In a rare display of political leanings, UT board members haggled over whether or not to award former U.S. vice president Al Gore with an honorary degree during an academic committee meeting this morning.

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.

"Should we be giving honorary degrees to people with controversial advocacies," asked Mr. Gallimore. "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," said Doug Horne, a UT trustee. "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," said Mr. Horne, the room erupting in laughter.

UT board vice chair Jim Murphy said UT should be awarding more honorary degrees and stirring debate on politically hot button issues, especially in an area like climate change where UT and Oak Ridge National Lab has pumped millions of dollars into research.

"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 an endorsement of a particular position. One of the things universities are for is encouraging disagreement and dialog. 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. We need to be careful of pulling us to far under the shell."

At the end of the discussion, the committee approved the recommendation to award Mr.Gore with an honorary degree with no votes against. The full board will vote on the proposal later this afternoon. He will receive the award at the spring commencement of the College of Arts and Sciences in Knoxville on May 14.

Al Gore is only the third recipient of an honorary degree from UT. Entertainer Dolly Parton and former Sen. Howard Baker have also been recognized with honorary degrees, officials said.

UTC College of Education approved by committee

A UT academic committee has approved the creation of a College of Education at UTC.

The College of Education will merge two existing departments, the Teacher Preparation Academy and the Graduate Studies Division with the School of Education.

The proposal will be voted on by the full board this afternoon.

UTC officials said the move will help address administrative costs and improve the college's ability to attract donors.

"This will help us with fundraising and getting grants for people," said UTC Chancellor Roger Brown. "People are used to seeing Colleges of Education. I don't know why it was ever split."