Universities typically award honorary degrees to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the school or to society. In many cases, the holder of an honorary doctorate already has considerable education and experience in the degree field. However, in some cases the degree is awarded to an individual with no formal education.
The Public Sphere
Receiving an honorary degree, especially from a major university, is an impressive recognition of one's talents and contributions. An honorary doctorate can bring recognition to its holder in the public sphere, and is an asset in finding a job in the recipient's field. However, most honorary degree recipients already enjoy enough public recognition that the degree merely emphasizes the qualifications they already have.
Use of Title
Receiving an honorary doctorate qualifies its holder to use the title "Dr." in front of his name, though some find this demeaning to those who hold earned doctorates. Some holders of honorary doctorates use "Dr." to emphasize their credentials and earn extra publicity.
Formal Restrictions on Honorary Degree Use
Possessing an honorary doctorate does not qualify its holder to practice in a field in which she has not been trained. Without formal education in medicine, architecture or theology, an honorary degree holder cannot serve as a doctor, architect or minister. Because most honorary degree holders are already specialists or experts in a field, few use their honorary doctorates as more than an award.
Ethical Restrictions on Honorary Degree Use
Many formally educated individuals feel that it is unethical for the holders of honorary doctorates to present themselves as experts in the degree field, pointing out that most holders of earned doctorates have had over 20 years of education. They say an honorary degree holder intending to represent himself as an expert in the field is both doing a disservice to institutions of higher education and trivializing the efforts of those who earned their degrees. These restrictions do not apply to those who are already experts in the degree field.
Jon Zamboni began writing professionally in 2010. He has previously written for The Spiritual Herald, an urban health care and religious issues newspaper based in New York City, and online music magazine eBurban. Zamboni has a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Wesleyan University.