MARTIN, Tenn. -- In a rare display of political leanings, some members of the UT system board haggled Friday before deciding to award former U.S. Vice President Al Gore an honorary degree.
During an academic committee meeting, trustee Crawford Gallimore sparked the debate when he asked if the board should be recognizing a public figure aligned with controversial research.
Mr. Gore, a native Tennessean, former presidential candidate and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has been one of the loudest public voices pushing corporations and governments to combat global warming.
The research on climate change has come under attack in recent months.
"Should we be giving honorary degrees to people with controversial advocacies?" Mr. Gallimore said. "We have given people (honorary degrees) with a professional life in politics, but those were retired or at the state of senior statesmen. Let us not forget our responsibility of proceeding with exceeding care."
Other trustees were quick to defend the recognition and Mr. Gore's record.
"I think we need to be realistic about this," trustee Doug Horne said. "Al has been a leader. Al Gore won the popular vote. He gave up the presidency. I can't think of any better statesmanship than that.
"Every leader has to learn to live with opposition. That certainly applies to the president ... I mean ... sorry ... Vice President Gore," Mr. Horne said, as the room erupted in laughter.
UT board Vice Chairman Jim Murphy said the university should be awarding more honorary degrees and stirring debate on political hot-button issues, especially in an area such as climate change where UT and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have pumped millions of dollars into research.
HONORED BY UT
Al Gore is only the third recipient of an honorary degree from the UT system. Entertainer Dolly Parton and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker also have been recognized with honorary degrees.
"We need to promote our image and our expertise in that area, and nothing will do that more than having someone like Mr. Gore come and do a commencement speech," Mr. Murphy said. "I don't view this as an endorsement of a particular position. One of the things universities are for is
encouraging disagreement and dialogue.
"If there are, in fact, people out there that are doing scientific research that disagree with the vice president, I welcome them to come to Oak Ridge and research with us," he said.
At the end of the discussion, the committee unanimously approved the recommendation to award Mr. Gore with an honorary degree. The full board voted on the proposal later Friday afternoon.
Mr. Gore will receive the award at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement in Knoxville on May 14.
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...