D14.0 Policy on Awarding Honorary Degrees

I. Honorary Degree Recipient Nomination Process

A. Nominations for an Honorary Degree

  1. Persons nominated for an honorary degree may be eminent scientists, engineers, scholars, artists, writers, educators, or other individuals who have advanced their field of endeavor in significant ways. They may also be professionals or other individuals who have made particularly distinguished contributions to society in areas such as public service, business, humanitarian work, the law, government, or the creative arts. See IV. Guidelines (below) for more information.
  2. Individuals delivering the commencement address may also receive honorary degrees; therefore, nominations for commencement speakers must meet the criteria for this distinction and will be reviewed under the same process for considering all honorary degree nominations.
  3. Supporting documentation, which includes biographical information and evidence of accomplishments that meet the guidelines in IV. below are required for a nomination to be considered.
  4. Nominations may be submitted at any time to the Secretary of the University.

II. Honorary Degree Committee

Members of the board, faculty, staff, administration and alumni are invited to submit nominations for consideration to the Honorary Degree Committee through the Secretary of the University. The Honorary Degree Committee reviews nominations and recommends recipients for honorary degrees.

  1. Membership

The dean of the Graduate School chairs the committee. Faculty members will be appointed by the provost, in consultation with the chair of Faculty Senate. Membership includes the committee chair and a minimum of five faculty members from different college and degree-granting units. Each faculty member will serve a three-year term on the Honorary Degree Committee. Terms will be staggered to provide continuity. Members may be reappointed to one additional term.

  1. Meetings

The Honorary Degree Committee meets as needed to consider nominations and to forward recommendations to the provost. The Honorary Degree Committee may use electronic means to consider nominations and prepare its recommendation(s).

III. Recommendations

  1. The Honorary Degree Committee will review all supporting documentation as specified in the Honorary Degree nomination form and forward its recommendation on all candidates to the provost.

  1. The provost may or may not support a recommendation. The provost will forward the recommendation(s), along with the committee’s recommendation(s) and supporting documentation, to the Secretary of the University.

  1. The Secretary of the University will present the recommendations to the president, who may support or reject a recommendation. The Secretary will forward the president's recommendation(s) for granting honorary degrees to the Advancement and External Relations Committee of the board of trustees, which will make its recommendation(s) to the full board.

  1. Names of recommended candidates and supporting materials must be received by the Secretary of the University for transmittal to the Advancement and External Relations Committee three weeks in advance of its meeting. On rare occasions, the Secretary may be able to expedite the approval process.

  1. Candidates approved for conferral of an honorary degree may receive an immediate invitation to receive the degree, or may be invited at a later time. No member of the RIT community may communicate with an honorary degree candidate about the honor without the permission of the president or secretary.

IV. Guidelines

  1. Self-nominations and faculty, active or emeritus, and staff are not eligible, except under extraordinary circumstances.
  2. Ordinarily, an honorary degree will not be conferred on an active trustee. Honorary or Emeritus trustees are eligible.
  3. While national or international recognition may be considered in the selection, the emphasis in the selection process is on professional or academic success, distinctive public service or the individual's contribution to the university and its reputation. Special attention is given to those who have achieved outstanding success in fields that are related to the educational objectives of the university.
  4. Candidates should embody the basic ideals of personal integrity and good citizenship that the university seeks to foster. Further, nominees should exemplify with distinction elements of RIT’s mission and demonstrate preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art and academic values. Candidates should inspire others, helping to develop leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.
  5. The range of candidates should reflect the university’s absolute commitment to diversity as expressed in myriad forms, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status, as well as diversity in the spectrum of thoughts and ideas.
  6. A candidate for an honorary degree at RIT should meet two or more of the following criteria:
  • Has achieved national or international recognition.
  • Has made an outstanding contribution to society, either through personal or professional accomplishments.
  • Has made a significant contribution to their professional field.
  • Has had a significant impact on the development and advancement of RIT.
  • Has achieved distinction in public service, through elected or appointed office.

V. Confirmation of the Award of Honorary Degrees

The board of trustees authorizes that the honorary degree be conferred. Approval of the recommendations by the full board of trustees is required.

The process must be confidential until action is taken by the board of trustees and the president has secured the acceptance of the recipient. No publicity is to be given until the acceptance has been received. The candidate must be present in person, normally on the RIT campus, to receive the degree. In rare circumstances, an award in absentia may be granted.

VI. Advancement and External Relations Committee

The Advancement and External Relations Committee of the board of trustees will periodically review with the full board of trustees the university's goals for awarding honorary degrees and the criteria to be met by honorary degree candidates.

VII. Extraordinary Circumstances

Under extraordinary circumstances, the full board of trustees may rescind the honorary degree.

Responsible Office:
Office of the President

Effective Date:
Approved March 31, 1994 

Policy History: 
Last revised June 12, 1996
Edited September 2010

Revisions approved by University Council on April 24, 2024