Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



How to get an honorary degree at UND

Former Congressman Earl Pomeroy is receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters from UND Saturday, joining the likes of legendary National Basketball Association coach Phil Jackson and President John F. Kennedy.

Former N.D. Congressman Earl Pomeroy Pomeroy
Former N.D. Congressman Earl Pomeroy

Former Congressman Earl Pomeroy is receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters from UND Saturday, joining the likes of legendary National Basketball Association coach Phil Jackson and President John F. Kennedy.

So how does one go about getting an honorary degree at UND?

Margaret Jackson, the law professor who chairs the University Senate's honorary degree committee, describes it as a long and secretive process, secrecy being necessary to avoid embarrassing those who aren't chosen for the honor.

The person nominated goes through a vetting process that requires the support of faculty members in that person's area of expertise and the support of the committee, the senate, UND's president and, ultimately, the State Board of Higher Education.



It starts with the nomination.

Any of the 690 members of the University Council, which includes all administrators, faculty members and many staff members, may send a nomination to the committee by way of the provost's office.

State board rules say that the nominee must have some association with the state, whether they were born here, live here, went to school here or served the state.

The nominee's "renown" must "reflect favorably" on the state.

And the nominee must have "achieved a level of distinction which would merit comparable recognition in his or her profession or area of excellence." It's more than a popularity contest. An honorary degree is actually a degree from a specific academic department, and that department has to give its OK.

Here UND added a rule of its own: It won't offer an honorary degree in a field where it doesn't normally offer a degree, according to Jackson. It also won't offer an honorary degree to one of its own faculty members.

For those making the nomination, it's more than just submitting a name to the committee. There's a lot of legwork involved. Nominations have to be accompanied by a dossier providing evidence of the nominee's suitability, including a biography, a list of scholarly writings or some other list of achievements and a description of their public service, among other things.

Jackson said the committee relies on the dossier to make its recommendation, and, there have been times when the committee turned down nominations because of incomplete dossiers. "Others should not rely on the committee to recognize how fantastic a nominee is," she said. The committee doesn't necessarily have the same knowledge, she said.


Life of service

In Pomeroy's case, it was the College of Business and Public Administration and the School of Law that did the nominating because Pomeroy has degrees from both.

As a native of Valley City, N.D., a longtime resident -- he now lives in Washington, D.C., where he works for a law firm. -- a UND alumnus and an elected official, Pomeroy fulfills the requirement for a North Dakota connection perfectly.

For more than 30 years, Pomeroy served as a state lawmaker, the insurance commissioner and, from 1993 to 2011, the state's sole U.S. representative.

"He basically worked tirelessly to better the lives of citizens of North Dakota," said Dennis Elbert, dean of the business college.

Elbert signed the nomination letter, which said Pomeroy "is an outstanding example of commitment to public service and represents the values of leadership that we seek to teach our students."

One example, he said, is Pomeroy's help in teaching students. "Earl was always very, very available and very gracious and very open in working with our students. One thing I'll never forget in my lifetime; just two or three days after 9/11, there were phenomenal concern and worry. He was actually at Ground Zero on his cell phone talking to a packed classroom of our students at Gamble Hall."

Pomeroy told the students what he saw on the ground, what he thought the next steps were and he tried to calm the students' fears, Elbert said.


It's a secret!

If the committee approves of the nominee, the chairperson will ask the University Senate to vote -- except senators will not be told who the nominee is.

Here we should mention the secrecy of the whole process. The dossier that committee members receive never goes through campus mail like other internal documents.

"They're hand-delivered because it's felt that it's very important that word not get out of failed nominations," Jackson said. "The committee handbook says nominees must not be informed if they're being considered."

That secrecy isn't such a difficult thing at the committee level because, with only seven members, it's small and doesn't meet in a public venue. Not so the senate, which anyone can attend.

Committee chairpersons will only give senators a summary of the nominee's accomplishments and some information about the nominee, Jackson said. But nominees are typically distinguished to begin with, and North Dakota is a state with a small population, making secrecy challenging at times, she said.

With Pomeroy, she said, "it was impossible." As she walked to the podium to speak to the senate, she said, one of the senators said it's obvious who the nominee is, and she had to cut him off and remind him it was a public meeting.

Should the nomination fail, she said, "it'd be embarrassing all around."


If the senate gives its consent, the nomination goes to the president and from there to the state board. The name is not mentioned until the board acts upon it.

Who else has honorary doctoral degrees from UND? Here's a partial list:

- Edwin Benson, a Mandan tribal elder who worked to preserve the tribe's language and culture. He's the only living Mandan to be fluent in the language.

- Gene Dahl, the driving force behind three North Dakota manufacturers: Bobcat, Steiger Tractor and Concord.

- H.F. "Sparky" Gierke, a former armed forces chief judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

- Phil Jackson, a legendary National Basketball Association coach who led the Chicago Bulls to six national championships and the L.A. Lakers to five.

- Charles "Chuck" Johnson, a longtime sports editor with the Milwaukee Journal.

- President John F. Kennedy, who launched the race to the moon and led the United States through the Cuban Missile Crisis.


- Jean Kiesau, a community leader and former president of Home of Economy.

- Bill Marcil, a business leader and owner of Forum Communications, which owns the Herald.

- Dale Morrison, former CEO of Campbell Soup Co.

- Steinar Opstad, a Norwegian who has worked to strengthen ties between his homeland and North Dakota.

- Laurel Reuter, founding director of the North Dakota Museum of Art on campus.

- Ed Schafer, former North Dakota governor and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

- Homer Sprague, the second president of UND and the first president of the North Dakota Education Association.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

What To Read Next
Get Local