Guest Rant: Let’s give Dave Binder an honorary degree from Brown

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The following post might seem like a joke, but I promise it’s not. I mean it 100% seriously. Agree or disagree with the merits of my argument that Dave Binder is deserving of an honorary degree from Brown, but please don’t use this campaign as a chance to make fun of him.

Every year Brown gives out honorary degrees to a number of fantastically successful people. In the past couple years alone, Diane Sawyer, Congressman John Lewis, Morgan Freeman, and Nelson Mandela were granted this honor. Offering these unquestionably important individuals an honorary degree is a fantastic way to recognize excellence in society. I would like to propose a different kind of person to receive an honorary degree in 2014, though. I will be nominating Dave Binder to receive an honorary degree. Binder, through 27 CONSECUTIVE appearances at Spring Weekend and a ton of Senior Week performances as well, has a real and profound connection to Brown’s campus culture that perhaps no one else can demonstrate. While the amazing and inspirational recipients of recent honorary degrees are unequivocal, vital contributors to the world as a whole, I am not sure they have done anywhere near as much to profoundly affect the Brown University community.

The 2013 cohort is another magnificently impressive group of people. The problem I have, though, is that the folks we are recognizing, with one notable exception I will address below, have basically no connection to our University at all. Ben Affleck is a worldwide celebrity who has done some fantastic acting and directing, and other recipients are brilliant academic minds whose work has no doubt deepened scholarship in their own fields and bettered the world in general. But Affleck has done very little, as far as I know, to better Brown University specifically, and I suspect the same to be true of many of the other recipients.

With regard to two out of the six recipients, I am less critical. For the degree being given to Beverly Wade Hogan, I applaud the University. The partnership between Tougaloo College in Mississippi and ours has made an undoubtedly positive mark on both campuses for over fifty years, and we should absolutely recognize it. Her efforts, as President of Tougaloo have surely played an important role in the betterment of Brown University, and appreciating her through an honorary degree seems like an appropriate use of this honor.

Dave Binder, as much as anyone with no official Brown affiliation, means so much to our campus, and for that reason he should receive this honor in 2014. For 27 years, he has been a staple of the most eagerly anticipated event of Brown’s social calendar (Spring Weekend), and we should be searching for ways to say thank you.  He might not have the academic portfolio or public stature of many recent honorees, but isn’t a Brown University education about far more than academic excellence? If we want to continue emphasizing how happy a school Brown is, shouldn’t we reward people who contribute to that happiness over the course of multiple decades?

St. Lawrence University gave Binder an honorary doctorate in Musical Philosophy, and we can follow suit. During Freshman orientation, we all hear that “we will learn as much outside the classroom at Brown as we will inside it.” If that’s truly the case, and I believe it is, our honorary degree recipients should not all be scholars and celebrities. We should be appreciating people who are part of the heartbeat of our campus, but do not yet have any official connection to the University.

If you ask just about any Brown student if Dave Binder is part of Brown University student life, they’ll answer yes. It’s about time for us to make it official.

If you agree with Lex’s argument, please sign our petition. 


  1. John

    I nominate Gail.

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