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Honorary Degrees

About the Award

  • When presented:  May Commencement each year.
  • How many awards: A maximum of five awards is authorized (six if the Commencement speaker is included).
  • Process:  Award recipients are nominated by the Honorary Degrees and Special Awards Committee, recommended by the Faculty Council, and approved by the Board of Trustees.
  • Establishing document: Honorary Degrees Trustrees Regulation
  • Criteria: We seek to honor people who have rendered outstanding service to humanity in the world arena, in our nation, in the American South, or our State of North Carolina; people who have made outstanding contributions to knowledge in the world of scholarship; people whose talent and creativity in the world of the arts has enriched our lives; and people whose devotion to and support of our University merits our highest recognition.
  • Eligibility: Members of the Board of Governors or staff of The University of North Carolina or any of its constituent institutions are not eligible. These persons become eligible two years after termination of such status. Awards are not conferred in absentia or posthumously.

Submit a Nomination

Please visit the “Submit Nominations” page at the left for instructions on how to submit your nomination. The deadline to nominate someone for a 2015 award is January 31, 2014.

Past Award Recipients

Please note: The names that are clickable are linked to the official citation describing each winner’s accomplishments.

Year Name Degree Achievement
2013 Steve Case LL.D. Businessman, philanthropist, founder of America Online
Bernard Flatow LL.D. Businessman (public relations), rare book collector, supporter of U.S.-Latin American exchanges
Joel Fleishman LL.D. Professor; state government administrator instrumental in establishment of Governor’s School and North Carolina School of the Arts; philanthropist
Freeman Hrabowski LL.D. President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Mary Pope Osborne Litt.D. Author of “Magic Tree House” children’s book series
2012 Michael Rubens Bloomberg LL.D. Mayor of New York
David S. Ferriero LL.D. Archivist of the United States
Thomas W. Lambeth Litt.D. Retired Executive Director, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation
Branford Marsalis D. Mus. World-renowned saxophonist
Katharine Lee Reid D.F.A. Retired Director, Cleveland Museum of Art
2011 Timothy B. Burnett LL.D. Service to Carolina; business; philanthropy
Mary Sue Coleman LL.D. President, University of Michigan
Ernest J. Gaines Litt.D. Novelist
John Grisham Litt.D. Novelist
Dwight T. Pitcaithley LL.D. Public Historian; Retired Chief Historian, National Park Service
Edward O. Wilson D.Sci. Founder of ethnobiology and evolutionary psychology
2010 Paul Rizzo LL.D. Chair emeritus, Franklin Street Partners
Eugene Roberts LL.D. Former national editor, New York Times; Executive editor, Philadelphia Inquirer
Fred Robinson L.H.D. Douglas Tracy Smith Prof. of English Emeritus, Yale University
Patricia Timmons-Goodson LL.D. Associate justice, NC Supreme Court
2009 William J. Armfield IV LL.D. Investment executive & Philanthropist
Eli N. Evans LL.D. Writer on Jews in the south; Nonprofit leader
Charles Sanders D.Sci. Physician & Medical executive
Helen Scheirbeck LL.D. Native American activist & Educational leader
Lee Marshall Smith Litt.D. Prolific southern author
Desmond M. Tutu D.D. Nobel Peace Prize winner;  South African anti-apartheid campaigner
2008 Peter Courtland Agre D.Sci. Medical researcher; Nobel Prize winner
Philip Palmer Green III D.Sci. Human genome researcher
Heather Munroe-Blum D.Sci. University administrator; Psychiatric epidemiologist
Anthony Eden Rand LL.D. Public service; Champion of the University
