Kansas State University has chosen superbly in picking Robert Gates to be the first individual in more than two decades to receive an honorary doctorate.
Mr. Gates, a native Kansan, has served the United States with distinction in a number of capacities, most recently as Secretary of Defense. President George W. Bush tapped him for the post in 2006, and so highly regarded was Mr. Gates’ work that President Barack Obama, elected in 2008, asked Mr. Gates to remain in the position. He stepped down last year.
Mr. Gates spent 27 years in America’s intelligence service, taking a job with the CIA in 1966. When he became CIA director in 1991, he was the only career officer to rise to the top job. He also served as the CIA’s deputy director in the late 1980s and was deputy national security adviser for President George H.W. Bush from 1989 until he was named CIA director in 1991.
He is a former president of Texas A&M University and in 2007 gave a Landon Lecture.
Mr. Gates will be the first recipient of an honorary doctorate from K-State in a generation; the last recipient was Conrad J.K. Eriksen in 1988. Others among the 120 previous recipients include Dwight D. Eisenhower, Milton Eisenhower, Alf Landon, Karl and Will Menninger, Gordon Parks, Birger Sandzen, Fred Seaton and James McCain.
Despite the presence of such distinguished individuals, the honorary degree policy was canceled in 1990. The Kansas Board of Regents took that step in part out of concern that the potential for conflicts of interest could affect the choice of honorees and taint the policy. The Regents at that time also acknowledged some difficulty in rejecting nominees because doing so could embarrass university officials.
The Board of Regents reinstated the policy two years ago and dealt with the issues that led to its cancellation. Among criteria now are that individuals chosen be of “notable intellectual, scholarly, professional or creative achievement or service to humanity.” Moreover, honorary degrees will not be given for philanthropic activity or service to the university or the state. Also, individuals associated with the university or who served in elected or appointed positions in Kansas must be five years removed from those positions before qualifying for an honorary degree. There also is no provision to make the issuing of honorary degrees an annual event.
Suffice it to say that Mr. Gates more than meets the criteria. The honor will be conferred at the Graduate School ceremony May 11, a proud day for both Mr. Gates and KSU.