Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami is set to receive an honorary doctorate degree (Doctor of Letters - D Litt) from Dr MGR Educational and Research Institute, a deemed university in Chennai, on October 20. AC Shanmugam, head of the New Justice Party, an ally of the AIADMK, is the University’s founder-chancellor.
On the occasion of the institution’s 28th convocation, the Chief Minister will also deliver the convocation address.
According to The New Indian Express, along with the Chief Minister, four other prominent personalities will be honoured. G Satheesh Reddy, Chairman of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Secretary of Department of Defence (R&D); and S Raja Sabapathy, Chairman and Director of Ganga Hospital, will be conferred with honorary Doctor of Science degrees. Music director Harris Jayaraj and actor-dancer Shobana Chandrakumar will be conferred with honorary D Litt degrees.
Doctor of Letters is a higher doctorate conferred in recognition of the conferee’s achievement in a particular field. In some countries, it is equal to Doctor of Science (D Sc), which is a post-doctoral degree awarded to those who have made exceptional contributions to the world, in their particular field of study.
Actors Vijay and Vijaykumar have been the recipients of an honorary doctorate from the deemed university in 2007. Tennis player Sania Mirza, too, was honoured with the title in 2008.
Notably, former Chief Ministers M Karunanidhi and MG Ramachandran were conferred with four and two doctorate degrees respectively while former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was honoured with five.
Jayalalithaa had received the doctorate from Madras University, Dr MGR University, the Madurai Kamaraj University, the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and the Bharatidasan University.
Chief Minister M Karunanidhi was the first CM in the county to be honoured with the title. He received the first honorary doctorate from Annamalai University in 1971, just two years after becoming Chief Minister. He was later honoured by Dr MGR University, the Madurai Kamaraj University and the Madras University.
MG Ramachandran was awarded two honorary doctorates, first from Madras University and then the World University, Arizona.
DMK Chief MK Stalin, too, was awarded the honorary doctorate by Anna University in 2007 when he was the Deputy Chief Minister.
Private universities started giving honorary doctorates when Satyabhama University conferred such a title on actor Kamal Haasan in 2005.
In 2018, in an investigation done by the Indian Express, it was revealed that several politicians and bureaucrats were awarded honorary degrees by different Universities. Based on their RTI query, 160 public universities and institutions conferred nearly 2,000 honorary doctorates to around 1,400 people between 1997 and 2017.
Honorary degrees have generally been regarded contentious. Ketan Desai, the recipient of an honorary doctorate from Dr MGR Medical University in 2009, was the head of the Medical Council of India when he received it. A year later the CBI had arrested him on charges of corruption.