I suppose we should admire Calgarian Daren Miller for handing back his university degrees on a point of principle, even if it seems a bit over the top.
The St. Mary's University arts and commerce graduate made good on his promise last week to return his degrees to express his disgust at the frosh week chant extolling the virtues of raping underage girls.
This was no knee-jerk expression of outrage. Miller flew to Halifax and held a news conference before marching onto campus to give his bachelor-degree scrolls to the university's registrar.
"To me, those degrees are valueless," Miller told reporters, according to The Canadian Press. "I wanted to distance myself [from] the embarrassment and shame I felt from this sort of culture. I am not that kind of guy."
Miller, a 42-year-old financial analyst, told Canada.com last week he attended St. Mary's from 1991 to 1995, earning an honours degree in economics and a bachelor of commerce in finance. The nasty frosh chant was supposedly a longstanding tradition but it's not clear if it was used in the time Miller was at SMU.
He said he also plans to donate $20,000, the amount he received in scholarship money, to an event that raises funds for victims of domestic violence.
@sleuth_4_truths I am relieved to distance myself from smu but I am aware that there is so much work to be done across Canada.
— Daren E. Miller (@DarenMillerYYC) September 17, 2013
Miller, who experienced domestic violence in his own life, told Canada.com hoped his actions would inspire others to speak out against sexual violence.
"I come to Saint Mary's first and foremost as an outraged father," Miller, who also plans to remove the SMU degrees from his credentials, said Tuesday. "I have two young daughters, aged five and seven. In the current climate at Saint Mary's University, I could not imagine sending them there."
[ Related: UBC president promises action on rape chant ]
SMU spokesman Steve Proctor said the university respects Miller's right to protest.
"Although we would prefer to keep [the degrees] in trust for him until we can win back his confidence as we move forward, if he chooses to return it, then we choose to accept it," said Proctor.
SMU has been reeling from the backlash over the chant, a version of which was also used by commerce students at the University of British Columbia during its frosh activities. The student president, after first trying to defend the chant as an SMU tradition, quickly resigned and the school has launched an investigation and an awareness campaign.
Protests like Millers seem extremely rare.
Last year, University of Toronto graduate Michael Vipperman refused to accept his honours bachelor of arts degree as a mark of solidarity with Quebec students then protesting plans to increase tuition fees in that province.
“Education is being treated like a product, a commodity," Vipperman, who brandished a sign reading No, as he walked across the stage, told the Toronto Star. "Education should be an ongoing process rather than a product which can be sold or received.’’
Back in 2010, a British academic handed back the honorary doctorate he received from Scotland's Robert Gordon University over the school's plans to confer an honorary degree on billionaire blowhard Donald Trump, according to BBC News.
"Mr Trump is simply not a suitable person to be given an honorary degree and he should not be held up as an example of how to conduct business," explained David Kennedy, the university's former principal, who objected to Trump's plans for a massive golf resort in the region.
"Mr Trump's behaviour in northeast Scotland has been deplorable from the first, particularly in how he has treated his neighbours."
In the United States, a decision by New York's John Jay College, part of City University of New York (CUNY) not to give playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree, allegedly because he was seen as too critical of Israel, led several former recipients to renounce their honorary degrees, the Guardian reported in 2011.
"To deny him an honorary degree because certain members of the board disagree with some of his political views is a chilling indictment of the freedom of expression CUNY has always championed," Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Cunningham (The Hours) said, according to the Guardian.
Back in Canada, several anti-abortion supporters resigned from the Order of Canada after the honour was conferred on abortion activist Dr. Henry Morgentaler.
The Globe and Mail reported in 2009 that then governor-general Michaelle Jean accepted the resignations of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, astronomer Rene Racine and pianist Jacqueline Richard.