LOWELL – The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees took an unprecedented step today, rescinding an honorary degree awarded to Robert Mugabe in 1986. The vote was unanimous.
“Rescinding an honorary degree is a step to be taken in only the rarest and most grievous of circumstances,” said Robert J. Manning, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees. “After studying this issue for more than a year, the University of Massachusetts Trustees have decided that Robert Mugabe’s performance and policies in Zimbabwe are so egregious as to warrant this ultimate expression of disapproval.”
“We have decided to break the link between Robert Mugabe’s name and this University’s own good name,” Manning added.
The 22-member Board of Trustees took the rescission step at the recommendation of UMass President Jack M Wilson, who said: “Decades ago, Robert Mugabe appeared to the world community to be a force for positive change in Africa, but that promise has long since been extinguished. In the two decades that have passed since the honorary degree was awarded to him, Robert Mugabe has pursued policies and taken actions that are contrary to the values and beliefs of the University of Massachusetts.
“Robert Mugabe’s transgressions have led the world community to condemn his government’s assault on human rights and on the rule of law,” President Wilson added. “Robert Mugabe’s actions compel the University of Massachusetts to take action.”
Mugabe was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree during a convocation held at UMass Amherst in 1986. At the time, Mugabe, who came to power in 1980, was seen as a force for democracy and reform. He had played a central role in the struggle to end white-minority rule in the former Rhodesia. In the intervening years, Mugabe has been linked to human rights abuses and has been accused of stifling political opposition. Mugabe and his government have been sanctioned by many governments and institutions, including the U.S. and British governments, the United Nations and the European Union. U.S. sanctions targeted “policies that have undermined Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions.”
In June 2007, the UMass Board of Trustees voted to rebuke Mugabe for policies and practices that have “brought worldwide scorn” on him. At that time, University leaders agreed to look at further action.
“One year later, with the elections process in Zimbabwe illustrating just how far Robert Mugabe has fallen, the University of Massachusetts has no choice but to take this ultimate step,” President Wilson said.