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Last modified: Tuesday, April 8, 2008

IU to add to a historic list of honorary degree holders this spring

April 8, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This spring during commencement exercises, Indiana University will award three honorary degrees, the highest academic recognition the university can give, thus adding to its list of 651 distinguished individuals who have been so recognized since the first honorary degree was given in 1905.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie will present the honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at IU Bloomington's commencement ceremony on May 3 (Saturday). He also will confer honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees to Robert Deputy, an Elkhart businessman and community leader, at IU South Bend's ceremony on May 6 (Tuesday), and to Russell Edgerton, director of the Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning and a leading authority on higher education, at IUPUI on May 11 (Sunday).

"As president of Indiana University, it is a great privilege to award honorary degrees," said Michael A. McRobbie. "These distinguished individuals have represented their callings, careers and communities distinctively and outstandingly. Whether as head of state, as is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia; or as a leader in American higher education such as Russell Edgerton; or a businessman and philanthropist like Robert Deputy, these people have created indelible marks of achievement and distinction through contributions of leadership, service, scholarship and generosity of spirit."

The university awards honorary degrees in order to present to its students, faculty, alumni and to the people of Indiana, role models worthy of emulation and respect in a vast array of professional and personal pursuits. Candidates are chosen carefully from nominations of individuals who have demonstrated in their life and in their work, high standards of excellence in scholarship or creative activity; in professional development and achievement; in public service; in commitment to the development of Indiana University; or through excellence in any calling or occupation which visibly contributed to the development of society.

IU awarded its first honorary degree, the Doctor of Laws, in 1905 to John Watson Foster, an American military man, a journalist and diplomat. Foster was born in Petersburg, Ind., and was raised in Evansville, where he became a journalist for the Evansville Daily Journal. During his diplomatic career, he was U.S. Minister to Mexico, to Russia and to Spain. He eventually became U.S. Secretary of State under President Benjamin Harrison, and was grandfather to John Foster Dulles, another U.S. Secretary of State, who received an honorary degree from IU in 1955.

The second honorary degree awarded by IU was given in 1907, to the beloved Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley.

The first woman to receive an honorary degree -- and only the fourth honorary degree awarded by IU -- was Nebraska Cropsey. The author of numerous textbooks, she was employed by the Indianapolis school system for 53 years, and was superintendent of primary instruction when she retired in 1914.

Also among those individuals who have come to IU campuses to accept honorary degrees are: Indianapolis novelist and dramatist Booth Tarkington; presidential nominee Wendell Willkie; journalist Ernie Pyle; pharmaceutical chemist and philanthropist Eli Lilly; newspaper publisher and businessman Eugene Pulliam; author Jessamyn West; composer Hoagy Carmichael; writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr.; entertainer Bob Hope; sociologist and politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan; artist Robert Indiana; fashion designer Bill Blass; dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp; poet Nikki Giovanni; and syndicated advice columnist Eppie Lederer -- better known as Ann Landers.

For a complete listing of Indiana University honorary degree holders, go to

Go to the following links for additional information on this year's honorary degree recipients.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:

Robert Deputy:

Russell Edgerton: