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Sewanee refuses to rescind Charlie Rose’s honorary degree

Sewanee refuses to rescind Charlie Rose’s honorary degree

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.


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R. Davies

[please use your first and last name when commenting. Thanks, editor]
Stop adding fuel to the fire. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. I for one say the charges are outrageous. SHAME on those who think otherwise. END OF DISCUSSION.

Helen Kromm

“Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. I for one say the charges are outrageous. SHAME on those who think otherwise.”

Seriously? Odd then, don’t you think, that Rose issued a public apology for his conduct? Generally the presumption of innocence doesn’t apply when the accused apologizes for the conduct they are accused of. While you seem to believe in his innocence, he doesn’t.

See below, under the section “Sexual harassment accusations”:

His conduct spanned nearly two decades. He disputed virtually none of it, but did claim that he thought he was “pursuing shared feelings”.

“END OF DISCUSSION” Just a suggestion. It’s considered shouting when you post in all caps. Also, you don’t get to declare an end of discussion in a public blog unless you own it or moderate within it.

Ann Fontaine

Wondering if the administration worries if this is the beginning of taking down all the slave owner monuments on campus?

Rob Lamborn

It’s good that you asked this question. Last fall the administration moved the bas relief monument to a Confederate general and Sewanee professor from its location on the University’s main street to the family’s gravesite. The Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation, with the administration’s support and funding, has been examining the connections of the University’s founding with slaveholders. The day before yesterday the parish hall of the parish I serve was full of people participating in the Project’s examination of and conversation about the meanings of some of the stained glass windows in the university chapel. Like churches have been doing, Sewanee is engaging the work of learning what parts of its physical fabric are not welcoming and/or not reflective of the university’s current values. Happy to put someone in touch if the Cafe would be interested in more info.

Ann Fontaine

Thanks Rob.

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