It’s a crowded field, but it’s hard to look beyond the doctorate presented to Sir Jimmy Savile by the University of Bedfordshire in 2009, three years before he was exposed as the UK’s most prolific paedophile.
That award’s cringe factor was amplified by the existence of a photograph of a berobed Savile, cigar in hand, next to Bedfordshire’s smiling vice-chancellor Les Ebdon, who is now the director of fair access to higher education. The image’s ubiquity also meant that the University of Leedslargely avoided publicity over the honorary degree it awarded to the Top of the Pops presenter in 1986. Both institutions rescinded their awards shortly after Savile was posthumously exposed in 2012.
Other institutions have also faced embarrassment over awards to those later exposed as paedophiles. An honorary degree awarded in 2010 to Rolf Harris by Liverpool Hope University was rescinded in 2014, days after the artist and children’s TV presenter was convicted on sex abuse charges. Lancaster University’s 1993 veneration of Sir Cyril Smith, a Liberal MP who was later the subject of numerous allegations of sexual and physical abuse of children, and who was given a deputy pro-chancellor’s role in the 1970s, remains listed on the university’s website despite anger at the award. Most recently, the University of St Andrews announced that it is mulling whether it should withdraw an honorary degree given to its former rector, broadcaster Sir Clement Freud, in the wake of posthumous allegations of sexual assault made against him by four women. Meanwhile, in the US, some 60 universities are wrestling with how to deal with the honorary awards they gave to Bill Cosby, the one-time king of American sitcom TV, in the wake of multiple rape allegations against him. (more...)