News your connection to The Boston Globe

Honorary degree for ex-White House aide draws protests at UMass

AMHERST, Mass. --Some University of Massachusetts students and professors are protesting the school's decision to give former White House aide Andrew Card an honorary degree, saying rallies and demonstrations will disrupt graduation ceremonies.

"There are going to be fights, dissent and protests," Justin Jackson, a graduate student who will receive his masters in history, predicted about the May 25 event. "I would like not to have it as a scene of chaos and disorder. You're going to have crowds of people booing and throwing things."

Jackson and others blamed Card for lying to the country while making a case for war in Iraq while he served as President Bush's chief of staff. Card, a former Massachusetts legislator, held the White House job between 2000 and 2006.

"This is an issue of public integrity," said Paula Chakravartty, an assistant professor in the communications department. "It stuns me that we could recognize someone who is known for his intellectual dishonesty."

Their remarks were directed to UMass trustees chairman Stephen Tocco, who met with some students and faculty members at the Amherst campus Thursday.

Tocco said the board would not change its mind about giving Card an honorary doctor in public service, but said the administration is reviewing the process under which degrees are awarded.

"I'm not going to debate the merits of Andy Card," he said to a jeering crowd.

Card said Thursday he was honored that the university wanted to give him the honorary degree.

"I'm a strong supporter of UMass," he said. "It's a great honor and privilege."

Of the protest, he said, "I love the spirit demonstrated by the students and faculty."

The controversy over Card's degree comes a month after students at the UMass-Boston campus began pushing for the school to revoke an honorary degree given to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. While he was hailed as a humane revolutionary when he received the degree in 1986, Mugabe has since come under international criticism for running a corrupt and oppressive government.