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Nomination of Candidates for Honorary Degrees of the University of Dublin


The following rules and principles apply in relation to the process whereby a candidate is nominated and considered for and potentially awarded an Honorary Degree from the University of Dublin, Trinity College

Nominating a Candidate

Nominations of candidates for honorary degrees are received on a rolling basis, that is, there is no particular deadline in the year by which they must be submitted. Candidates can be nominated by staff, students and alumni of Trinity College, but in addition by any member of the public by completing the Nomination Form (WORD 39KB) and sending it by email to or by post to the Registrar’s Office, Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin, Dublin 2.

Whereas nominations are received on a rolling basis, nonetheless the Registrar shall, on an annual basis, issue a formal call for nominations, by emailing the College community and by publicising the call on the webpage.

Whereas members of the Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees (ACHD) will conduct their own research into the nominated candidate, it is important that the person nominating the candidate should make a strong case as to why they merit the degree in question – in particular (a) why they are pre-eminent in their field (b) why they in particular should be selected at this time and (c) why the award of an honorary degree from the University of Dublin would be appropriate. Every effort should be made to ensure that contact details for the nominee are up-to-date – as if they are approved it will be necessary for the Registrar to get into contact with them. At the same time nominees should NOT be informed that they are being proposed.

Finally, nominators should be aware that the College is a designated body under the Freedom of Information Act 2014.

Criteria for the Award of Honorary Degrees

Honorary Degrees are awarded to individuals of integrity, character, judgment and exceptional achievement whose acceptance of an honorary degree would add lustre to this University. Conferring of an honorary degree acknowledges an outstanding contribution to scholarship, society, culture and /or civil society.

Within these broad parameters, the various bodies that deal with the application (ACHD, Board and Senate) have discretion as to whether it would be appropriate to award the relevant degree, nor would it be appropriate to fetter this discretion unduly 2 by the construction of prescriptive rules. That being said, the following principles will be relevant:

(a) Honorary degrees are awarded for exceptional achievement and outstanding contribution. Thus the fact that someone (either inside or outside the University) may have done their job extremely well will not usually, of itself be enough to justify the award of such a degree.

(b) Honorary degrees may be awarded for exceptional achievement and outstanding contribution in any area or field and not merely within academia.

(c) The Senate may approve a candidate for any degree honoris causa, including an Undergraduate, Masters or Doctoral degree.

(d) Whereas this is not necessarily determinative, it will often be the case that the work of a successful candidate will involve some connection with or impact on Ireland, and possibly with or on Trinity College.

(e) There is a strong presumption against awarding degrees to elected politicians or political figures while they are still in office.

(f) Furthermore, the awarding of Honorary Degrees is conditioned by political neutrality. Thus it is unlikely that a degree would be awarded where it might represent an implicit endorsement of the approach of ‘one side’ on an issue of genuine social or political controversy.

(g) The ACHD, Board and Senate shall be mindful of the reputational benefit for Trinity College that may flow from its association with recipients of honorary degrees. Thus for example, irrespective of the extent of the achievements or contribution of a candidate, ACHD, Board and Senate should also be cognisant of any aspects of their personal or professional reputation where there are real and substantial concerns that this might impact the reputation of Trinity College if it were to award an honorary degree to that candidate.

Process for Appointment

There are a number of different stages in the process in order for an application for an honorary degree to result in the subject of the application receiving the degree.

First, the application is reviewed by a member of Trinity Development and Alumni with experience in relation to gift acceptance, to assess whether, on the face of it, the application might be controversial from the perspective of the University and wider communities. A summary document will be prepared reporting on this issue.

The application is then considered by the Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees (ACHD). The ACHD shall comprise 3

(a) The Chancellor of the University who shall be the Chair of the Committee
(b) The Registrar who shall be the Secretary to the Committee
(c) The Public Orator
(d) The Vice-Provost/Chief Academic Officer
(e) The Director of Communications or their Nominee
(f) Nine other Academic Members of Staff (three from each faculty)
(g) Two members of the Professional, Administrative, Technical and Support Staff
(h) One postgraduate student nominated by the Chancellor
(i) A representative from Trinity and Development and Alumni who may, if desired by the committee as a whole, be asked to attend a meeting or meetings in a consultative role, but who otherwise would not be in attendance.

