A singular honor for outstanding scholarly achievement
Chicago is singular in its approach to honorary degrees. For the last half-century -- with exceptions only for retiring presidents of the University and chairmen of the Board of Trustees -- Chicago has awarded honorary degrees only for scholarship of the highest quality. Unlike its peers, Chicago does not honor actors, ambassadors, presidents or monarchs unless they meet the University's stringent requirements for scholarship.
One key characteristic of the Chicago honorary degree is that nominations are made by the faculty -- at the level of degree-granting units -- rather than by the administration. The departmental honorary degree committees collect letters of recommendation from outside scholars as well as complete bibliographies of the candidates. They make their recommendations to the divisional committees, which then make their recommendations to the deans. The deans in turn pass on those they have approved to the University-wide honorary degree committee, which was chaired this past year by Edwin Taylor, Louis Block Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology. This committee makes the final determination of the degree recipients.
The Chicago honorary degree has also traditionally been awarded to relatively young scholars of great promise. Among the previous recipients of Chicago honorary degrees are a number of scholars who later won the Nobel Prize, including Linus Pauling (chemistry), Walter Gilbert (chemistry), Roger Sperry (medicine), Steven Weinberg (physics), William Fowler (physics), Hans Bethe (physics) and Henry Taube (chemistry). Among the other distinguished recipients are economic historian R.H. Tawney, legal scholar Roscoe Pound, child-development pioneer Jean Piaget, and chemist and National Medal of Science recipient Frank Westheimer.