Harlene Gives Harlene an Honorary Law Doctorate

Harlene Gives Harlene an Honorary Law Doctorate

“Honorary Lawyers” still not very useful in court

Outgoing Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne got a very special going-away gift from the University: A honorary PhD in Law. 

Some get gold watches or silver spoons, but not Harlene. Despite her academic background in psychology, Harlene was awarded a law degree at a graduation ceremony two Saturdays ago. It is unclear whether an honorary doctorate entitles one to stand up on a plane when a stewardess shouts “is there a doctor on board?” Critic assumes not.

The ODT reported that she made a “brief, but well-received speech” reflecting on her favourite childhood movie: The Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, she’s not in Kansas anymore, and as of this week, she ain’t in Dunedin either. She officially left on Friday 19 March.

Students were confused about the status of an honorary degree. Richard said, “for someone with more money than she can spend, it’s probably a nice gift,” although he admitted it was probably not much use. 

Troy thought the titles of honorary degrees should change: “People work for years to get those degrees … just giving them out as honours kind of devalues them.” Taylor asked “wait, so she got paid to get a degree?” Life is easy when you’re at the top. 

Under the University’s Degrees and Other Awards Statute, to receive an honorary degree you need to be nominated by four individuals. They must be members of the University Council or the University Senate. Nominations are then considered by the Honorary Degrees Committee, who recommend potential recipients back to the Senate and Council, as well as the degree they will be awarded. 

Harlene is a member of all three bodies. She is the Senate, she is the Council and she is the Honorary Degrees Committee.

In a statement, University Registrar Chris Stoddart said: “Professor Hayne’s honorary LLD recognises her service and leadership as Vice-Chancellor and accords with past common practice of conferring Hon LLDs on former Vice-Chancellors, regardless of academic discipline … Only Frederick Soper (VC from 1953-63) received an alternative honorary degree — a Doctor of Science.”

In an emergency Critic would prefer not to be attended to by an honorary doctor, and in a legal case would avoid an honorary lawyer. Just seems a bit dodge. 

The last honorary degrees to be awarded by Otago were in December 2019, to surveyor William Robertson, New Zealand Dental Council chairperson Dr Clive Ross, ex-artistic director of the Auckland Arts Festival Carla van Zon and former ANZ Bank chairperson John Judge.

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2021.
Posted 11:33am Sunday 21st March 2021 by Denzel Chung.