The Honorary Doctorate on the Campaign Trail

I wish I didn’t feel the need to dig up these articles every time we hold elections in the #caymanislands — but here we are again!

Voting day approaches in the #caymanislands and I once again find myself dusting off and posting some of the same thought pieces that I did when we last went to the polls. The number of names coming to me with “Dr.” on them has doubled in four years and I’m feeling more critical of this practice than ever. I’m currently drowning in literature reviews and a bibliography list that approaches 150 citations. The attrition rate is statistically high, and the chances are 30–40% that I won’t progress or complete my doctorate. So the use of honorary doctorates annoys me to no end. If you didn’t go to graduate school but bring decades of experience and insight to the table, just admit it. Your fellow voters and I will thank you for your humility, candor, and lack of unnecessary embellishments or flourishes. If you have been endowed with an honoris causa, or honorary doctorate, or other letters, heartiest congratulations. But Please! Unless you have faced external examiners, defended your work at a viva voce, can find your research in a repository, published your work, or carry a prescription pad, please think twice before putting “Dr.” in front of your name.

The statement below will likely fill my inbox with mail, and probably none of them are going to be love letters:

I think that honorary doctorates are at the very least, a little affected. At the very worst, they are potentially misleading, especially when parties persist in using and applying them formally to everyday life, by insisting on being referred to as “doctor.”

The PhD or D Phil are, according to the QAA White Paper cited below, familiar and established benchmarks of higher education, suggesting that candidates have established original research in a field and ultimately made a major contribution of new knowledge to The Academy. The doctorate is the de facto terminal degree qualification in postgraduate education and research. It can include varied ratios of structured and intensive taught elements with intensive and original research.

It is the most distinct and to some prestigious of academic qualifications. That can be achieved and to carry it with your name suggests prestige. An Honoris Causa is also a tremendously prestigious honor, providing you haven’t purchased it. It is bestowed and designed to be used nominally, that is after the individual’s name, and mentioned as such in a professional capacity. An example of this is using it in a professional biography: Mr. So-and-so was bestowed with an honorary doctorate by the University. Such awards and degrees are awarded Honoris Causa, meaning that they are given without an examination, usually in appreciation for a service or to acknowledge a major donation or endowment. It is a mark or gesture of esteem.

This is almost always used as expected. To admit any of the above and declare yourself “doctor” is to enter a gray area between the ambiguous…and deception.

Why am I going on about this? Because an honoris causa, also known as an honorary doctorate, does not make you Doctor So-and-So. You can borrow your GP’s stethoscope, put it around your neck and walk around. But you’re not doctor anything. You can borrow a prescription pad from the hospital, but I don’t recommend you try this. If it’s in your pocket and you hear “is there a doctor in the house?” –that stethoscope, prescription pad and Honoris Causa are no more reasons permitting you to run over and begin life-saving measures than your Honorary Doctorate.

Further Reading

“7 Ways to Spot a Fake Degree Certificate.” Luminate, 2018, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

A. Hamzat. “Only PhD Holders Should Use Doctor’s Title.” EduCeleb, 1 Dec. 2018, Accessed 20 Mar. 2021.

“Are ‘Honorary’ Doctorates Real Academic Degrees?” Phil Cooke, 9 June 2014, Accessed 20 Mar. 2021.

Characteristics Statement Doctoral Degree. , 2020.

“FAKE DEGREE ALARM — Fraudsters Sell UWI Bachelor’s for $150,000 Apiece; HEART, CXC Also Impacted.”, 23 Jan. 2021, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

Flower, Wayne. “How University Dropout Who Never Obtained Degree Became One of Australia’s Most Respected Educators.” Mail Online, Daily Mail, 18 Mar. 2021, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

“Focus On: Degree Fraud | Cifas.”, 2020, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

Frew, James. “What Is Degree Fraud and Can You Prevent It?” MUO, MUO, 12 Aug. 2020, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

Guidelines for the Awarding of Honorary Degrees.

Hall, Rachel. “UK Degree Fraud: 85 Fake University Websites Taken down in Five Years.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 18 Feb. 2021, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

“How to Spot an Online Diploma Mill — Study International.” Study International, 20 Mar. 2020, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

Meikeng, Yuen. “Don’t Dishonour Doctorates | the Star.”, Accessed 20 Mar. 2021.

“Naming and Shaming — Prospects Hedd.” Prospects Hedd, Prospects Hedd, 11 Mar. 2019, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

“Naming and Shaming — Prospects Hedd.” Prospects Hedd, Prospects Hedd, 11 Mar. 2019, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

“Only PhD Holders Should Use Doctor’s Title.” Modern Ghana, Accessed 20 Mar. 2021.

Sabzalieva, Emma. “The Use and Abuse of Honorary Titles in Academia.” Emma Sabzalieva, 12 June 2017, Accessed 20 Mar. 2021.

Samir Salama. “UAE Passes Draft Law to Combat Fake Degrees.”, Gulf News, 16 Feb. 2021, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

Shreya Bose. “India’s Biggest Educational Scam: 36,000 Fake Degrees Found at This Renowned University (Full Details).” — Indian Business of Tech, Mobile & Startups, 9 Feb. 2021, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

Westreich, Sam. “Why Are so Many People Buying Fake PhDs? — the Faculty — Medium.” Medium, The Faculty, 20 May 2020, Accessed 7 Apr. 2021.

“…our lives are half comedy and half tragedy” ― Andrew Sean Greer, Less