We are moving and have been cleaning out our overstuffed files. As I sorted through one pile, ready to toss it out, I happened to find a letter from Dorothy Day.
Thank goodness I saved it. The date reads “Sept. 17,” and I think it must have been 1973, since Dorothy makes reference to the time she had recently spent in a California jail for supporting the right of farm workers to unionize. She had received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal the year before, and she begins her letter by responding to a request to accept an honorary degree from Mercy College—where I was teaching at the time. She had only accepted the Notre Dame award, she explained, because she had been on the road and had not gotten “notice of the Laetare Medal before I was given a chance to refuse.” Still, she wrote, “I do draw the line at honorary degrees!”
Although she “had been offered sixteen to date,” she had two objections to accepting them. First: “I am not a scholar but a journalist, and have too great a respect for learning, for the hard labor put in by the young in obtaining degrees, to accept them gracefully.” The second reason, which she did not think applied to Mercy, was that “colleges are so tied up with the government and funding. [Robert M.] Hutchins said they were the heart of the industrial-military conglomerate, and so on. So do excuse me.”