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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Shame on The University of Vermont

The University of Vermont will be awarding an honorary degree to Ben Stein, the man behind the movie Expelled. Here's the press release from the University of Vermont [Ben Stein to Deliver Commencement Address]. Notice that they don't mention the movie. That's no excuse.
The multi-talented Ben Stein, actor/comedian/lawyer/economist/presidential speechwriter/filmmaker, will address the graduates and receive an honorary degree at the University of Vermont's 205th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 17.

Popularly known as the host of Comedy Central's seven-time Emmy award winning game show, "Win Ben Stein's Money," and for an iconic classroom scene in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Stein is also an accomplished writer who has published 30 books and written for publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times to E! Online and New York Magazine. Stein earned his undergraduate degree with honors in economics from Columbia University and went on to graduate as valedictorian of his class from Yale Law School. He has taught at American University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and Pepperdine University in subjects ranging from political and social content of mass culture to securities law. Along with his academic and entertainment achievements, Stein has as served as a trial lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission and as White House speechwriter for presidents Nixon and Ford.
The University of Vermont offers a Major in Biochemistry. Before enrolling, students need to check out the courses to see if they encourage critical thinking and to see how evolution is presented.

The University of Vermont has every right to award honorary degrees to anyone they want. That's what academic freedom is all about. The downside is that the University of Vermont will be judged by who they choose to get an honorary degree. That judgment is not going to be favorable.

UPDATE: Ben Stein has decided that he has another commitment that will prevent him from receiving the honorary degree from the University of Vermont [Stein backs out].

Having been involved in selecting honorary degree recipients, I can assure everyone that you don't make public announcements until the candidate has agreed. Thus, it looks very much like Ben Stein and the university have made a joint decision that inviting Stein to accept an honorary degree was a mistake.

I'm glad the University of Vermont came to its senses.


  1. While I agree with your statement, "The University of Vermont has every right to award honorary degrees to anyone they want," I also believe that the ceremony is for the graduating students and if they don't want Stein to be honoured, their voice should be heard.

    PZ Myers and the commenters at Pharyngula are very upset by the University of Vermont's decision to award an honorary degree to Ben Stein and "Kevin Beck [Vermont alumnus] at Dr Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge [would] like to coordinate a letter-writing campaign to protest UVM's poor choice of a commencement speaker." However, in 1997 the protests by faculty and students against U of T granting an honorary degree to George H. W. Bush were unsuccessful.

  2. I suppose that it is too much to hope that UV is doing this to show students graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression that they too can waste a great education and a father's connections on a failed political career, a one-note-Johnny acting career, a pundit career specializing in being wrong and still make enough money to make a donation requiring the award of an honorary degree that the school hopes no one will take seriously?

    Yeah, I didn't think so.

  3. As much as I hate Ben Stein, UV is awarding him the degree for non-creationism related stuff; that's why there's nothing in the release about Expelled (benefit of doubt...). If we want to criticize something, let's criticize his other stuff. Just a note.

  4. Unbelievable. And I thought Vermont was a very liberal state.

  5. @Ashutosh:

    "We appreciate your concern. It is noted, and stupid." ۠۠—RandomSlice

  6. Clade, we appreciate your response. It is noted, and erudite.

  7. I generally think the idea of giving out honorary degrees
    is bogus. They don't give
    out honorary presidencies
    or honorary Oscars. Michigan State gave one to another crazy old man (Robert Mugabe) in 1980, and now they're regretting it. Of course, Vermont gave one out AFTER the old man got crazy, so I'm not sure what's going on here.

  8. There's a typo in the presentation of Stein : it should be "multi-untalented", of course, not "multi-talented".

    And by the way, he isn't coming anymore.