G. Bryant Wright controversy leads to new USC policy
Students will have more input into who receives honorary degrees from the University of South Carolina, President Harris Pastides said Monday.
The move — announced privately to four students in May — came after controversy flared over the honorary degree given to G. Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Wright's denomination opposes homosexuality and gay marriage, which some students said violates tenets of the Carolina Creed that guarantee all students will be treated equally.
University leaders said Wright was awarded his degree for his long record of service and leadership. Wright has led mission trips to help refugees, written four books and started an organization that delivers inspirational messages on radio.
"Students need to be on the committee that looks at names, just like there are faculty on the committee," Pastides said. "There isn't a thing at this university I wouldn't want students to be involved in, and we need to communicate that to them."
Pastides said students won't have "veto power" but will now have a say during each stage of consideration. Anyone can nominate someone for an honorary degree, typically seen as the top honor for any university. But those nominees then face approval from several committees and the board of trustees.
"Honorary degree choices will never satisfy 100 percent of the audience," Pastides said. "But we try to seek balance and consider all nominations."
After the controversy last spring, Pastides met with current Student Body President Joe Wright, former Student Body Vice President Taylor Cain, former senior columnist for The Daily Gamecock Hakeem Jefferson and former President of Pastafarians Andrew Cederdahl. Tommy Stepp, secretary of the board of trustees, and Jerry Brewer, USC's associate vice president for Student Affairs, also attended the meeting.
The move was cheered by the four students.
"This is an example of what happens when students stand up, even in the face of the status quo, and say, 'Hold on, this is what we believe,'" Jefferson said. "Students need to recognize they have a voice if they choose to use it. This is a great example of that."
Jefferson said this move would hopefully prevent the university from awarding honorary degrees to people "simply because of their connections to the board of trustees even though their values don't align with the Carolina Creed."
Wright praised the university for giving students a "more active role" in what was previously a shrouded process.
"Before this happened, no one even knew the process as to how someone got a honorary degree," Wright said.