The Drexel president makes his case for honoring Noam Chomsky.
I have been contacted by several people questioning Drexel University’s decision to award an honorary degree to Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is a controversial figure, and his views on many topics can have the effect of being polarizing. Nonetheless, I believe Drexel’s decision to award him a degree was justified.
Noam Chomsky was among 15 people honored by Drexel at this year’s commencement ceremonies. The decision to include him among this group is consistent with academia’s tradition of recognizing those from a wide variety of fields — with a broad spectrum of perspectives — who have made significant contributions to education, business, science, and civic and cultural institutions. The awarding of honorary degrees does not in any way indicate endorsement of a recipient’s opinions.
As a scientist, Chomsky’s work is at the forefront of his discipline, and he is often described as the “father of modern linguistics.” As a political philosopher and activist, he is widely read and debated, especially with regard to U.S. and Israeli foreign policy. He was voted the “world’s top public intellectual” in a poll by the magazines Foreign Policy and Prospect.
What Drexel does unambiguously endorse, and has and will not compromise, is the support of our Judaic Studies program and academic partnerships with Israeli institutions. We have continually sought opportunities for students and faculty to visit Israel and partner with Israeli academic institutions, corporations and cultural organizations. These efforts complement our support for the Jewish community on campus. We look forward to the vibrancy that will be brought to our community when the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life opens in late 2016.
Drexel University’s relationship with Israel is unassailable and should not be judged on the basis of this one item alone. Personally, I have travelled to Israel frequently, which has been among the formative highlights of my tenure. I greatly value my connections to both Israel and the Jewish community of Greater Philadelphia.
John Fry is the president of Drexel University.