Jessye Norman D.Mus. Performing artist, opera & concert
2007  Madeline Korbel Albright LL.D.  U.S. Secretary of State
H. Jack Geiger D.Sci. Physician & Humanitarian
William Ivey Long D.F.A. Costume designer
Richard Wilson Riley LL.D. U.S. Cabinet Secretary; Governor, South Carolina
Dean Edwards Smith LL.D. Coach & Humanitarian
2006  Joyce Conseen Dugan  LL.D.  Educator & Cherokee leader
Thomas Stephen Kenan III LL.D. Philanthropist
Robert Ray Morgan Litt.D. Author & Poet
John Shelby Spong L.H.D. Author & Clergyman
2005  Nannerl Overholser Keohane  LL.D.  Scholar; President, Duke University; Feminist leader
Anand Panyarachun LL.D. Thai Prime Minister; Diplomat; World leader
Peter John Gomes D.D. Preacher; Author; Minister, The Memorial Church, Harvard
Frank Borden Hanes, Sr. L.H.D. Philanthropist; Author; Business leader
2004 William Albert Graham, Jr. L.H.D. Scholar; Dean, Harvard Divinity School
Julius Levonne Chambers LL.D. Attorney; Civil rights pioneer
Maurice John Koury LL.D. Businessman & Philanthropist
William Octavius McCoy LL.D. Businessman & Interim chancellor UNC-CH
William Forrest Winter LL.D. Former governor, Mississippi; statesman
2003 Drew Saunders Days III  LL.D.  U.S. Solicitor General; Professor, Yale Law
Clemmie Dixon Spangler, Jr. LL.D. President, University of North Carolina
Reynolds Price Litt.D. Author
William Henry Cosby, Jr. LL.D. Actor & Entertainer
2002 Julian Hart Robertson, Jr. LL.D. Financier & Philanthropist
Verne Edward Chaney, Jr. D.Sci. Physician & Humanitarian
John Reid Edwards LL.D. US Senator
2001 Ricardo Lagos Escobar  LL.D.  President, Chile
Gladys Hall Coates LL.D. Public service
Dennis Barry Gillings D.Sci. Scholar; Founder, Quintiles
William Edward “Billy” Taylor D.F.A. Musician
Thomas Grey Wicker LL.D. Journalist
David Satcher D.Sci. Physician; US Surgeon General
2000 Stuart Eliot Eizenstat  LL.D. Diplomat
Joseph Leo Blotner Litt.D. Literary historian
Walter Horace Carter LL.D. Newspaper editor & owner
Charles Justice LL.D. Athlete
Daniel Alexander Okun D.Sci. Scholar & Educator
1999 William Warren Bradley LL.D. Public service
Marc Basnight LL.D. North Carolina Senate; Public service
Damon Jerome Keith LL.D. U.S. District Court Judge
Nina Woo Matheson D.Sci. Librarian
1998 Susan Pardee Baker  D.Sci  Public health
Richard Hampton Jenrette LL.D. Business; historic preservation; philanthropy
Betty Ray McCain LL.D. Public service
Elizabeth Spencer Litt.D. Author
Leroy Tashreau Walker LL.D. Educator
1997  Erskine Boyce Bowles  LL.D. White House Chief of Staff; Investment banker
Rita Dove Litt.D. Poet & Professor
Eugene Dominick Genovese Litt.D. Historian & Professor
Alice Mitchell Rivlin LL.D. Economist; Public service
William Doyle Ruckelshaus LL.D. Environmentalist; Public service; Business
Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson Litt.D. Folk singer
1996 William Franklin Graham D.D. Evangelist
Seamus Justin Heaney Litt.D. Poet
Rudolph Arthur Marcus D.Sci. Chemist; Nobel prize
1995 Kenneth Merle Brinkhous D.Sci. Pathologist
Johnetta Betsch Cole LL.D. President, SpelmanCollege
Bess Lomax Hawes Litt.D. Folklorist
Hugh Leon McColl, Jr. LL.D. Banker
Louis Decimus Rubin, Jr. Litt.D. Professor & Publisher
Anna Deavere Smith Litt.D. Playwright; Performance artist; Professor
1994 Daniel Terry Blue Jr. LL.D. Public service
Kenneth Lauren Burns Litt.D. Documentary filmmaker
Francis Sellers Collins D.Sci. Geneticist
Walter Joseph Harrelson Litt.D. Biblical scholar
Jane Shelby Richardson D.Sci. Protein scientist
Joseph Curtis Sloane Litt.D. Art historian
1993 William Jefferson Clinton LL.D. US President
Katherine Dunham D.F.A. Dancer; Cultural anthropologist
Eugen Merzbacher D.Sci. Physicist
Carl Thomas Rowan Litt.D. Journalist
Nelson Ferebee Taylor LL.D. UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor; Business
