Skerrit's award was an honour but let's leave it at that
Anyone who studied political science will be familiar with Niccolò Machiavelli, the Italian Renaissance historian, politician, philosopher and writer.
Machiavelli has been described by many as the founder of modern political science.
Machiavellianism has survived to this day with many a politician holding fast to the teachings in his most notorious work, The Prince, written in 1513.
Many who have read The Prince are convinced Machiavelli was teaching tyrants how to stay in power.
"A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it," he wrote in Chapter Six of The Prince.
Which brings us to the honorary doctorate bestowed on Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit by the little-known Lovely Professional University in India.
For years, the prime minister sat among a string of doctors at regional heads of government meetings. At the level of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) alone, the Dominican leader has had to go toe to toe with doctors Anthony of St. Lucia, Mitchell of Grenada, Gonsalves of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Douglas (and now Harris) of St. Kitts and Nevis, Smith of the British Virgin Islands.
Now, Skerrit is a highly confident man who understands the power and importance of the office he holds, so the thought of feeling uncomfortable or out of place among these people sitting at the pinnacle of academic achievement won't even cross his mind.
However, he can now "at least savour of it" now that the "doctorization" of regional leadership continues with his honorary doctorate.
That the Indian university selected the Dominican leader for this honour "in recognition of his sincere desire to build international harmony among nations and for his outstanding public services and excellent governance," – and to chair its sixth convocation – is testimony to Skerrit's international political appeal.
However, we cannot get carried away. Started in 2006, LPU is clearly looking to build its own image and profile and one way to do this is to attach its brand to better known brands, even if the school's roll is over 40 per cent of Dominica's population.
In fact, Skerrit is not the first Caribbean leader to visit LPU. In 2012, then St. Kitts & Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas paid a two-hour visit to the institution during a trip to India.
LPU did not hesitate to publicize the visit with the chairman of Lovely Group Ramesh Mittal boasting: "The visit by a person of his calibre, who has made history by being the first Caribbean leader to receive the Gandhi-King-Ikeda Peace Award and who has many other honours to his credit, is indeed a proud moment for us."
LPU does not appear on the list of India Today's top universities, nor is it listed among in US News and World Report's Best Global Universities in India. The US News Best Global Universities rankings take into account schools' research performance, as well as their ratings by members of the academic community around the world and in Asia, it says.
The awarding of honorary degrees is a long-running practice by educational institutions, which do it for a variety of reasons. And it must be a huge feather in its LPU's cap to have secured the presence and participation of a head of government. Any head of government.
What Skerrit must avoid is the temptation to act as though it were an achievement. He must remember that he is not a real doctor and should resist the temptation to demand that he be called Dr. Skerrit. Not only is it ethically wrong, it is a disservice to the men and women who worked long and hard over many years to earn their doctoral degrees.
And we have been there before. We know of other people who have been handed honorary doctorates and who either insist on being addressed as doctor, or who are addressed as such by those who do not know better.
The American protocol expert Robert Hickey, who teaches titles and forms of address, explained that recipients of honorary degrees only have doctor added to their names in correspondence from, or conversation by, the granting university. Nowhere else must it be used, and certainly not in their professional lives off campus.
Of course, it can be listed as an honour or award on the person's resume, but not part of education with earned academic degrees.
It's a great honour, Hickey wrote, but it is an honour nonetheless and not an earned degree.
We would hope that those who keep referring to the people with honorary degrees, including those of us in the media – especially those of us in the media since we have a responsibility to educate – will rethink this practice.
It is a practice that was best satirized by the mid-priced hotel chain, Holiday Inn Express. In one commercial, a man is seen leading a successful operation in a hospital. After he removed his mask, one of the assistance realized he was not the surgeon.
"You're not Dr. Stewart," she told him.
"No," he replied, "but I did stay at the Holiday Inn Express last night."
The commercial ends with the tagline, "It won't make you smarter. But you'll feel smarter."
By Johnson JohnRose