The Fisk University Committee on Honorary Degrees is currently accepting nominations for honorary degree recipients to be awarded at our upcoming Commencement.  An honorary degree is one of higher education’s most sacred accolades. Fisk University awards honorary degrees, on a highly selective basis, to distinguished individuals who deserve special recognition for outstanding achievement in a field or activity consonant with the mission of the University.

Honorary degrees recognize distinguished scholarship and/or accomplishments in the humanities, the arts, the sciences, the professions, public service, and service to the institution, to society, and to mankind.  Because an honorary degree is an academic award that reflects the high ideals and values of Fisk University, the recipients shall exemplify qualities that embrace Diversity, Excellence, Teamwork, Accountability, Integrity, Leadership, and Service.

The goal of inviting an honoree for commencement is to bring credit to the university, inspire the graduates, and reflect the diversity of the University and the nation.  The three criteria used for selecting honorary degree recipients are listed below. Nominees should distinguish themselves in at least two of the three categories:

1) Distinguished professional, scholarly, intellectual, or creative achievement

2) Demonstrated interest in activities that contribute to the public good, including public service and/or philanthropy

3) Exceptional and distinctive achievements on behalf of Fisk University

Nominations may come from all members of the University community.  Each nomination must be accompanied by a clear statement, justifying the conferral of the degree, the nominee’s curriculum vitae, and any supporting documentation referencing their accomplishments.

Completed nomination forms and any supporting documentation may be submitted electronically:

Click link to complete form (1 MB, PDF) Hard copies may be sent to:

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Fisk University
1000 17th Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37208

Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Although many distinguished candidates are nominated each year, not all nominees will be recognized; therefore, all nominations will be kept confidential at all stages of the process and the nominee should NOT be notified of the nomination.

If you have any questions on the nomination process, please call the Office of the Provost at (615)329-8681.

Our Process

The Committee will request honorary degree nominations from individuals or groups usually by June 1.   Members of the Board of Trustees, students, faculty, administrators, deans, alumni, and members from the general public may nominate individuals for honorary degrees.  Although nominations of candidates for honorary degrees are received throughout the year by the Office of the Provost, those received by September 29 will be considered for honorary degrees awarded at Commencement the following May or at another suitable University occasion.  Nominations must be accompanied by a clear statement of the reason for awarding the honor.  All nominations and the deliberation process will be conducted with complete confidentiality.  It is critical that the nominee not be made aware of his or her nomination.  Persons nominated for the honorary degree should not be notified at any time during the process.  Nominations will be received in the Office of the Provost.

After being received in the Office of the Provost, complete nominations are reviewed by the Committee, chaired by the Provost.The Committee shall recommend candidate(s) receiving a simple majority vote to the Faculty Assembly.  Following approval by the faculty, the Provost will forward the names and credentials of the candidates receiving a simple majority vote as a recommendation to the University President. Appropriate honorary degree(s) shall accompany the recommendation(s).  The President shall transmit his recommendations to the Board of Trustees for final approval, which will occur during the October Board Meeting. Recommendations are then considered by the Board of Trustees’ Committee for Academic Excellence and Student Engagement and then by the full Board.  Only following action by the Board of Trustees are invitations issued to persons on whom such degrees might be conferred.

Normally, no more than two honorary degrees may be awarded in any academic year at commencements, convocations, or other appropriate University functions. The University may choose not to award an honorary degree in an academic year.

The following points should be noted.