Membership of the ACHD shall normally be for a three year period but this may be extended for a maximum period of five years with the consent of the Chancellor and on approval by Board.

Following discussions with the Chancellor, the Registrar shall, annually, propose the membership of the ACHD to Board for approval. In determining the identity of persons to propose as members, the Chancellor and Registrar shall be cognisant of the need to ensure a wide variety of expertise and experience on the Committee.

The ACHD is tasked with determining whether a particular candidate should be proposed to the Board of the College/University.

In making a decision, the ACHD will consider the application document, but in addition the Registrar or their nominee on the ACHD will, in advance of any meeting of the ACHD, have conducted some preliminary research in relation to each candidate to be considered at the meeting and shall share this with the ACHD. This research will include, at a minimum, (i) the verification of all factual information contained in the application, (ii) garnering of further relevant information. In addition, the ACHD will consider the summary report from the TDA representative whether awarding an honorary degree to a particular candidate may be potentially controversial.

Where the ACHD considers that the award of an honorary degree to a particular candidate is potentially controversial, a more detailed risk assessment exercise may be undertaken by a sub-committee of ACHD comprising the Chancellor, the Registrar, the Director of Communications, the TDA representative and the College Secretary. In such circumstances, consideration of the application should be postponed until the subsequent meeting of the ACHD at which the results of the risk assessment exercise will be considered.

The ACHD may decide either (i) to propose a particular candidate to Board for an honorary degree, (ii) to reject the application or (iii) to postpone making a decision on the applicant either generally or in order to enable it to seek further relevant information on the application. The deliberations of the ACHD are entirely confidential, albeit that it is customary for the Registrar, on a confidential basis, to contact the person who nominated the relevant candidate to keep them abreast of developments.

Should it choose to propose a candidate then the Registrar will bring the candidate’s name and biographical details to the Board of the College/University as well as a summary of the reasons why the ACHD concluded that s/he was worthy of receiving the honorary degree in question. The Board has discretion as to whether or not to accept the proposal or not, (and in addition it may, should it choose, postpone consideration of an application pending the receipt of further information).

Should the Board reject the nomination then the matter is closed. Should it approve it then the candidate stands approved to be proposed to Senate for the relevant degree.

In the meantime, the ACHD also has responsibility for determining which of the various candidates that stand approved by Board should be invited to attend to receive degrees at any particular ceremony (and in the normal course of events, honorary degrees are only awarded during the winter and summer commencement sessions). The ACHD attaches importance to achieving a balance (including gender balance) in the composition of candidates in a ceremony. Moreover on some occasions it may wish the ceremony to be ‘themed’ and will invite candidates on this basis. As a consequence, a candidate may stand approved by Board for several years before being proposed to Senate.

When the ACHD has identified an appropriate ceremony for a candidate, then the Registrar will write to that candidate in confidence, asking for permission to nominate them to the University Senate for the relevant degree. Should they not agree to this then the matter is closed. Should they agree, then the Senior Proctor will nominate them to the Senate, at the next available meeting for the degree. If the Senate rejects the nomination then the matter is closed. If it approves it, then for the first time, the matter loses its confidential status and it would be expected that the candidate would receive their degree at the next available ceremony. The Registrar shall write to the candidate at this point informing them of this fact and, thereafter, the Secretary’s Office shall engage with the Candidate in relation to all relevant logistical matters.

It would normally be the case that a candidate would receive their (honorary) degree at a scheduled commencement ceremony in the Public Theatre at which candidates would be conferred with undergraduate or postgraduate degrees. In exceptional circumstances, however, a special ceremony may be organised specifically to confer an honorary degree or degrees. Further, in exceptional circumstances such degrees might be awarded in an online ceremony.

Last updated 25 September 2023 by