Friday, 12 October 2007


By Gershom Ndhlovu

"It seems Zambian presidents have become obsessed with being conferred a doctorate. It all started with Dr Kaunda (admittedly it was in fashion then), Dr Chiluba followed suit. And now the incumbent President has been conferred with a doctorate," wrote one Thomas Zulu in The Post last Saturday.

Indeed, in less than a decade, two of Zambia's leaders have been conferred with Doctorates honoris causa, as they say in the world of academia. Looking at the articles that have been written about President Mwanawasa's Doctorate of Laws, never mind the two former presidents Kaunda and Chiluba, no one has explained the difference between an honorary degree and the more respectable earned doctorate degree.

According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, an honorary degree or a degree honoris causa (Latin: 'for the sake of the honour') is an academic degree for which a university (or other degree-awarding institution) has waived the usual requirements (such as matriculation, residence, study and the passing of examinations). The degree itself is typically a doctorate or, less commonly, a master’s degree, and may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the institution in question.

Usually, the online encyclopaedia says, the degree is conferred as a way of honouring a distinguished visitor's contributions to a specific field, or to society in general. The university often derives benefits by association with the person in question.

Not that anybody should begrudge someone so honoured, but at the rate this honour is being dished out especially to Zambia's heads of state, will reduce it to a meaningless and laughable one. Chiluba was awarded his by the University of Malawi not too long after his friend, the former Malawi president Bakili Muluzi was honoured by some university.

On the other hand, Dr Kaunda was in the distant past, awarded Honorary Doctorates of Law from the Universities of Fordham, Dublin, Wales, Windsor (Canada), Sussex, York and Chile. In addition he received honorary degrees from Humboldt State University, California and University of Zambia

But what are Harding University’s credentials? It describes itself as a private Christian institution of higher education committed to the tradition of the liberal arts and sciences. It is composed of a College of Arts and Humanities, a College of Bible and Religion, a College of Business Administration, a College of Education, a College of Nursing, a College of Sciences; and graduate programs in business, education, marriage and family therapy, physician assistant studies, and religion.

The university, according to its website, serves a diverse, coeducational student body from across the United States and around the world, although the primary constituency for students and financial support is the fellowship of the churches of Christ.

Going by these credentials, Harding University is definitely not one of the Ivy League universities, neither is it very well known such that even as Form Fives in the early 1980s, those we used to call "UNZA suspects", that is, those who had the potential of being accepted to university, not an easy feat then, who knew most universities in America by name would never have dreamed of Harding University.

Somebody did mention to me just after President Mwanawasa was granted the accolade that Harding University has connections with a Christian-run educational establishment in Southern Province where it wants to open a university, but whether this is related to its decision to award him with an honorary Doctorate of Laws or not, is difficult to tell.

Now that it is becoming a trend for Plot One residents to be awarded degrees honoris causa, I am sure the next occupant, if he will not be a holder of an earned LLD or PhD, will also work hard to attract the eye of a generous uni for one.

Maybe this should be the time as a nation to start thinking of sending people to State House with already earned PhDs or LLDs so that they are not distracted with the acquisition of titles when in office.


Dr. Burt said...

HU has a graduate program in pharmacy as well. It's new.

CCK said...


At Eric's b-day party last night we were almost all in agreement that in the developed world those bestowed with honorary Doctorates don't usually use them as day-to-day titles, unless at very specific events. H.E.L.P. Mwanawasa (Sorry almost forgot, SC) is already a legitimate graduate and could have legitimately done some research, published a thesis and hence earn a PhD. Our previous Plot 1 residents would first have to graduate as undergraduates before proceeding to a research programme. By the way I think being a presida, I'm sure the scrutineers wouldn't have grilled H.E.L.P M, SC, too much at his viva voce interview.

Towela said...

You seem to have very prophetic lenses! You projected this very well and forsee it all recurring! This partially overshadows the labour and meticulous planning some of us are undergoing day by day just to legitimately earn these titles! Your last sentence cant be more apt; we must seriously consider electing "my sort" that will already have these titles and not use Plot 1 as a spring board! Wow!