Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Rev. Wright Is Not the First Controversial Figure to Get the Nod from Northwestern

May 20th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

… but he just might be the first to have had it withdrawn.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright just before he addressed the National Press Club on April 28, 2008.

That Northwestern University backpedaled on its plans to award an honorary degree Rev. Jeremiah Wright is now old news. In a May 1 article on, University spokesman Alan Cubbage explained that Northwestern withdrew its offer of an honorary degree from the controversial former minister at least in part because it wished to avoid the negative pall that his presence might cast over the upbeat mood of this year’s commencement exercises. Said Cubbage, “In light of the controversy around Dr. Wright and to ensure the celebratory character of commencement not be affected, the university has withdrawn its invitation to Dr. Wright.”

I have very mixed feelings about Rev. Wright. I do not believe that candidate Obama should be judged by the comments of his former minister, nor do I necessarily believe that those comments were appropriate. Still, the decision by Northwestern University to rescind his honorary degree troubles me, largely because it seems to indicate a double standard.

This is, after all, the institution that, in 2005, chose to grant honorary degrees to both John McCain, controversial for his his spoken references to his Vietnamese captors as “gooks” (for example, “I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live“), and NY Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman, whose less-than-respectful list of “basic rules for reporting in the Middle East” (NY Times, 1/13/2005) includes these gems:

Rule 1 Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over by the time the next morning’s paper is out.

Rule 4 In the Middle East, if you can’t explain something with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all – people there won’t believe it.

Rule 5 In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away – unless the coast is completely clear.

When it comes to getting an honorary degree from Northwest, there is clearly a hierarchy of acceptable (ahem) misstatements at work, in which racial slurs and anti-Arab humor is forgiveable, but anti-Americanism of the sort for which Rev. Jeremiah Wright is now famous is completely unacceptable.

Click HERE for ABC News coverage of Rev. Wright’s controversial statements.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

  1. Terry Howcott

    Well, as a correction – Rev. Wrights statements were not “anti American.” They were anti injustice and anti White supremacy. His comments were critical of the U.S. for its warmongering, ravaging and pillaging, and its refusal to make appropriate amends for these atrocities. This ought not be confused with “anti Americanism.”

    In fact, it is McCain and his club that exhibit unabashed anti Americanism in their profound disrespect for the U.S. constitution – and their direct opposition to fairness and justice.

    So what Northwestern has done is embraced anti Americanism that is perpetrated by world leaders, and rejected criticism of anti Americanism delivered by a Black scholar. The good news is that Rev. Wright is stable in his cultural sensibilities and understands I’m sure that this was the kind of award he wouldn’t have wanted to have on his mantle.

    Blessings never cease.