In 1470 the University of Oxford began the tradition of recognizing persons of
significance to to the institution by conferring an honorary degree on Lionel
Woodville. In the United States the conferring of honorary degrees dates to just
prior to the American Revolution. Princeton University recognized Jonathan
Belcher with its first honorary degree in 1748. Harvard University followed in
1753 by honoring Benjamin Franklin.
Honoris causa ad gradum, Latin for "Honorary Degree" is described as a
"decorative" degree rather than an earned designation. Although most recipients
are conferred a doctoral degree, bachelor's and master's degrees also may be
Each institution determines its own criteria for recognition. The University of
Cambridge makes all staff eligible for an honorary master's degree after five
years of service. Customarily persons holding an honorary doctorate do not use
the title of "Doctor" and on documents place the designation Honoris causa,
Honorary, or h.c. after the degree. In former British commonwealth countries it
has become customary to confer an LLD or HonD instead of a PhD to honorary
The Tradition at SMU
Southern Methodist University conferred its first honorary degrees in 1918.
Marvin Graves and Morris Sheppard were given the degree of Doctor of Laws. The
University has conferred over 280 honorary degrees in our over one-hundred year history.
The recipients have been Presidents of SMU - Boaz, Selecman, Tate; they have
been common names around the campus - McFarlin, Fondren, Meadows, Perkins,
DeGoyler, Heroy, Hawk, Story, Karcher, Ford, Hammon. SMU has recognized the
partnership with Dallas by recognizing individuals important to Dallas and SMU -
Dealey, Kiest, Munger, Hoblitzell, Nasher; Mayor Annette Strauss, Judge Sarah T.
Hughes, businessmen Thomas Braniff and Stanley Marcus. Two Texan U.S. Presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson and George H. W. Bush as well as first Lady Lady Bird Johnson,
Governor William Clements and Congresswoman Barbara Jordon. Alumni who have
gained renown have been recognized -- pioneering Attorney Louis Raggio,
Academy Award Winning Actress Kathy Bates, and Noble Prize winner James Watson Cronin.
World leaders have received honorary degrees -- Ramsey Clark and King Juan
Carlos of Spain. The list is diverse including the Archbishop of Canterbury to
Author Eudora Welty to Children's Rights Activist Marion Wright Edleman to
Conductor Eduardo Mata to businessman Ross Perot and feminist publisher Gloria