A Sharp Drop-Off in the Number of Honorary Degrees Awarded to Blacks by the Nation’s Leading Colleges and Universities

Each year JBHE compiles data on honorary degrees awarded to African Americans and black people from foreign countries by our nation’s leading colleges and universities. This year 16 honorary degrees were conferred on blacks from the nation’s 30 highest-ranked universities and another 12 were awarded by the 30 highest-ranked liberal arts colleges.

Two years ago these colleges and universities awarded 44 honorary degrees to blacks, the most in the history of the JBHE survey. This year’s total is the second lowest in the 15 years JBHE has been tracking honorary degree awards.

In past years many colleges and universities gave honorary degrees to blacks as a form of window dressing to compensate for the fact that there were few blacks on their teaching faculties. Today this institutional guilt has largely evaporated. This may be a factor in the low number of honorary degrees awarded to blacks this year.

This year, among the high-ranking universities, Dartmouth College and Columbia University each gave honorary degrees to two blacks. Among the leading liberal arts colleges, Oberlin College and Lafayette College awarded honorary degrees to two blacks.

Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis was the only African American who received honorary degrees from more than one high-ranking educational institution. He received recognition at both Harvard and Northwestern.