Ashley He/Sun File Photo

The Faculty Senate has adapted the rules for posthumous awards, now allowing deceased Cornellians to earn honorary degrees and certificates.

September 16, 2022

Faculty Senate Approves New Changes to Posthumous Awards Policy

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The Faculty Senate, as of Spring 2022, has changed the rules regarding the University’s posthumous awards. Students who pass away before completing graduation requirements may now posthumously earn a degree or certificate, whereas they previously were not able to earn a certificate if they didn’t meet the requirements to earn a degree.

The new policy also established University-wide criteria for obtaining such awards. To achieve a posthumous degree, a student must have completed at least 75 percent of their degree requirements; a student who fulfilled less than 75 percent of their graduation requirements would be eligible for a certificate. It is possible to posthumously earn a Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional or Doctoral Degree at Cornell.

According to the new Posthumous Academic Awards policy, the University made the change in order to provide better forms of recognition to the deceased. 

“Conferring of a posthumous degree is… a means to recognize and commemorate the deceased student’s engagement in our campus community and to provide grieving family and friends some small solace through this recognition,” the policy read.

Granting posthumous awards is common among most American colleges and universities, including all other Ivy League institutions. 

For instance, according to Brown University Chief of Staff to the Provost James Rowan, Brown students are eligible for posthumous degrees based on multiple factors such as time spent enrolled at Brown, disciplinary status, administrator support, department support and votes by relevant Brown committees. 

The new policy will provide greater guidance on how to deal with posthumous awards and, according to University Registrar Rhonda Kitch, an approach more sensitive to the needs of grieving families. 

“Establishing a posthumous academic awards policy provides parameters for our institution to offer a significant memento to families in the form of a diploma or certificate of enrollment,” Kitch wrote in a statement to The Sun. “The policy supports a compassionate approach to recognize the academic contributions of a family’s loved one.”

Current students, such as Morium Begum ’26, expressed support for the new system.

“I think [the awards] are a good thing — it’s important to honor the hard work done by students,” Begum said. “I think it’s also important to their families, because they might not have seen their child a lot when they were away in college, so it signifies that their kid was doing something important.”

Recognizing the importance of degrees and certificates for people grieving the deceased, Lizzie Emmet ’26 said she thinks the new award system demonstrates Cornell’s empathy.

“It is for the people that were left behind. Having something to show that the person accomplished something during their time at Cornell would have value to the grieving family,” Emmet said. “[This shows how] Cornell is conscious and empathetic towards the feelings of the people who supported and encouraged their students during the course of their time at the university.”

Milla Douer ’26 also supports the new system, and said she thinks that the degrees and certificates are necessary to properly acknowledge the hard work of the students who didn’t get the chance to finish their degree.

“The awards acknowledge the hard work the students put into their education and their families support and commitment,” Douer said. “Their hard work will be commemorated and made permanent in a certificate.”