Revisit issue of honorary titles

Revisit issue of honorary titles

FOUR of our leaders who have served in the capacity of Prime Minister in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho have always been and are still until today referred to using the title Dr.
It is only the first prime minister, Chief Nehemiah Maseribane that never enjoyed that privilege, maybe because he served for a short time at the helm of government.

Let me just give a brief overview of what happens before a person gets to have the honour to append the title Dr to their name. To gain a PhD degree, a person has to conduct research then write an extensive report in the form of a thesis or dissertation.
In essence a PhD is a qualification that people go to university for a minimum of two years before they are awarded that degree.

Also none of them held an MBChB. The MBChB is also another academic qualification that is awarded to medical students when they complete their studies. That means before one is called a Dr, s/he has to go to school and upon qualification be awarded that degree and the title.
There is another classification, which I must admit, seems to be causing a lot of confusion among Basotho academics. This is the category called honorary degree or honoris causa in the appropriate language.
Let me just say I do not really know where we as Basotho got that practice of appending the title Dr to honoris causa candidates.
My confusion stems from the fact that throughout the world we have international icons that have been accorded such titles yet they do not append such titles to their names. People like Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama were awarded honorary doctorates but never used such titles in everyday lives.
We all know that none of the four Prime Ministers held a PhD degree as Dr Leabua Jonathan had a Standard Six qualification, Mokhehle a Master’s degree, Mosisili a master’s degree and Thabane a first degree. However, we happily and merrily referred to them by the title Dr.

Like the name suggests, an honorary doctorate, is indeed just an honour. It has absolutely nothing to do with the level of education of the recipient but everything to do with why the individual is being honoured.
That is why the holder of an honorary doctorate is not expected to call him/herself Dr as we see happening in our country.
Even the explanation of what an honorary doctorate is stipulates that honoris causa is an academic degree from which a university has waived the usual requirements such as matriculation, residence, a dissertation, and or the passing of comprehensive examinations.

In simple terms one does not need to have even set a foot in the classroom to be awarded a honoris causa. One just needs to be nominated by somebody that can convince the board of a college or university that the nominee is deserving of the award.

The accolade is ceremonial and should never be used with the name of the recipient like with PhD holders (these ones have actually gone to school and got the title through blood, sweat and tears.)
The past week was a mixture of pleasantries, happiness, bitterness and sheer resentment when the First Lady of Lesotho Maesiah Adolph Thabane was honoured with a doctorate by the Divinity Consortium College.
While the cheer leaders were very happy with the First Lady’s “achievement”, her detractors were very sad and cited her lack of tertiary education as one of the reasons she is not deserving of the accolade.
This issue was supported and ridiculed by both the educated and the uneducated, hence the need to clarify what an Honorary Doctorate is and why it is awarded to people.

In fact in my opinion I find it demeaning to MBChB and PhD holders that the recipients of an honorary doctorate should get to be called by the same title as theirs. However that is an argument for another day as I do not even know what the institutions that award these honours tell their beneficiaries.
However, it is funny that it took the academics in Lesotho this long to realise that their academic achievements are mocked in this manner.

I am also wondering if indeed the outcry is genuine because the accolade is being misused or they are just against the latest recipient. Either way I think it is time for scholars to fight for that which they have worked hard for. We should know the difference between honoris causa and PhD.
In other words if the holders of honoris causa want to attach their title to their names, it should at least be DrHC so that we know the difference. Otherwise our children will not know the difference and in that way not appreciate the benefits of actually going to university to attain certain degrees.

By Kelello Rakolobe

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