Edwin Milton Yoder Jr. Litt.D. Journalist
1992 David McClure Brinkley Litt.D. Television journalist
Shelby Dade Foote Litt.D. Novelist; Civil War historian
Sherman Emery Lee Litt.D. Oriental art scholar; Museum director
Anne Ellen Queen LL.D. Educator
Thomas Franklin Williams D.Sci. Gerontologist
1991 Federico Guillermo Gil Litt.D. Latin American scholar
Archie Green Litt.D. American folklore scholar
Charles Bishop Kuralt Litt.D. Television journalist
1990 John Marsden Ehle Jr. Litt.D.  Novelist
Gertrude Belle Elion D.Sci. Biochemist; Nobel Prize 1988
Allen Walker Read Litt.D. Linguist & lexicographer
1989 Minnie Miller Brown D.Sci. Pioneer in attacking rural poverty
Robert Francis Furchgott D.Sci. Pharmacological researcher
Robert Venturi D.Sci. Architect
1988 James Evans Davis D.Sci. President, American Medical Assn.
Marian Wright Edelman LL.D. President, Children’s Defense Fund
William Clyde Friday LL.D. President, University of North Carolina
James Bryan McMillan LL.D. US District Court Judge
1987 William Brantley Aycock LL.D. Educator
William Wallace Finlator D.D. Minister active in civil rights
Margaret Taylor Harper LL.D. Journalist; public service
William Neill Hubbard Jr. D.Sci. Medical statesman; President, Upjohn; Dean
Samuel Talmadge Ragan D.Litt. Journalist
1986 James Grubbs Martin LL.D. Public service
Harriet L. Rheingold D.Sci. Psychology
Ivan E. Sutherland D.Sci. Computer graphics pioneer
John Kenneth Terres D.Litt. Nature editor & Author
1985 Mildred Cohn D.Sci. Biochemist; Inst. for Cancer Research
Elizabeth Hanford Dole LL.D. U.S. Secretary of Transportation
Blyden Jackson D.Litt. Prof. of English emeritus, UNC
Emma Neal McQueen Morrison LL.D. Chair emeritus, Roanoke Island Historical Ass’n.
James Dickson Phillips, Jr. LL.D. Judge, U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
1984 George Richard Herbert LL.D. President, Research Triangle Institute
James Earl Jones Litt.D. Stage, screen, & TV actor
Frank Hawkins Kenan LL.D. UNC benefactor
1983 Henry Parker Brandis, Jr. LL.D.  Kenan Prof. of Law; Dean, Law School
Elizabeth Scott Carrington LL.D. Benefactor, UNC School of Nursing
Aloyisis Leon Higginbotham, Jr. LL.D. Judge, US Court of Appeals 3rd Circuit
Joseph Carlyle Sitterson LL.D. Chancellor emeritus; Kenan Prof. of History
Frank Henry Westheimer D.Sci Chemist; Harvard professor
1982 William Patterson Cumming D.Litt. Prof. of English emeritus, Davidson College
George Herbert Hitchings D.Sci. Burroughs-Wellcome researcher & Administrator
Myles Horton LL.D. Founder, Highlander Folk School
1981 James Edward Cheek LL.D. President, Howard Univ.
Henry Armfield Foscue LL.D. Businessman & Civic leader
Lawrence H. Fountain LL.D. U.S. Congressman
Sarah Ratner D.Sci. Biochemist
1980 Peter Bommarito LL.D. Int’l Pres. United Rubber etc. Workers, AFL-CIO
David Beers Quinn LL.D. Prof. Modern History emeritus, Univ.of Liverpool
Donald Ray Seawell Litt.D. Pres. & Chrm. of Board, The Denver Post
Cecil Grady Taylor LL.D. Chancellor emeritus, Louisiana State Univ.
1979 Robert Martin Coles D.Sci. Harvard research psychiatrist
John Hope Franklin LL.D. Professor; historian; author
Katharine Jocher LL.D. Sociologist & Administrator
Robert Mayer Lumiansky LL.D. Scholar, English literature
Thelma Gwinn Thurstone D.Sci. Co-establisher, UNC Psychometric Lab
1979 Donald Sharp Frederickson D.Sci. Director, NIH
L. Richardson Preyer LL.D. U.S. Congressman
Frederick Chapman Robbins D.Sci. Sr. Research Scholar, Nat. Acad. of Science
Lewis Thomas D.Sci. President & CEO, Sloan-Kettering Institute
1978 James Baxter Hunt, Jr. LL.D. Governor of NC
Oscar Knefler Rice LL.D. Kenan Prof. of Chemistry
Rafael Montinola Salas LL.D. Asst. Secretary General, United Nations
Berta Vogel Scharrer D.Sci. Prof. of Anatomy, Albert Einstein Med. Coll.