I woke up this morning counting my joys that thanks to Hurricane Sandra, I did not have to go to work. Then for some reason, I began to think about the practice of conferring honorary degrees on celebrities and other public figures. My thoughts then wondered to the practice of conferring honorary doctorates on successive Presidents of Sierra Leone. It is my understanding that as President of the republic, they also become Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone. I do not necessarily have any issues with the award of an honorary degree, why have successive presidents assumed the title of ‘president Dr’? Even though, they have a right to use the title “doctor”, does it make sense that people automatically begin to refer to them as ‘president Dr’?
To what end does it serve to use a title without having complete the coursework? Sierra Leone’s education system has failed the children. The society is sending the wrong message to kids by subtly suggesting to them that you do not have to work hard to earn the title of “doctor”. Instead, you can easily get the title by becoming involved in politics and become a president someday. I wish for the day, when a Sierra Leonean President would make it clear to all that even with the conferment of an honorary degree, they do not wish to be referred to as “doctor”. Let’s take the example of British Prime Ministers and U.S. Presidents. President Obama received an honorary doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. President Bush got one from Yale. The American media does not refer to them as doctors’. President Obama earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) while he studied at Harvard University. Instead of conferring so-called honorary degrees on politicians, we should instead focus on building relevant sectors such as education, health, infrastructure etc., so that everyone can benefit from the nation’s resources.
Plenty of celebrities have received honorary degrees. I have never heard Actress Kim Catrall from Sex and the City, or anyone refer to her as Dr. Kim Catrall, even though she received an honorary degree from Liverpool John Moores University. I have plenty of close friends with PHDs, JDs, EDs etc., and I know the hard work and plenty of sacrifices that all of these people put into their studies. It is quite offensive to many of them that someone who did nothing in terms of course work or experience can go around calling himself or herself “doctor”. I cannot even begin to imagine the sacrifices that our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone go through to complete high school, let alone a post graduate education program. I hope that our current president and or future presidents will choose to accept the honorary degree, but ignore the totally sycophantic practice of referring to themselves or allowing others to call them “doctor”. We have more pressing issues to focus on, rather than stroking a politician’s ego.