The University of Wisconsin-Madison awards an honorary degree in recognition of a career of extraordinary accomplishment. In many cases, there will be some single, supreme achievement for which a candidate is best known, but an honorary degree is not given to celebrate a deed alone or upon the simple meeting of a set of minimum standards. The honor is conferred upon a person with uncommonly meritorious activity exhibiting values that are esteemed by a great university.
The Committee on Honorary Degrees is a central agency in the process of awarding honorary degrees. The committee composition is outlined in Faculty Policies and Procedures 6.41.
Conditions of Eligibility
An annual call for honorary degree nominations is sent to all university employees, with a notice to the UW System Board of Regents. Submission of a nomination does not ensure its successful outcome, therefore, it is of utmost importance that potential candidates not be informed that a nomination is under consideration. By the time of a final vote by the Committee on Honorary Degrees, nominations must be supported by an academic unit, typically a department or school/college.
The Committee on Honorary Degrees votes on nominations to advance (often conducted in two stages) and sends a written report of the committee’s actions to the chancellor. The chancellor forwards approved nominations to the UW System Board of Regents for review. The chair of the Committee on Honorary Degrees presents approved nominations to an executive session of the Faculty Senate. After discussion, the Senate casts written ballots on the nominations with a three-fourths affirmative vote being required for confirmation. The Office of the Secretary of the Faculty conveys the nominations that have received Senate approval to the UW System Board of Regents.
The chancellor invites the honorary degree candidates who have been confirmed by the Faculty Senate and the UW System Board of Regents to attend the May commencement ceremony. Honorary degrees are not awarded in absentia. A degree may be awarded posthumously to a candidate, if after accepting the chancellor’s invitation, their death occurs before the scheduled conferral.
Preliminary consideration of candidates for honorary degrees is conducted with the high degree of confidentiality appropriate to matters of personnel. Only the chancellor may authorize the public announcement of honorary degree recipients.