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Thursday, March 2, 2023

Doctorate - Honorary recognition .. .. and the farce at Anna University

Half a century or so ago, in Triplicane TP Koil Street – there were two famous Doctors – Dr GK Sehsadri and Dr G Narasimhachari !! – Doctors are practitioners of medicine.

A Medical Practitioner is a professional who practices medicine through the study, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of any disease or injury or other impairments. As per Indian law, a registered medical practitioner is a person whose name is found in the State Medical Register of any State, and who possesses the required medical qualifications.  Recently, the famous Madras Central Railway station was renamed as – ‘Puratchi Thalaivar Dr. M.G. Ramachandran Central Railway Station’.  MGR a great cinema actor was former Chief Minister of the State. He was accorded a honorary Doctorate by Madras University.  He was also awarded Bharat Rathna posthumously.

An honorary degree is an academic degree for which a University (or other degree-awarding institution) waives  all of the usual requirements. It is also known by the Latin phrases honoris causa ("for the sake of the honour") or ad honorem ("to the honour"). The degree is typically a doctorate or, less commonly, a master's degree, and may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the academic institution  or no previous postsecondary education.  Then there are research scholars too.

A PhD is a globally recognized postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities and higher education institutions to a candidate who has submitted a thesis or dissertation, based on extensive and original research in their chosen field.  PhD is short for Doctor of Philosophy. This is an academic or professional degree that, in most countries, qualifies the degree holder to teach their chosen subject at university level or to work in a specialized position in their chosen field.  

So other than Medical practitioner, Doctor is an academic title that originates from the Latin word of the same spelling and meaning. The word is originally an agentive noun of the Latin verb docēre 'to teach'. It has been used as an academic title in Europe since the 13th century, when the first doctorates were awarded at the University of Bologna and the University of Paris.  Contracted "Dr" or "Dr.", it is used as a designation for a person who has obtained a doctorate (commonly a PhD/DPhil).   Seen as a certificate of honor - “honoris causa” degree,  is someone who does not have an earned doctorate but has shown exceptionally meritorious service to a field or their community for a period of time.

The news of honorary Doctorate awarded is in news for wrong reasons  - in the wake of news that Anna University has sought to distance itself from the award function held at its own premises.  Strangely,  Anna University has disavowed ‘honorary doctorate’ event, retired HC judge who handed over has stated that he was just a guest.

About 40 people were conferred with 'honorary doctorates' by an organisation at the university's Vivekananda Auditorium on February 26. Comedian Vadivelu was presented with one at his home. After Tamil Nadu’s Anna University said Wednesday that it had nothing to do with an event on its campus where “honorary doctorates” were conferred on about 40 people by Justice Dr T N Vallinayagam, the retired high court judge said he had gone there as a guest. “I have never given such recommendation letters in my entire career. I went there as a guest,” Justice Vallinayagam told, referring to a purported letter that Vice-Chancellor R Velraj said the event’s organisers had submitted to get permission to use the university’s Vivekananda Auditorium.

R Velraj said the university had provided space to an organisation named International Anti-Corruption and Human Rights Council to conduct an “award function”. “Last November they requested the dean of the College of Engineering to provide the space for rent for half a day but he denied the request. But in January we received a ‘recommendation letter’ from Justice Dr TN Vallinayagam. Believing that it was authentic, the university provided the space for half a day. The organisers then called the event an award function but did not specify ‘honorary doctorates’ anywhere,” Velraj said.

At the event on February 26, about 40 people including actors, a music director and choreographer and YouTubers were conferred with “honorary doctorates”. Popular comedian Vadivelu was presented with one at his home by the organisers.  Velraj said he believed Justice Vallinayagam might have also been conned as the organisers could have informed him that the event was to be conducted by Anna University, adding that the purported recommendation letter sent to the university with the retired judge’s signature might well have been fake.

“An honorary doctorate can be provided only by universities, not by any private organisations. People who received it also were not aware of it. We feel sorry that such an event has taken place on our campus. We will initiate legal proceedings against the organisers,” he said. The letter carried the national emblem and stated that the International Anti-Corruption and Human Rights Council was an inter-governmental body within the United Nations. The organisers paid about Rs 58,000 to rent the campus space.  

Vadivelu no doubt is a great comedian and most of us enjoy his comedy and the memes in social media using his film and catch words.  However, Universities and other Institutions should avoid conferring honorary doctorate on film actors, actresses and others.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
2nd Mar 2023 

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