Brett Kavanaugh

Calls for Revoking Susan Collins' Honorary Degree Over Kavanaugh Vote Show How Sad Politics Have Become

It's misguided to politicize something as non-controversial as an honorary degree.


Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine) should be stripped of her honorary doctorate, according to a number of her alma mater's students, faculty, and alumni. Her infraction? Voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Collins said she ultimately chose to vote yes on Kavanaugh because she didn't think there was enough evidence to back up allegations of sexual assault against him. That vote means she doesn't deserve her honorary degree, says a letter signed by more than 1,300 current and former St. Lawrence University students, dated October 6. An additional message from October 10, signed by close to 100 members of the school's faculty, faults the Maine Republican for disregarding the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who claims Kavanaugh assaulted her while they were both high school students.

These critics are more than welcome to complain, just as the private university has every right to let Collins keep her degree, which school spokesperson Ryan P. Deuel told CBS News it will do. But it's worth pointing out how misguided it is to politicize something as non-controversial as an honorary degree.

Collins actually has two honorary degrees from St. Lawrence, where she graduated from in 1975. In 1998, two years after being elected to the U.S. Senate, she received an honorary doctorate of laws. But the degree that's become controversial is the doctorate of humane letters she was honored with in 2017.

At the time, a university press release highlighted some of her accomplishments. She's one of the most senior senators in the nation, and the "most senior" Republican female in the upper chamber of Congress, the release said. Notably, the school didn't focus on her partisan bona fides, instead pointing out her "national reputation for working across party lines."

Collins is indeed known for her bipartisanship. As a moderate Republican, she often bucks her party. Last summer, for instance, she was one of three Republicans who voted no on a "skinny" repeal of Obamacare. It wasn't in the least bit surprising, then, that she was seen as one of four key swing votes in the lead-up to Kavanaugh's final confirmation showdown.

The alumni letter had no problem with Collins' vote against repealing Obamacare. "Her decision to stand for what she saw as the greater good embraced the strong values of St. Lawrence University," the letter reads. But bipartisanship is apparently only laudable when it benefits one side. Her support for Kavanaugh is "not in line with the core values of" the school, the letter adds.

The faculty letter expresses similar sentiments: "By not carefully considering all the evidence at her disposal, Senator Collins failed to uphold Laurentian principles and thereby participated in a process that produced an incomplete investigation into the candidate."

St. Lawrence formally recognized Collins in the first place because she's one of its most distinguished graduates. As a female senator, Collins is also a rarity, and there's nothing wrong with a small liberal arts school celebrating that. Moreover, even though she voted with her fellow Republicans on Kavanaugh, Collins remains one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. Nor does her Kavanaugh vote take away from the fact that she has served in the Senate for more than two decades, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

As university spokesperson Deuel told the Watertown Daily Times last week, "St. Lawrence University is non-partisan and without political party affiliations. It does not take up political decisions on specific matters of the day."

Collins was honored not because of her politics, but because she's an accomplished graduate of her alma mater. That should be enough. With just over 2,400 total students, St. Lawrence University is not a large school by any stretch of the imagination. For one of its graduates to be a sitting U.S. senator is a pretty big deal, regardless of political party.

Collins is no criminal; she simply made a senatorial decision that some people don't like. Calling for her to be stripped of an honorary degree shows that her critics can't stomach political disagreement.