The University of Wyoming adopted some new standards for those eligible to receive honorary doctoral degrees.
With Tuesday’s deadline for submitting nominations, the Honorary Degree Committee should continue to determine who would and who would not be appropriate recipients for the Board of Trustees’ review. The trustees would have the final say, though nominees would still have to accept the award.
The committee is chaired by UW President Laurie Nichols, with Board of Trustee member Mike Massie as its trustee chair.
When Massie served his first year on the committee, he said it was forced to start from scratch in determining what its process for selecting nominees would be. There was a gap lasting a few years where the Board of Trustees didn’t award any honorary degrees, but when Massie took his seat on the board in 2015, he was appointed chair of a committee tasked with how to handle nominations.
“It was a blank slate,” Massie said. “There was no institutional memory of how it was handled it before, so we were working in the dark for a few months trying to put the process back together.”
The standards from 2015 carried over to the 2016 nominating process, with a few new criteria included.
“We do have a firm process down now,” Massie said. “It is codified, and now we don’t have to go through that mess again.”
Nominations are accepted from current or former Board of Trustees members, members of UW faculty and UW alumni.
The criteria nominees must meet include:
— Outstanding contribution to the lives of the people of Wyoming — Outstanding career or lifetime accomplishment on a state, national or international level by an alumna or alumnus of the university
— Accomplishments so exemplary as to have won recognition on a national and regional level, with relevance to Wyoming
Under standards adopted for 2016, UW employees — except emeritus faculty — and public office holders currently serving or left office in the last 12 months are not eligible.
Massie said the new standards weren’t a reaction to problems encountered into in 2015 but were intended to avoid nominations the committee members knew wouldn’t fly.
“It was just in anticipation something like this could come up so we’re not in an uncomfortable situation saying, ‘Thanks for all the hard work you put into (nomination) proposal, but we don’t want to consider it,’” Massie said.
One of the new components was adding that any nominee needed to have a connection to the state of Wyoming or UW, Massie.
“A proposal to give Bob Dylan an honorary degree for winning the Nobel Prize in literature wouldn’t necessarily qualify unless someone could point out how his music or accomplishments have a particular significance to the state of Wyoming,” Massie said.
During the September committee meeting — the last one open to the public before nominations are submitted to the Board of Trustees — committee member and College of Law professor Noah Novogrodsky offered actor Harrison Ford as a hypothetical example where the nominees contributions to Wyoming are subjective.
“(Ford) lives part of the year in Jackson, (and) he’s better known for contributions outside of the state, but he lives here for a lot of reasons,” he said. “I would consider he’s a philanthropist in the Jackson area, which is certainly a viable connection to the state of Wyoming, though I don’t if there’s any direct connection to the University of Wyoming.”
Novogrodsky said there could also be cases where an academic such as an engineer’s work could be make a positive contribution to Wyoming and UW, but have less of a residential connection. Jamie Rose Hornecker, committee member and associate professor of pharmacy practice, said ties to the state and university could be evaluated individually as long as nominations demonstrate a nominee’s philanthropic civic public service accomplishments.
“Whether or not they have ties to the University of Wyoming could be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “But you would expect there needs to be some association with the university there.”
UW conferred three honorary degrees in 2016. Author and conservationist Tom Bell, statistician and entrepreneur Don King and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and teacher John McPhee accepted the awards in May. Massie said there was a fourth nominee who declined.
Honorary degree recipients for 2016 would likely be announced during the spring semester, with the degrees awarded during the May commencement ceremony.