PROVIDENCE — The University of Rhode Island voted Friday to revoke honorary degrees previously awarded to retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
The URI Faculty Senate Executive Committee had requested the URI Honorary Degree Committee to deliberate the matter in December and forwarded its recommendation to URI President Marc Parlange at the end of the month.
“After reviewing the recommendation from the President, who endorsed the committee’s recommendation, the Board voted to approve the revocation of these honorary degrees,” Margo Cook, chair of the board of trustees, said in a statement to the Globe. “The Board of Trustees supports the University and its mission to uphold its values, especially its commitment to intellectual and ethical leadership and fostering an environment of diversity and respect.”
Parlange, who took over as URI president last year, said he agreed with the board’s decision.
“Based on the findings of the Honorary Degree Committee, I made a recommendation to the Board of Trustees to revoke the honorary degrees of General Flynn and Mayor Giuliani, agreeing that they no longer represent the highest level of our values and standards that were evident when we first bestowed the degree,” said Parlange.
Giuliani was awarded the doctor of laws honoris causa in 2003 based on his demonstrated leadership in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. In 2014, Flynn, who was a 1981 graduate of the university and a three-star Army general, was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
The Honorary Degree Committee, which is made up of URI faculty, staff, and students — and chaired by the provost — conducted a “comprehensive and objective review of the available evidence regarding this matter,” according to university spokeswoman Dawn Bergantino.
The committee found that Flynn had pleaded guilty twice to a felony count of “willfully and knowingly” lying to the FBI in exchange for a plea agreement. In June 2021, at a conference in Dallas, Flynn appeared to suggest that a military coup was needed in the US like the one staged by the military in Myanmar in 2021.
In November, during a rally in San Antonio, Flynn called for the establishment of “one religion” in the US and his behavior was widely condemned as a violation of the doctrine of religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, said the committee’s recommendations.
The committee also noted that Giuliani participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 rally that incited the insurrection on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and that he has been suspended from practicing law in Washington, D.C., and the state of New York for his unfounded claims of rampant fraud during the 2020 presidential election.
“The courts have determined that there is evidence that Mayor Giuliani has made false and misleading statements in representing President Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed reelection efforts,” the university said in its statement.
URI has been pressured in recent years to revoke Flynn’s honorary degree. Former university president David Dooley and other officials had been considering rescinding it because of multiple controversial remarks Flynn has made. But the decision had been pushed off for months.
Flynn had been a decorated general who became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under former president Barack Obama in 2012; he retired two years later. He became a loyal supporter of Trump, who appointed him to be his national security adviser. After just 22 days, Flynn resigned from the post after it was revealed that he misled the administration about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the US.
Trump pardoned Flynn after he pled guilty to lying to the FBI.
In a letter to URI’s board of trustees earlier this week, Parlange said both Flynn and Giuliani “no longer represent the highest level of our values and standards.”
“As a civic institution, URI has the privilege and responsibility to sustain and preserve American democracy by inspiring and modeling good citizenship,” Parlange said in a statement. “Revoking these honorary degrees reinforces our values and allows us to lead with truth and integrity.”
Two Rhode Island House Republicans, Representatives Robert J. Quattrocchi and Sherry Roberts, issued statements blasting URI for revoking Flynn’s honorary degree, noting he is a Rhode Island native.
“I find the ‘cancel culture’ crusade on the campus of the University of Rhode Island, led by President Marc Parlange, to be absolutely disgusting and disgraceful,” said Quattrocchi, a Scituate Republican. “The recommendation by URI to discredit General Flynn solely based on political discourse, lacks the fundamental intellectual capacity and inclusivity for a modern institution of higher learning and must be overturned immediately.”
Roberts, a West Greenwich Republican, took issue with Parlange’s rationale, saying URI’s purpose is to educate students.
“It is not to play politics, nor to act as judge and jury of General Flynn by stripping him of his accomplishments, which were rightfully earned, simply because Parlange doesn’t agree with Flynn on the political issues of the day,” Roberts said. “To treat the decorated General Flynn, who has so honorably served his country, with such contempt under the guise of democracy is not only the direct opposite of ‘modeling good behavior,’ but it is reprehensibly the direct opposite of truth, integrity and democracy.”
The GOP legislators did not mention the revocation of Giuliani’s honorary degree.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz. Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.