Over the past year, three dogs have started their careers in law enforcement after graduating from the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. I suppose that means Socks, Ronnie, and Kai are Penn alumni. Have there ever been any other non-human Penn grads or honorary degree recipients?
—Proud Penn Canine Class of 2014 Foster Parent
Alison McGhie, senior director of operations and technology, says that while the Working Dog Center and the School of Veterinary Medicine may have honored various animals over the years, none of them have been honored with official Penn degrees. Since the first honorary degrees were awarded in 1757, McGhie says, all honorary degree recipients have been of the human species.
To find out if there were any other levels of non-human graduates, we reached out to Mark Frazier Lloyd, director of the University Archives and Records Center. He confirmed our suspicion—Penn has never honored any non-human friend of the University with any official degree.
That said, Penn has a rich history of awarding honorary degrees that’s worth mentioning.
With the exception of two bachelor of arts degrees, the master of arts was the only honorary degree conferred until 1792, when the first doctoral-level honorary degrees were awarded.
During the latter part of the 19th century, many institutions made a practice of conferring the Doctor of Philosophy, honoris causa. This ceased at Penn after the third such degree was granted in 1891, and since then, the Ph.D. has been granted only as an earned degree.
Degrees are typically awarded for world-changing contributions to the fields of arts and culture, business, education, entertainment and media, humanities and social sciences, public affairs, scholarship and academia, and science, technology, and medicine.
Originally published on May 8, 2014