In December, students at Sewanee: The University of the South submitted a petition to the board to rescind an honorary degree awarded to news anchor Charlie Rose in 2016. Rose was accused last year by several women of sexual assault, and has admitted that the claims are true. After long deliberation, the university board has decided that the honorary degree shall remain, citing the need for Christian forgiveness.
The petition, signed by 685 students, alumni/ae, parents, and faculty, was started by the Bairnwick Women’s Center. It said the degree needed to be revoked as a sign of no tolerance for sexual violence. The petitioners hoped that a strong statement from the board would make victims of sexual assault on campus feel safer and more able to come forward. Claire Brickson (Class of ’18) and Mary Margaret Murdock (Class of ’19) presented the petition to the board. Sewanee would have joined Fordham, SUNY Oswego, and Duke, among others, in rescinding honors given to Rose. Fordham and SUNY Oswego had awarded Rose honorary degrees as well, and Duke had given him a prestigious journalism award.
However, referring specifically to Sewanee’s Episcopal heritage, the board said in a letter to Brickson and Murdock, “At the same time, we do not believe it is our place to condemn the individual. In fact, we think there is grave danger were we to go down that path. We impose a penalty where appropriate, but we also offer forgiveness. That said, it would be easy to condemn Mr. Rose and rescind the honorary degree. It is harder not to do so. The opportunity to forgive should always be taken. Condemnation has no place here.” The board continued that if they were to condemn one sinner, then everyone should be condemned, as all are sinners.
Responding to the letter, the Sewanee Women’s Center posted on their Facebook page, “Sewanee’s refusal to revoke Rose’s honorary degree condones sexual harassment and sets a frightening precedent. The Wick will not let this decision go quietly. We stand by victims of sexual assault and harassment and DEMAND that Sewanee does too. #MeToo.” Commenters on the post called the letter, which addresses Brickson and Murdock only by their first names, patronizing. A protest is being organized, and hundreds of copies of the letter and calls for the revocation of the degree were posted on campus.
This article from the Sewanee Purple includes the full text of the board’s letter.