Magrath earns honorary doctorate from elite South African university
BINGHAMTON, NY – On Mar. 14, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, chancellor of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in South Africa, conferred an honorary doctorate on C. Peter Magrath, president of Binghamton University.
Magrath’s connection to UWC stretches back to the mid 1980s when as president of the University of Missouri (UM), he was instrumental in launching the South African Education Program. Focused on advancing mutual understanding and cooperation between the institutions' faculties, the program has sponsored more than 365 exchange visits between the two institutions over the past 25 years.
“This is a true honor to be recognized by an outstanding South African University that has had the gift of being led by Archbishop Tutu,” said Magrath. “I hope that we at Binghamton University can develop the same kind of mutual collaborative relationships that the University of the Western Cape has had with the University of Missouri.”
Magrath’s relationship with UWC, however, has hardly been without hiccups. During the dark days of South Africa’s apartheid years, he faced all kinds of criticism about the decision to start the South African Program.
“At the time, some organizations and institutions in United States had embarked upon a policy of disinvestment with South Africa,” said Magrath. “So this move wasn’t too popular in some circles. UWC was also somewhat suspicious of an American university looking to set up an affiliation. But I kept pushing on the idea because I believed it was the right thing to do. And as I look back, if given the opportunity to do it again, I would. It was one of the best things I’ve done in my life.”
For Magrath, the most important element of the UWC recognition is that it comes full circle in his relationship with Archbishop Tutu, a man he refers to as ‘one of the greatest human beings of our time.’ It started in 1990 when Magrath as UM’s president, conferred an honorary degree on Archbishop Tutu. In returning the honor on Mar. 14, Archbishop Tutu recognized Magrath’s broad experience in higher education leadership. And what makes this event even more special, says Magrath, is that Archbishop Tutu, who has served as UWC’s Chancellor since 1988, will be retiring and the 2011 commencement ceremonies will be the last time he will officially confer an honorary degree.
In addition to receiving the honorary degree, Magrath was also able to share his broad experience in higher education in a presentation in which he discussed the challenges that college and universities around the world are facing. He also discussed the loss of state and government support and its subsequent impact. Magrath was able to have a series of discussions with UWC representatives to discuss possible collaborations with Binghamton University.
The honorary doctorate from UWC puts Magrath among an elite group of world leaders, including former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.