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Laurentian’s honorary degree drought continues

Three years after Laurentian University conferred its last honorary doctorate, senate discusses reconstituting committee to bring forward candidates, with the aim of conferring these honours in the spring of 2024
Laurentian University interim president Sheila Embleton speaks at a convocation ceremony in May 2023. Laurentian University’s fall convocation is coming up Oct. 28, and once again, no honorary degrees will be awarded.

Laurentian University’s fall convocation is coming up Oct. 28, and once again, no honorary degrees will be awarded

With nearly three years having now passed since an honorary doctorate was awarded at Laurentian, the university says it is aiming to once again be able to confer these honours in the spring of 2024.

There was a discussion at the Sept. 19 LU senate meeting about the steps that will need to be taken to award honorary degrees at the university.

Laurentian University’s website said “the awarding of honorary degrees is an important feature of Laurentian’s convocation and is meant to honour both the individual and the university, as well as inspire our graduates, their families and guests.”

But with the COVID-19 pandemic followed closely by Laurentian’s insolvency, no honorary doctorates have been conferred by Laurentian since October 2020, when global mining reclamation expert Margarete Kalin-Seidenfaden received the honour.

At the May 2023 meeting of Laurentian’s senate, interim president Sheila Embleton said she hoped honorary doctorates could be handed out at the October 2023 convocation.

She also expressed hope that a new chancellor could be installed by then. Former LU chancellor Steve Paikin resigned in 2021 in the wake of Laurentian’s restructuring under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (or CCAA).

The issue came up again at this week’s meeting of Laurentian’s senate, but it wasn’t clear from the discussion exactly when honourary degrees will be awarded again. There was no discussion at all about a new chancellor at the meeting. reached out to Laurentian University for clarification on when LU hopes these two things will happen. We received the following brief written response from the president’s office.

“The honorary doctorates process has been the focus (as you heard at senate) and the chancellor role is still in the planning stages,” said the statement. 

“The aim is to be able to award these honorary degrees in spring of 2024, and then shift the focus towards the chancellor role.”

A spokesperson for Laurentian confirmed no honorary degrees will be awarded at the upcoming Oct. 28 convocation.

During this week’s senate meeting, member Anthony Church asked if it was possible to reconstitute the committee making recommendations on the awarding of honorary degrees at the university. That committee is a joint committee between LU’s board and senate.

There were questions raised about whether the prescribed membership of that committee had been appropriately updated, removing representation from what’s now known as NOSM University and the formerly federated universities operating on Laurentian’s campus.

As a result of the CCAA, these entities are now legally separate from Laurentian. 

Laurentian registrar Serge Demers said LU’s senate had updated the membership of the honorary degree committee, but Laurentian’s board of governors had not.

“Someone needs to advise the board also of this change, and to try to harmonize, so that we’re not at loggerheads,” he said

Interim president Embleton said she was happy to do just that. 

“So I'll find it in the bylaws, take it to the board, and then we can presumably get the committee populated,” she said. “Then we can send out a call for suggestions on hon. docs. And once we've got that, we can then take the names to that committee, and talk about them, then they come to senate in camera, as I understand it, and then they go to the board for approval, and then hopefully they show up at convocation.”

Embleton said she actually found a drive in her office with a list of past honorary degree candidates. This list is outdated, she said, as some of the people on it are actually now deceased. 

She said the names would also need to be examined from an EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) perspective. 

However, she said she thinks the committee should go through that old list and see who should still be brought forward.

“So just use it as a kind of reservoir of names, in some sense,” Embleton said.

Heidi Ulrichsen is’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.


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