Group wants dictator's degree revoked
But pulling the honor would apparently be a new move for the university, and administration officials said they're not ready to make a decision.
MSU gave the honorary Doctorate of Laws degree to Mugabe when he spoke at commencement ceremonies in the fall of 1990. But members of ASMSU, MSU's undergraduate student government, are calling for the university to pull Mugabe's degree, saying that in the subsequent years, he has become a dictator and shown a "callous disregard" for human, civil and political rights in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe first came to power after a guerrilla war in the country in 1979-80. United Nations sanctions on the country were lifted, and open elections were able to be held in order to generate Zimbabwe's independence from the United Kingdom. Since then, Mugabe has been the only ruler of the country.
Bill Fletcher Jr., president of the TransAfrica Forum, a black global justice organization, said Zimbabwe's ruler has made headlines for his tough regime.
He said Mugabe stands accused of human and labor rights infractions, as well as the use of food as a mechanism of political oppression and rape used against political opponents.
MSU Trustee Melanie Foster said the issue of revoking Mugabe's degree has been discussed, but the university has never set the precedent of pulling an honorary degree.
"Clearly, Mugabe's actions conflict with the values of our university," Foster said.
Some members of the MSU community say Mugabe does not deserve the university's respect or an honorary doctorate.
"When I found out, I was completely taken aback that Mugabe had a degree like that," ASMSU Academic Assembly Chairperson Robert Murphy said. "It's a powerful thing that says you've earned our respect as an institution, and obviously, Mugabe does not deserve that."
At each commencement, the university grants honorary degrees to nominated candidates.
Murphy said MSU isn't to blame for granting Mugabe his degree because, at the time, Mugabe was a leader who had a new hope for a postcolonial nation.
Fletcher said it took years for what was happening in Zimbabwe to reach the rest of the world.
"Many of us didn't want to see what was going on," Fletcher said, adding that in the '70s, many regarded Mugabe as a hero.
David Porteous, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said ASMSU's request to pull Mugabe's doctorate would have to be reviewed and approved by the administration, and it would be premature for the board to take any action on it.