  • The President, on behalf of the Board, is the only person authorized to invite a person to receive an honorary degree.
  • Honorary degrees may be awarded in absentia, but only upon recommendation to the Board by the President in the case of extraordinary and compelling circumstances.  In the event of unexpected inability to appear at the scheduled time, the conferral may be postponed to the next appropriate ceremony, provided that the degree is conferred within one year after being authorized.
  • A degree may be awarded posthumously if a recipient dies after notification of selection but before the ceremony.
  • The University never pays a speaking fee to a person receiving an honorary degree (although the University may cover expenses).
  • The University should limit the number of nominations to those who would be certain to enhance the prestige of the University.  Except in extraordinary circumstances, the University shall not submit for approval more than three nominations, nor award more than two in any academic year.
  • Throughout the procedure, the utmost care should be taken to ensure confidentiality.  To verify the qualifications of nominees, campus nominating committees should consult confidentially with appropriate academic departments for review of proposed candidates.
  • Nominations should be made due to merit, not popularity.


The University shall not grant an honorary degree to current members of the faculty, University administration, or the Board of Trustees.  These persons are eligible for this degree after a one year absence from the institution.

Expiration of the Board's Approval

Fisk may award an honorary degree to an approved candidate at any time within two years of the Board’s granting of that approval. After that time, the invitation to receive an honorary degree becomes null and void. The person may be nominated at another time, but will be required to repeat the entire nomination process


Q.What is the purpose of awarding honorary degrees?  

A. Honorary degrees are awarded to people who will inspire the graduating class, bring honor to the University, and pay tribute to our diverse nation. Honorary degrees are conferred on individuals who demonstrate the value of hard work, dignity, and integrity.

Q. What does Fisk look for in honorary degree nominees?  

A. Nominees must display strong character as well as a notable achievement in any of the following areas:

  • Scholarship in any discipline – major breakthroughs in knowledge in fields of scholarly work;
  • Creative arts – in the broad sense of the term, including literature, music, architecture, dance, poetry, etc.
  • Professions – distinguished contributions and innovations;
  • Public service – outstanding achievement in statesmanship, administration, legislative activity, the judiciary

Fisk administrators, faculty, and staff are not eligible for honorary degrees until one year after retirement.

Q.What honorary degrees does the university award?  

A. One of the following honorary degrees is usually awarded:

• Doctor of Humane Letters

• Doctor of Laws

• Doctor of Science

Q.When are honorary degrees awarded?  

A.  Usually, at the University Commencement in May

Q.Who may make a nomination for an honorary degree?  

A. Anyone– board of trustee members, students, faculty, administrators, deans, alumni,and members of the general public

Q.How do I make a nomination?  

A. Complete an honorary degree nomination form and send it to the Office of the Provost.

Q.When are nominations due? 

A. Nominations are accepted at any time during the year. Those received by September 15 of each year will be considered for the coming May Commencement

Q. Who reviews the nominations?  

A. The Committee on Honorary Degrees, the faculty, the President of the university, the Committee on Academic Excellence and Student Engagement of the Board of Trustees, and the entire Board of Trustees.

Q.When will I hear if my nomination has been accepted?  

A. All deliberations about honorary degrees are strictly confidential. Therefore, nominators do not receive notification of the status of their recommendations.

Instructions for Nomination Form

Fill out form as completely as possible.  Only completed nominations will be considered.

You may attach a CV or resume and brief articles referencing the nominee’s achievements. Please do not attach any of the nominee’s work (articles, research, artwork, etc.).

In your rationale, please include compelling reasons why the University should honor this nominee at this time,keeping in mind the University’s criteria for awarding honorary degrees:

  • Distinguished professional, scholarly, intellectual, or creative achievement
  • Demonstrated interest in activities that contribute to the public good, including public service and/or philanthropy
  • Exceptional and distinctive achievements on behalf of Fisk University

Please be sure to include your name and contact information.

Completed nomination forms and any supporting documentation may be submitted electronically: Click link to complete form . Hard copies may be submitted in a sealed envelope to:

Dr. Vann Newkirk
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Fisk University
1000 17th Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37208

IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to the confidential nature of the proceedings, nominations should not be discussed with the nominees. Every year, many worthy people are nominated for honorary degrees, but not all can be recognized. Official notification of the University’s intention to confer an honorary degree upon an individual is made by the President on behalf of the Board of Trustees.