PM’s doctorate provokes bribery claims

Honorary degrees are a common enough way for universities to get some welcome press attention, and for celebrities to get their egos massaged. Yet the presentation by Örebro University of an honorary doctorate to Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson has led a bribery watchdog to call for an investigation.

Concerns are centred on links between the decision to award the degree and Persson’s previous connections to the university, which he attended between 1969 and 1971. The relationship between the degree and the prime minister’s role in granting university status to the former higher education college is under particular scrutiny.

Persson was presented with the doctorate in medicine in a ceremony at Örebro University on Sunday. Writing in DN, Claes Beyer, head of a Swedish institute that works to combat bribery, says that the fawning citation on Persson’s degree gives cause for concern. The citation read:

“Through granting university status to the Örebro College of Higher Education in 1999, Prime Minister Göran Persson showed both courage and foresight, by understanding and supporting the potential and vitality represented by Örebro University.”

Quite apart from its grovelling tone, Beyer argues that the wording of citation should arouse suspicions of bribery, and has written to prosecutors to demand that they investigate whether a crime has been committed. Convictions for bribery can lead to prison sentences in serious cases.

The university, meanwhile, is unapologetic for granting the degree.

Clearly a fan of the prime minister, the Dean of the medical faculty Peter Wide said that Persson’s “wholehearted support to our university has meant a huge amount to us, and has been a source of inspiration in our work.”

Information director Ulla Fogelström said in a press release that an honorary doctor is “not usually selected on the basis of academic merit, and is usually someone who is considered to bring other perspectives to the university’s work.”

She also pointed out that previous prime ministers Ingvar Carlsson and Tage Erlander received honorary doctorates while in office, and that Astrid Lindgren and Queen Silvia were among other people to be honoured in this way by academic institutions.

Yet this reasoning didn’t wash with Persson’s political opponents. Patrick E. Vigren, chairman of the Christian Democrats’ student wing wrote in Nerikes Allehanda that it was particularly insensitive of the university to honour Persson, given that five out of eight members of the university’s board “have Social Democratic backgrounds.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Aftonbladet, Nerikes Allehanda