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Mandela Honorary Degree: Chronology Of Events

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Mandela Honorary Degree:


by the Free South Africa Coordinating Committee (FSACC)

Nelson Mandela has been nominated for a U-M honorary degree because he has dedicated his life to abolishing the oppressive, evil apartheid system of the South African government. Mandela has been imprisoned for 23 years for fighting a system that we all abhor.

The University of Michigan has expressly opposed apartheid. Is it too much for the Regents to honor Mr. Mandela's contributions toward realizing the goals of justice and freedom that we share and study at the University of Michigan?

Sequence of Events

October 1985: Professor Tom Holt, Director, Center for Afro American and African Studies receives copies of the honorary degree guidelines. Guidelines do not state requirement that recipient attend the ceremony.

November 1985: Professor Holt nominates Mandela and the Honorary Degrees Committee acknowledges receipt of the nomination.

November 1985 to April 1986: Letters of support from U.S. Senator Don Riegel, author Nadine Gordimer, U.S. Representative George Crockett, State Representative Perry Bullard and signatures of 2,000 students, faculty and staff presented to the Regents and the administration.

March 1986: FSACC discovers that all Honorary Degree Committee members have not received letters of support and copies are forwarded by FSACC.

April 4, 1986: Five hundred protestors march against apartheid and racism and call for increased minority student enrollment. Marchers urge the Regents to grant an honorary degree to Mandela.

April 4 to 11, 1986: Daily delegations of 15 to 20 students visit President Shapiro's and Vice-President Kennedy's offices asking for information about the nomination. They urge the University to break its "no comment" position.

April 10, 1986: President Shapiro issues statement which in effect affirms the intent to follow procedure. Shapiro states that some nominees are "ineligible because they are unable to accept a degree in person." (see October, 1985)

April 11, 1986: Vice-President Kennedy insists at 4 pm meeting that "no decision has been made concerning the honorary degree" for Mandela. Kennedy admits (before 6 pm) that Mandela will not be nominated for a degree in May, despite the overwhelming University community support, the gravity of the situation in South Africa and the importance of a continued focus of international attention on South Africa during this critical period. Vice-President Kennedy agrees to contact President Shapiro and to provide FSACC with a written response to the request to: 1) reconvene the Honorary Degrees Committee to reconsider its decision concerning the Mandela nomination, 2) ask the Regents to suspend the bylaw requiring attendance at the ceremony and 3) ask the Regents to change the bylaws. This bylaw change would make it possible for great humanitarians (like Raoul Wallenberg, a former U of M student who saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews in Nazi Germany) to receive and honorary degree in absentia.

April 12, 1986: Both President Shapiro and Vice-President Kennedy are unavailable to meet with students at 4 pm. President Shapiro declines to ask the Regents to overrule the bylaw obstacle or seek a change in the regental bylaws. President Shapiro states that it is unlikely that the Honorary Degrees Committee will be reconvened.

April 12 to 14, 1986: The anti-apartheid shanty on the University of Michigan diag is burned and partially demolished. FSACC members re-construct it after more than four major attempts fail to destroy this symbolic link with the oppressed people of South Africa.

April 17 to 18, 1986: At 4 pm a mass rally is held at the Regents meeting. Seventy students stage an all-night vigil in the Regents Board Room, Fleming Administration Building One hundred students from across the campus and a variety of organizations (FSACC, BSU, MSA, LASC), voice opposition to the Regent's decision not to award honorary to Nelson Mandela. Regents adjourn to President's Office. Regents decide to review the bylaw governing the granting of honorary degrees.

April 19, 1986: Shanty on the University of Michigan Diag is destroyed by vandals.

April 20, 1986: Shanty reconstructed by FSACC volunteers and members.