Thatcher refused honorary doctorate from Oxford

OXFORD, England -- Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher lost her first election Tuesday when the Oxford University parliament voted overwhelmingly against awarding her an honorary doctorate degree.

Since 1946, all British prime ministers with Oxford degrees have been awarded the honorary doctorate in civil law.


The parliament, a traditionally Conservative body, voted 738-319 - or more than 2-1 -- against awarding Thatcher the degree, Oxford's highest.

The university academics voted against the degree in protest against the Conservative government's cuts in education spending.

A London radio station called the move a 'harsh snub' and a 'humiliating defeat.'

Lord Robert Blake, an Oxford history professor who favored awarding the degree, called it 'a slap in the face' to the British leader.

The vote came after an almost 3-hour debate. The academics awarded Italian President Alessandro Pertini an honorary doctorate at the same meeting.

Daphne Park, principal of Oxford's Somerville college where Thatcher studied chemistry from 1943-1947, supported giving the prime minister the degree.

'If ever a woman was an achiever, then Maggie Thatcher is one,' she said in the debate that preceded the vote.

But political science professor Peter Pulzer argued Thatcher had 'no automatic entitlement to an honorary degree.'


'To say yes to the honorary degree is to guarantee the maintenance of her policies,' he argued.

Thatcher's Downing Street office said the prime minister had been informed of the Oxford decision.

'This is entirely in the hands of the university and if they do not wish to confer the honor on her, she would be the last person to wish to receive it,' a spokesman said.

Thatcher's office had said earlier she would be 'delighted' to receive the award.

Previous recipients of the honorary doctorate included West Germans Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt and Americans Dean Rusk and Benjamin Franklin.

The only other person to be refused the award was the late Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was vetoed because of his alleged involvement in massacres in Bangladesh.

The vote came after 275 Oxford academics signed a petition asking the doctorate not be awarded.

'Mrs. Thatcher's government has done deep and systematic damage to the whole public education system in Britain, from the provision for the youngest child up to the most advanced research program,' the petition said.

'It would be inappropriate for any academic institution to respond by giving its highest token of approval, and especially inappropriate for Oxford,' it said.


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