To whom is your allegiance, professors? -

To whom is your allegiance, professors?

STU profs who plan to boycott convocation should be wary of the message they are sending their students


A group of professors at St. Thomas University are protesting the decision to award an honorary degree to Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside, and some have now threatened to boycott the graduation ceremonies.

In an open letter to the Daily Gleaner, the professors at the liberal arts university objected to the decision to award the degree to a “sitting politician,” as well as because of Woodside’s “record on the environment and by his unwillingness to recognize gay and lesbian citizens.”

Back in the 1990’s, Woodside refused to declare a Gay Pride weekend in Fredericton until he was ordered to do so by the Human Rights Commission. However, since taking office again in 2004, Woodside has declared Pride Week and even participated in some of the events.

But for other professors, their decision to boycott the ceremonies has more to do with the ethics of awarding an honorary degree to a politician who is still in office.  “There’s a general sense of unease about the kind of vulgarity and the crassness of that,” Ian Nicholson, an STU professor who signed the letter of objection told Global Saskatoon. “Of sorta paying up to power, of trying to buy favours from politicians by giving them one of these impressive sounding degrees.”

For these reasons, a group of STU professors may be absent at the convocation ceremonies of their students this weekend. And while I don’t agree with their position, it is understandable why they would choose to be so. The ethics of awarding an honorary degree to a sitting politician is undeniably complicated, and that decision is made even thornier when the recipient has held controversial opinions in the past, despite recent reforms.

But by boycotting the ceremonies, these professors are putting their own politics over their students. Which is fine, of course. But small liberal arts universities, unlike large, research-driven institutions, are driven by the reputation of having intimate classrooms and personal connections between students and professors. You go to the University of Toronto if you want to be lectured by a world-renowned theorist who probably doesn’t know your name, but you enroll in St. Thomas University if you want to develop a relationship with faculty and engage personally with your instructors. If these professors don’t show up to their students’ graduations, they will be inadvertently forfeiting one of the great merits of their institution.


To whom is your allegiance, professors?

  1. Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought : JF Kennedy

  2. As a student, I don’t feel that the author is correct in his assumptions to state the injustices students would feel if their beloved profs don’t show up. In fact, students would be supportiveof the boycott, and I’d expect some students to boycott the ceremony themselves. Glad these professors are standing up for society!

  3. Having made their position abundantly clear, they can still attend the graduation ceremony under duress. This way the students aren’t punished or deprived as well.

  4. It seeks just as likely to me that the students could be generally supportive of the proffesors’ stance, and may be glad that their teachers are expessing a concern that they feel but couldn’t act on without missing their own graduation.

    When I was at school it was the profs who had the courage of their convictions that I felt had the greatest allegiance to me and my fellow students, not those who assumed that all students would be offended by any statement or action that instantiated the ethical principles we were meant to be studying.

  5. Wrong. Students attend smaller universities to be instructed in a more intimate setting not so that their professors will go to their convocation and know their name. By the time convocation arrives the students have already gained the advantages that they can from closer relationships with their professors. These professors are not forfeiting anything, they have already provided instruction to the graduating students. The students are not being deprived of anything. Their professor have already done their job, commonly referred to as teaching, and the students are adults so they won’t be emotionally damaged by their professors’ political expression.