Taylor Swift's honorary doctorate from NYU: Did she deserve it?


Fact Box

  • Taylor Swift is a Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter known for her musical talent that spans genres (country, pop, rock, and folk) with 9 studio albums and two recently re-recorded studio albums. She is the only woman to win the Grammy for Album Of The Year three times.
  • On May 18, 2022, Swift received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from New York State University along with four other honorees Susan Hockfield, Felix Matos Rodriguez, Lonnie Bunch III, and Jill Lepore. In her commencement speech, she noted, “I in no way feel qualified to tell you what to do. You’ve worked and struggled and sacrificed and dreamed your way here today. [...] I will however give you life hacks for when I was starting out my dreams as a career.”
  • New York University (NYU) states that their Honorary Degrees Policy “awards honorary degrees on a selective basis to distinguished individuals who merit special recognition for outstanding achievement or leadership in a field or activity consistent with the ideals and purposes of the University.”
  • Insider lists 30 celebrities that have received doctorate degrees; some include Ben Affleck (2013), P.Diddy (2014), Meryl Streep (2014), Oprah Winfrey, John Legend (2014), Magic Johnson (2015), and William Shatner (2011).

Siam (Yes) 

New York University recently awarded Taylor Swift an honorary doctorate of fine arts. There is no one more deserving. Swift is one of the few exceptionally charitable musicians, regularly donating to at least three dozen non-profit organizations and surprising her fans with gifts. Despite finishing out her high school education on the road and having no formal higher education, she takes academia seriously, recently donating $50,000 to the New York school system. All royalties from her track 'Welcome to New York' were even promised to the city's schools.

Swift has been a charity champion with countless donations to children and disaster organizations. In 2007, Swift started a campaign with the goal of protecting children against online predators. To support flood victims in Iowa, she donated $100,000 to the Red Cross in 2008. Swift contributed another lump sum in 2020 for the victims of the Tennessee floods. In May 2011, the songstress performed a benefit concert for the victims of tornadoes, raising more than $750,000, followed by a donation of $250,000 to Nick Saban's Nicks Kid charity. And most importantly, she is always there for her fans; there are numerous videos of her buying gifts, surprising, and spending time with her fans all over the country. 

That alone would earn her this honorary doctorate. But seeing as it's a doctorate in fine arts, Taylor Swift is an award-winning musical genius and talented artist; she is widely considered one of the world's best and most successful singers. Her track record includes, to date, 11 Grammy Awards, 7 Billboard Awards, over 50 Guinness World Records, and one Emmy Award. Because of her musical talent, charitable work, and contribution to the music industry, NYU was right to award her this honorary degree.

Curtice (No)

Rarely, if ever, are honorary degrees 'deserved,' despite the notoriety of the person 'earning' it. Despite New York University having recently awarded Taylor Swift with one does not change the fact that she did not earn it like the audience of doctoral students she presented to had. NYU is certainly within its right to bestow such an honor to Taylor Swift if it so chooses. Yet, it was not rightfully deserved. 

Swift is no doubt a talented singer, songwriter, performer, and overall artist. She has earned more in one year than many of us will earn in a lifetime. She deserves recognition for that! But Swift did not even attend college, let alone graduate. Bestowing a doctorate degree to an artist is like awarding a Grammy Award to a graduate who holds a degree in computer science but never set foot on a stage or a recording studio.

Students who worked hard and got through the rigors of college and truly earned their degrees are the ones who should be honored for this high achievement. They deserve that. Honorary degrees given out to celebrities cheapen that hard work.

For more than 500 years, colleges have given honorary degrees to high-profile celebrities and business moguls—otherwise known as the wealthy and connected—to potentially secure financial donations, not to mention garner cheap publicity. One can blame Oxford University for starting this foolish practice back in 1478. NYU has previously given honorary degrees to Aretha Franklin, Bill Clinton, John Lewis, and Billy Crystal, all of whom have achieved great success in their chosen fields. Yet, of those mentioned, only Crystal actually attended NYU, earning a degree in fine arts. 

Colleges should do two things—educate students and award degrees to those students who earn them. Honorary degrees exist only as an excess.

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