I recently tweeted that the Anglo-Indian welfare economist Amartya Sen has received 90+ honorary degrees. Speaking as someone who sees Sen as a net positive influence on contemporary political economy, I have nothing against the idea that some academics may acquire a disproportionate level of attention vis-à-vis their colleagues. However, if this fact is supposed to empirically ground normative judgements about specifically institutional recognition, then universities should only give honorary degrees or comparable honours to people who are willing to acknowledge the significance of the honour in material terms. This means that the recipient should absorb some of the cost of receiving the honour, which involves endorsing the institution bestowing the honour. There needs to be something more than just a ‘thank you’, even if that alone seems to generate a transient ‘feel good’ factor in the granting institution. On the contrary, any prospective recipient of such an honour should absorb the cost of transport to the relevant university, which in return would agree cover the ground costs. Only under such conditions would capitalism coincide with democracy because there would be a formal acknowledgement of the academic’s need to receive external honours in a way that is commensurate with the price that the institution is willing to pay.
Categories: Rethinking The World