Political Prisoner to Recieve Degree

Laura Westerhold

Colgate University will award one of five Honorary Degrees to Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese political activist, during the 2008 Commencement exercises. A committee comprised of three faculty members and three trustees, chaired by President of the University and Professor of Philosophy and Religion Rebecca Chopp and advised by senior class president Taylor Buonocore, selected the recipients based on nominations from members of the Colgate community.

Aung San Suu Kyi was nominated by Charles A. Dana Professor of History Andy Rotter.

“She’s a symbol for the possibility of democracy and change,” Rotter said. “She’s a rebuke to those who say Asian values leave democracy out.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s receiving of the degree is noteworthy because of her current state of house arrest, which will prevent her attendance at commencement in May. The University has never awarded a degree

in absentia.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burmese politician General Aung San, has fought for democracy is Burma for the past several decades. She has spent much of that time under political arrest. In 1988, she returned to Burma from her studies in England when she recognized a need for change in the country. In 1990, she and her political party, the National League for Democracy, won a national election to select the Prime Minister. As the party’s candidate, she ordinarily would have assumed office, but she was forbidden by the military and was soon thereafter placed under arrest.

The military has offered Aung San Suu Kyi the opportunity to leave the country, and thus be released from arrest, under the condition that she can never return to Burma. She has not accepted this offer and remains in Burma spending most of her days inside.

“She is someone who has carried the torch for democracy in a dark place,” Rotter said.

The situation in Burma is particularly relevant and significant to the Colgate community because two former history professors, Tom and Elizabeth Brackett, have been working in Thailand with Burmese refugees since 1992. The Bracketts retired from teaching to focus their efforts on the conflict in Burma. In 1997, the couple along with Professor of Biology John Novak founded the Bracket Foundation while the Bracketts continued their work abroad.

Aung San Suu Kyi has received similar honorary degrees from other American universities, including an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from American University in 1997 and an Honorary Degree from Bucknell University in 1999.

Senior class president Taylor Buonocore supported the nomination of Aung San Suu Kyi for

the degree.

“My hope is that it would call Colgate’s attention to what’s happening in Burma,” Buonocore said.

Rotter shared a similar optimism.

“I think this is a good thing for Colgate, the students and their parents. She’s a remarkable woman,” he said.

Arrangements have not yet been made as to how Aung San Suu Kyi’s degree will be presented at

the Commencement.