by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
The University of the South’s faculty Senate on Feb. 26 became the latest group amidst a flurry of protests to ask the Board of Regents to revoke the honorary degree awarded to embattled journalist Charlie Rose.
The Senate, which includes the full professors at the University, deans and other University leaders, unanimously voted to recommend the school’s Board of Regents rescind Rose’s degree immediately.
Vice Chancellor John McCardell said on the morning of Feb. 27 that the Board of Regents is not scheduled to meet again until June, but the board chair, Joseph DeLozier, has the authority to call a meeting at any time.
Jennifer Michael, chair of the English Department, made the initial motion to ask for the cancellation of Rose’s degree.
“My personal view is that Mr. Rose’s admitted actions, conducted in the workplace while he was doing the very work for which we honored him, are violations of human dignity, and that by continuing to honor him, the University implicitly condones those actions,” Michael said.
The Senate also unanimously voted to task the Honorary Degree Committee with creating a standard process for revoking honorary degrees, which currently does not exist.
Rose gave the commencement address to the University in May 2016, when he also received his honor. In November 2017, at least eight women publicly claimed that Rose had sexually harassed them. Rose acknowledged past inappropriate behavior, but also said not all claims were factual.
CBS fired Rose as an anchor of its morning program, while PBS also ended their relationship with Rose and his eponymous interview show was cancelled. In addition, several universities rescinded honorary degrees previously awarded to Rose.
The faculty Senate, according to University Ordinances, approves all honorary degrees, and the body approved Rose’s degree prior to the allegations being made public.
McCardell said awarding an honorary degree has an established process, but because revoking one does not, that decision requires “care and deliberation.”
“Revoking a degree has never happened in the 150-year history of the University,” he said. “That is not a decision to be made or taken lightly or in haste, especially in the absence of process or criteria. And we must assume that at some point there may be a need for reconsideration concerning other honorary degree recipients. That’s why a process is important. We cannot and should not improvise our way to so weighty a decision.”
On the afternoon of Feb. 27, McCardell issued an official statement on the Senate’s action, saying that the Honorary Degree Committee’s draft of the degree review process will be forwarded the Joint Regent-Senate Committee for consideration and eventual action.
The current turmoil began brewing after a Sewanee student petition and a request from student trustees that Rose’s degree be revoked. The Board of Regents recently stated in a letter that it would take no action on the degree and as an institution governed by the Episcopal Church, called for forgiveness of Rose and not condemnation of a sinner.
Following that letter, protests ramped up, including a student-led rally on Feb. 22 on the Quad at the University, poster campaigns, letters from the school of Theology professors, community members, and college faculty, staff and alumni. At least two different petitions also garnered more than 1,300 signatures combined calling for the Board of Regents to revoke the degree.
In addition, members of the Leadership Coalition, part of “Speak Up Sewanee,” called on students and faculty to refuse to wear their traditional academic gowns until the degree was removed.
“I am refusing to wear my gown, which is painful to me as an alumna as well as a professor,” Michael said. “A number of other faculty are doing so, but I don’t know how many exactly.”
In McCardell’s official release, he noted that the University stands against all sexual misconduct and has solid existing rules and procedures for dealing with the issue.
Ongoing efforts to fight sexual misconduct also include a task force co-chaired by dean Marichal Gentry and professor Kelly Malone to develop new recommendations, he said.