Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, May 19, 2005

UWO Awards Honorary Degree to Abortionist

The University of Western Ontario will be awarding an honorary doctorate to Henry Morgentaler, a physician who was a pioneer campaigner for legalized abortion in Canada during the 1960s and early 1970s; in the process he performed many abortions himself. This decision has met with considerable opposition.

The most surprising opposition is that of Don McDougall, Chair of the UWO Board of Governors. He wrote an open letter saying,

It is my firm conviction that this decision will depreciate the honor, adversely affect fundraising, recruiting of students and faculty, relationships with the Affiliated Colleges and alumni and do irreparable harm to the reputation of the university. It is also completely out of step with the culture and positioning of our university.

We have generally avoided highly charged political and moral issues and certainly have never used our Honorary Degree program to position our university on an issue of such divisiveness with the public.

Nonsense. The University of Western Ontario has awarded numerous honorary degrees to controversial figures, some [e.g. Stephen Lewis] who were quite political and who definitely presented "highly charged political and moral" convocation addresses. The university has often given honorary degrees to people who are outstanding in their field, even if they have stirred up strong feelings, pro and con. Here is the response from the university's president, Paul Davenport (who, btw, is likely a Chet).

Because I must attend all the convocations [we now hold ten different ceremonies in June, six in October, plus a few others scattered around for good measure], I can attest to the fact that I have found some of the degree recipients less than worthy; and some addresses have sometimes been putrid or stupid or so left-wing as to have been both.

I personally do not like abortion, but then I'm not a woman, and I think that makes a difference. At the same time, I think late term and partial birth abortions should be illegal (with maybe some extremely rare exceptions). But I can accept a societal decision to legalize abortion during the first trimester.

Nevertheless, I applaud the university's decision to grant an honorary doctorate to Henry Morgentaler. He was clearly a pioneer and a champion for his cause. I don't agree with abortion, and in many ways I would rather he were not honoured. And yet I see granting him an honorary degree as being no worse than granting one to many others with whom I strongly disagreed.

In the end, I think the Chair of the Board of Governors has an obligation to resign. The Board had no official oversight for this decision, and he had no justification for publishing his open letter.

The one sad aspect of this particular case is that security will have to be very tight for the convocation. And it will be a big media show. All that is too bad, since it will detract from the graduation process for the students and their parents.

I nominated the Canadian writer, W. P. Kinsella. I hope he gets one sometime.
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