Editor’s note: This article discusses sexual assault, including the sexual abuse of children. Gazette contributor Karla Renic is a student of Robert Huish. To avoid a conflict of interest, Matt Stickland conducted the interview with Huish.
Dalhousie University has no policy on rescinding honorary degrees – even when the recipient is on trial for sexually abusing children.
For more than 25 years, Peter Dalglish was a Canadian humanitarian. He graduated from Stanford University and then Dalhousie Law School in 1983. Dalglish worked in India, Afghanistan and Nepal (among others) where he founded charities, educated and sponsored children. He was a recipient of the Order of Canada in 2016 for devoting his life to “helping children escape poverty.” In an article from September, The Globe and Mail said he “often paid school fees for poor children, took them on international trips and invited them to his home.”
In April 2018, Dalglish was charged with sexually abusing two boys in Nepal. The boys, ages 12 and 14, were found in his villa at the time of the arrest. The father of one of the boys had described the sexual contact to the Nepalese police. According to The Globe and Mail, allegations included bathing, undressing, “playing with genitals” and coerced oral sex. Dalglish is currently being held at a Nepalese prison in Kathmandu.
Old honour, fresh complaint
Back in 2008, Dalglish received an honorary degree from Dalhousie University for his work helping children. Since the allegations were reported, the university has not yet addressed the future of Dalglish’s award.
Robert Huish, associate professor of International Development Studies at Dalhousie, brought up this issue with his colleagues at the university after reading about the allegations.
“I’ve raised it with colleagues whether or not the university should continue to honour someone who’s facing such charges,” he said, “especially when the work that he was being honoured for was involving the benefit and welfare of children.”
Huish sent an email to the Senate Honorary Degrees Committee in April, asking to open a discussion on rescinding Dalglish’s degree. The Senate responded saying there is no mechanism in place to rescind honorary degrees and no action has been taken.
Richard Florizone, the President of Dalhousie University and Chair of the Senate, has declined to comment through the Senior Communications Manager at Dalhousie, Janet Bryson. Bryson was contacted twice for a chance to comment on Dalglish’s award.
In an email statement, Bryson said “Senate has the power to bestow an honorary degree on an individual and therefore, they also have the power to revoke it.”
She continued: “The Senate at Dalhousie is currently considering the incorporation of formal processes into the relevant policies. It is highly unusual that an honorary degree would be revoked. It would be a decision that would not be taken lightly and would depend on the details of the situation.”
Not the norm
William Sweet, Chair of the Honorary Degrees Committee at St. Francis Xavier University, said they also do not have a mechanism in place to rescind honorary degrees and have never rescinded one. University of King’s College has said the same.
Huish said his main concern is that there are other mechanisms in place to rescind almost any other degree at Dalhousie; on the basis of academic integrity, the university can rescind a Bachelor’s degree or a PhD.
“We’re very thorough in ensuring accountability in almost every other aspect of university affairs. And I find it that in this case, there’s no mechanism in place to ensure accountability and diligence,” said Huish.
Academic institutions across the United States had similar discourse over Bill Cosby in 2015, as he faced charges for drugging and sexually assaulting of several women. Cosby lost honorary degrees from over 30 universities and colleges in the last three years. For many, this was the first case of rescinding an honorary degree.
Other universities where Cosby holds the award, such as Virginia Commonwealth University, said “because VCU honorary degrees carry no special rights or privileges there is no precedent or policy for revoking them,” according to Vulture magazine. Several universities have also said they will not rescind the award because he was honoured for his work and accomplishments at the time.
In April, Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand.
Dalhousie University’s criteria for honorary degrees says that the award seeks to “honour individuals whose accomplishments and achievements demonstrate a standard of excellence (…) and will reflect favourably on the public reputation of the University.”
Huish said Peter Dalglish’s crimes are too closely related to the work he was honoured for, especially because it involved children.
“This would be a pretty important moment to say ‘yeah, we would happily disassociate ourselves from the likes of people who do crimes like this.’”
With files from Matt Stickland