President of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), Laura Laws, has criticised the University’s decision to award Archbishop of Glasgow Mario Conti an honorary degree.
The degree was announced by the University in recognition of Archbishop Conti’s “significant contribution to the life of the University”, as well as his work within the ecumenical movement.
The SRC have condemned the decision, stating that it “makes a mockery” of the University’s focus on equality and diversity.
In 2006, Patrick Harvie, Green Party MSP, approached Strathclyde Police with a view to prosecuting the Archbishop following a sermon in which he criticised civil partnership legislation. The Archbishop had stated that the legislation “implicitly places homosexual acts on a plane of moral equivalence to marital love.”
SRC President Laura Laws said that awarding the degree may damage the University’s reputation.
“By celebrating the archbishop’s work without caveat, the University condones everything he has done in office — including his notorious discrimination against a huge section of our society.”
She continued: “By aligning themselves with the archbishop, the University runs the risk of isolating many students and staff.
“Universities often derive benefits by association with those on whom they bestow honorary degrees.
“We don’t believe that this negative aspect of the archbishop’s character is something that the University should associate itself with.”
Honorary degrees have been traditionally awarded to previous Glasgow archbishops, raising the possibility that not doing so would have been seen as a slight to the Archbishop. However, Laws believes that the University should have taken a stand over this issue, rather than simply maintaining the status quo.
She said: “Not awarding the degree in this instance may have been seen as a snub, but we don’t believe that that would have been such an outrageous statement to make.
“We believe that the decision to award a degree should be made on the merits of the individual alone and should not be expected: otherwise the award is rendered meaningless.”
The University has decided to stand by the decision, in spite of the criticisms from the SRC.
A University spokesman said: “The views of the SRC were taken into consideration before the decision was agreed by both the University’s Senate and Court.
“Archbishop Mario Conti will receive an Honorary Degree in recognition of his significant contribution to the life of the University through his preaching, support of the Catholic Chaplaincy and the Faculty of Education and the development of Inter Faith Relations.
“The award also recognises Archbishop Conti’s work with the ecumenical movement as President of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and as an active member of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.”
Archbishop Conti was appointed to the Archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and already holds two honorary degrees from the University of Aberdeen.
A spokesman for the archbishop stated: “The Archbishop is delighted and honoured to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the University.
“He has worked hard to build new links between the Church and the University over the years and is very grateful to the University authorities for their award.”
The honorary degree will be awarded by the University of Glasgow to Archbishop Mario Conti in June 2010.