Student Senate Urges Board Of Trustees To Revoke Dictator’s Degree

Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe

Taylor Fife

After holding an honorary degree from the University of Massachusetts for 21 years, Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, may be about to lose that honor.

On April 4 the Undergraduate Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the Board of Trustees strip Mugabe of his degree.

The resolution argued that the degree be revoked “on the basis of his reckless disregard of human rights, democratic institutions, crackdown of the media, and his systematic torture of opposition parties and human rights advocates.”

This resolution and its unanimous vote come in the wake of increased international attention focused on the Mugabe regime. Although Mugabe has controlled Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980, he began making headlines in more recent years for the low quality of life and staggering inflation rates in his country. After his government forces suppressed a political rally last month and allegedly tortured and killed opposition officials, foreign government and media outlet criticism of Mugabe has been increasing.

Opposition to Mugabe has also burgeoned among students at UMB. A petition written by Shauna Murray asking for the Board of Trustees to revoke Mugabe’s degree has been in circulation on campus since last year. Between 300 and 500 students so far have signed it, she said.

The petition seeks to revoke the degree “based on his reckless disregard of law, torture of opposition officials, media crack down and the destruction of homes that led to the displacement of 700,000 citizens.”

Mugabe originally received the Honorary Doctorate Degree of Laws for his efforts “to establish racial harmony between blacks and whites.” Some view this as ironic after Mugabe confiscated the land of nearly 3,000 white farmers, resulting in a nation-wide economic crisis and food shortage.

The campus Non-Aligned club, which includes members from Zimbabwe, has been vocal about stripping Mugabe of his degree.

“We really feel strongly about it. They should take it away,” club members said.

At the April 4th senate meeting nearly all senators expressed the opinion that the degree ought to be revoked. The Chairman of the Senate’s Campus and Community Affairs Committee, Colleen McKiernan, wrote the original draft of the resolution and presented it to the full senate at the meeting. Many senators, including Muna Kangsen, showed their support and recommended slight changes. The senate recommended that the degree be stripped “in the hopes of maintaining [UMB]’s reputation as a fine academic institution which promotes and works to safeguard human rights and to preserve democratic ideals in the world.”

The resolution will be sent to various administrators on campus as well as the University President and the Board of Trustees. The Board has never before revoked an honorary degree and has no formal process outlined for doing so. They have discussed the issue and will be addressing it at their June meeting.

Other students are not as convinced that Mugabe ought to have his degree revoked. “UMass Boston isn’t going to take away your Biology degree 20 years later just because you didn’t get a job in science, you know. The degree was his, he earned it; it shouldn’t be taken away because he stopped doing what he did before,” said one student who wished to remain anonymous.

Mugabe has also received honorary degrees at Michigan State and University of Edinburgh. The degree from the University of Edinburgh has since been revoked, and Michigan State is considering removing his degree as well. Mugabe has many other degrees from universities and once even quipped that he possesses “many degrees in violence.”

Calls made to the Zimbabwe embassy in Washington D.C. were not returned.