I’ll just slap the whole thing on here, if you don’t mind.

The Times – How honours can go one degree too far, by Graham Stewart

THE HONORARY degree is the highest class of grade inflation. British universities have been doling them out since the 15th century. In 1759 the University of St Andrews conferred an honorary doctorate of law on an amateur scientist named Benjamin Franklin. America’s future founding father was so delighted that he enjoyed ever after being deferred to as “Doctor” Franklin.

Yet the honour did not make a British loyalist out of Franklin when the matter was put to the test in 1776. Today’s academics at St Andrews must be hoping for a happier diplomatic breakthrough with their decision to confer the same honorary doctorate upon Iran’s former President, Mohammad Khatami.

The identification of President Ahmadinejad’s predecessor as a “moderate” says much about the relativity of such terms in Iranian politics. At any rate, the decision is highly controversial. And thus not at all unusual.

In 1905 Britain’s relations with Germany plummeted. Two years later, the dons of Oxford University decided to do their bit for Anglo-German relations by conferring an honorary doctorate upon Kaiser Wilhelm. The Kaiser was delighted. He commissioned a rather camp portrait of himself wrapped resplendently in his scarlet Oxford gown. This he presented to the university.

The number of German students attending Oxford rose sharply. In June, 1914, Oxford held an honorary degree ceremony. The majority of recipients were German.

Fat lot of good it did. Two months later Britain and Germany were at war. This created a procedural problem for the dons. The university had unwisely handed over the job of selecting German Rhodes Scholars to the Kaiser, and then had to admit a suspiciously high number of sons of German Cabinet ministers and assorted Teutonic royalty.

Instead of depriving the Kaiser of his role, the dons decided it was easier just to cancel the whole scholarship scheme. But they did not revoke the Kaiser’s honorary doctorate. Instead, they satisfied themselves with removing his portrait from the Examination Schools. They did this just in time, because the building was promptly turned into a hospital for wounded British soldiers, few of whom wanted to be greeted on arrival by a giant portrait of the Kaiser.

In 1929 the German Rhodes Scholarships were restored. Two of the conspirators killed for their part in the plot to assassinate Hitler were Oxford graduates (one of whom, Count von Bernstorff, had been the Kaiser’s recommendation in 1909). As for the Kaiser’s portrait, it was rediscovered in 1957, rolled up in a basement. It was promptly restored to its place of honour.

Yet in 1985 Oxford famously refused to honour its own graduate, Margaret Thatcher. It preferred to hang the Kaiser.

[cough]