomplishment of a life time regardless of whether holders of such a degree are intelligent or inarticulate.

While the University of Botswana started awarding honorary doctorates recently, other universities around the world have been doing so for many years. Honorary doctorates are usually awarded by universities to persons they seek to recognize for a variety of persuasive reasons, particularly in appreciation of such qualities of statesmanship which made the recipient an eminent personality. They are generally awarded to persons who are presumed to have made a difference to society; persons of distinguished accomplishment and high ethical standards who exemplify the ideals of the university. By extension, by having made significant contribution to society and by exemplifying the sacrosanct ideals of the university, recipients affirm and dignify the university’s own achievement and stature.

Up until the revocation of some of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s honorary doctorates by some prominent universities in 2007, I paid scant attention to these honours and or their recipients perhaps because I knew that they were not meant to grant instant education to the recipients. They are just stupefying and misleading decorations that give their recipients a false sense of importance.

While I have always been fascinated by the readiness of universities to award these honours, it never occurred to me that we will eventually arrive at a point where such honours would be awarded by obscure higher learning institutions some of which until yesterday did not have a full licence to operate as tertiary institutions. An honorary doctorate is so named mainly because it is awarded by an educational institution which is duly accredited to confer earned or substantive/real doctorates. This record must be set straight to stem the rot and prevent further corruption of the hallowed title by colleges and primary schools that could soon join the crazy world and confer honorary doctorates to former class monitors and bell boys.

The conferment of honorary doctorates by higher learning institutions, in particular Limkokwing University (Botswana campus) seems irregular as it is offensive and mischievous. Limkokwing Botswana presently offers undergraduate degrees only and what this means is that the university is yet to be accredited by the relevant body to award an earned doctorate. They would first have to contend with developing a curriculum for Masters Degree programs before dreaming about real doctorate qualifications. However, they are already awarding honorary doctorates with reckless abandon and recipients of their shoddy honours range from world icons and Nobel Laureates such as Nelson Mandela to serial child molester-cum-despot in King Mswati III, including our very own former president Festus Mogae, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and Vice-President Kedikilwe. This indiscriminate conferment of such a hallowed title trivializes and scandalizes honorary doctorates.

More significantly, this is an insult to all those well-read people who have earned the degree.

Thus, the award of honorary doctorates has become such an unregulated business where seemingly any bogus institution that pretends to be of higher learning could simply pick a clown or sleep walker to confer an honorary degree. It would not be surprising in the future when it is discovered that the majority of those using the title never actually attended high school and literally outnumber those who earned the degree. For those who have worked so hard to qualify for the degree, it is sickening to be bandied together with school loafers and put in the same league with such proud perverts and excessively conceited despots that have been decorated with the title. In fact it is so nauseating to be addressed as ‘Dr’ so and so hence many substantive holders of the title prefer the simple all-round title of ‘Mr’ that hardly gives people any special place in society.

Honorary doctorates especially those awarded by phony and money making, highly commercialized institutions of higher learning to some controversial personalities diminish both the rationale of the honours and the class and eminence of the real PhD. Honorary doctorates, especially awarded to any primate that is superior to an ape, are polluting the academic achievements of those who earned the qualifications. Real doctors are modest men and women of great intelligence who do not feign superior intellect by insisting on using the title. Real doctors do not hop around parading the title like new army recruits in camouflage uniform even though it is theirs to keep and parade.

It should be noted that many of the recipients of honorary doctorates treat the honours as if it were earned degree, in the process becoming overly rumbustious and pretending to be more educated and authoritative than all. Thus, recipients of honorary doctorates who hop about boasting and publicly parading their superficial degrees are in actual fact in the same league with people who lie or misrepresent their qualifications for personal gain. These quacks are a shame to society. Honorary doctorates were originally reserved for persons of high ethical standards and recent recipients of these awards who believe that they are indeed persons of high moral standards and as a result do not want to be associated with corrupted awards may well be advised to renounce their awards in order to remain honourable and respected.

The Botswana Qualifications Authority as the body responsible for registration and accreditation of learning institutions at tertiary level may well have to intervene by way of requiring tertiary institutions to develop standardized guidelines for the award of honorary degrees to protect the integrity of the practice and the credibility of our already tattered education system. Additionally, there is need to investigate circumstances leading to previous awards of honorary degrees to all sort of mediocre characters. The reckless manner in which the awards are dished out by murky institutions to small-minded people is an indictment of tertiary education at any level since the whole practice damages universities’ reputation and alumni.
The leadership or management of tertiary institutions in Botswana that award honorary doctorates, especially Limkokwing University (Botswana) must explain their procedures for such awards so that members of the public do not have to queue for the free-flowing awards as though they were blankets or the irrelevant presidential awards.

Where it is established that the conferment of the honorary doctorate was irregular and mischievous, the award must be revoked immediately and the responsible educational institution must account with a view to protecting the integrity of the otherwise noble practice as well as protecting the sanctity of the substantive doctorate qualification.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.