Faculty at Morehouse College vote to grant Biden honorary degree amidst controversy over commencement

Despite some frustration from faculty, staff, and students at Morehouse College, President Joe Biden was awarded an honorary degree by the faculty on Thursday. This decision, however, was met with opposition from those who protested against his handling of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

During a call on Thursday morning, 50 out of the 88 faculty members present decided to grant Biden an honorary degree. According to a source, there was a chance that the faculty might have opted not to bestow the honorary degree on Biden as a form of protest against his speech.

Late last month, there were growing concerns about potential protests at Morehouse regarding Biden’s appearance. This came during a time of widespread protests on college campuses across the United States in response to Israel’s war in Gaza, which was ignited by Hamas’ terror attacks on October 7th.

The honorary degree process at Morehouse is a regular occurrence, usually voted on earlier in the year. Faculty members must vote to confer the honorary degree to the commencement speaker every year. However, this year, there was an oversight in the process, and the faculty didn’t vote until Thursday.

A group of students reached out to the faculty, urging them to reject the proposal of awarding Biden an honorary degree.

“I believe that earning a degree is a significant accomplishment,” expressed Anwar Karim, a sophomore student who was part of the group that penned the letter. He went on to say, “I couldn’t identify any credentials that would warrant Biden receiving such a prestigious recognition.”

Honorary degrees are frequently bestowed upon individuals who have made notable contributions in their respective fields. Joe Biden, too, has been honored with numerous honorary degrees in recognition of his significant contributions to the realm of politics.

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One faculty member, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed to ABC News that they not only supported awarding the president an honorary degree but also intended to cast their vote for Biden in the upcoming November election.

“I believe it’s crucial to acknowledge that when you cast your vote, you’re not only supporting a single individual but the entire team. I have full confidence in the team,” expressed the faculty member.

According to Karim, who attended the meeting, the chair of Morehouse’s board, Willie Woods, instructed the board and students from the Atlanta University Center Consortium to find a “tasteful” approach to protest Biden’s commencement speech. The Morehouse board is advocating for nonviolent demonstrations.

Biden will deliver his speech during an election year in a crucial swing state, before an important voting bloc. Morehouse, one of the nation’s renowned historically Black colleges, will be the venue for this significant event. Biden has expressed his stance on student protests at college campuses. During a recent interview on the local Atlanta-based radio show, “The Big Tigger Morning Show With Jazzy McBee,” he emphasized that while Americans have the right to engage in peaceful protests, engaging in hate speech or violence is deemed “unacceptable.”

According to him, “I believe that many concerns are valid, and individuals have the right to peacefully protest, which I wholeheartedly respect.”

Biden has been striving to strike a balance between showing empathy towards Palestinian civilians in Gaza and expressing support for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. However, he has faced persistent criticism from younger and more progressive voters, who have taken issue with America’s support for Israel’s operations, despite the White House condemning certain actions taken by Israel.

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Last week, Steve Benjamin, the head of the White House Office of Public Engagement, organized a two-hour meeting with a handpicked group of students and faculty. The purpose of the meeting was to gather insights on the topics that interested them for President Biden’s upcoming commencement address.

According to a White House official, the students and faculty made it clear that they did not want to hear a campaign speech from the president, who is currently in a race against former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for November. Benjamin, the White House official, assured the students that the main focus of the event would be to celebrate their graduation and the president’s aspirations for their future endeavors.

Karim, a sophomore, expressed that he isn’t particularly worried about Biden transforming his commencement address into a campaign speech.

He expressed his concern, asking, “If you are going to deliver a campaign speech, what valuable message can you offer us as young Black men?”

The school’s president, David A. Thomas, is concerned about how the police might potentially react to a crowd that is predominantly made up of Black individuals.

During an interview with NPR, Thomas emphasized the importance of maintaining a safe environment during commencement ceremonies. He stated that if the involvement of the police becomes necessary, they would take immediate action to ensure the cancellation of the event.

Thomas emphasized that their main goal is to ensure that commencement remains a positive and uninterrupted experience for everyone. He highlighted the importance of avoiding situations where law enforcement would need to remove individuals in a disruptive manner. In order to prevent such scenarios, Thomas stated that they would rather cancel or halt the commencement services on the spot, instead of resorting to using zip ties or involving the police.

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