Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Honorary degrees

The present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and two of his predecessors have honorary degrees from universities under their control. Apparently, this is not a problem peculiar to Tamil Nadu or India. The Scotsman reports on some radical changes that are being considered in the UK:

ONE of Scotland's most prestigious universities is cracking down on the abuse of honorary degrees amid growing concern over awards held by celebrities, serving politicians, "serial" degree collectors, and unsavoury characters.

Edinburgh University is even planning to introduce unprecedented powers to strip honorary degree holders of their titles, with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe believed to be top of the target list


  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Yes, but only in TN (sometimes elsewhere in India, but most commonly in TN) do aforementioned politicians take pride in prefixing a "Dr." to their name based on this honorary degree. Elsewhere in the world it would be a severe faux pas to do so.

    I've often wondered why the Tamilian/South Indian obsession with "Dr." -- it's not just the politicians, even musicians ("Dr. Semmangudi"), actors ("Dr. Rajkumar"), and others hanker for this prefix -- or if they don't, they get it anyway.

    My theory is it's the lack of any other respectful generic prefix in English. "Mister" is decidedly rude when used by itself (as in "excuse me, mister") and the rudeness rubs off when it's used as a prefix. "Miss" is worse, and "Mrs" doesn't even expand to anything, polite or not -- it was originally "mistress" but that sounds awful. By contrast, "monsieur" and "madame" in French are respectful, more akin to "sir" and "madam" than "mister".

    In Hindi, we have "shri" and "shrimati", in Tamil "thiru" and "thirumathi" -- these are respectful enough, why not use them? "Shri" is good enough for politicians in the north, but strangely, not for musicians, who must always be "pandit" or "ustad" depending on their religion. And in the south, it's "Dr".

  2. Doctor Bruno said...

    At least Kalignar is worth of that degree when you consider his contributions to tamil language

  3. Anonymous said...

    Dear Dr. Bruno, What are the literary/intellectual contributions of "Dr".Karunanidhi, except few boring filim scripts? If he is so great why established and renowned Tamil writers like Jeyamohan and Sundararamasway are are publically exposing his tall claims?

  4. Anonymous said...

    Dear Dr.Bruno,
    I would like to remind you a little bit of history.

    When Annamalai university announced that it would award doctorate to Karunanidhi, the students` association protested it and DMK which could not tolerate that killed Udhaiyakumar(Students` chairman). His parents were forced to say that his body was not their son`s. The very next day Karunanidhi received doctorate from Annamalai University. Karunanidhi became Dr.(??)Karunanidhi only after killing an innocent youth.
    I am from Chidambaram where Annamalai University is located.

  5. Narasimhan said...

    I don't know whether musicians use it (I think Balamurali Krishna is has a doctorate in music), but yes politicians use it. Infact it is just MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha that have ruled TN since 1969 (save pannerselvam for some months) and I don't think all politicians get this degree and use it.

    The comical irony is that all the medical colleges in TN are under Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR medical university. Uninitiated people who see that a medical university named after Dr. MGR, must be thinking that MGR was one heck of surgeon or physician.

    With Regards

  6. Abi said...

    Rahul, Narasimhan: I would think that the desire for such 'honors' is just a reflection of insecurity. Perhaps MK needed some help to get out of Annadurai's shadow, and used this route for that purpose. It would explain MGR, JJ, Rajkumar too. Being actors with very little educational qualifications, they probably wanted themselves to be seen as more than just another 'pretty face', and acquired some gravitas through these degrees. How about Semmangudi, though?

    Bruno: My grouse here is not about people getting honorary degrees. It's about getting them from universities which are under their direct control. MK, MGR and JJ are certainly guilty of this unhealthy practice.

    Pradeepkumar, Barathi: Thanks for adding your perspectives on the MK story. I don't have any comments to offer because I am ignorant about the things you are talking about.