Denying degree a major mistake
The egregious decision to deny Shahid Khan an honorary degree from the University of Illinois should be reversed.
It's understandable why members of the University of Illinois' Academic Senate tried to skirt the state's open meetings law when they met in March to scuttle plans to grant an honorary degree to a distinguished UI graduate.
But there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. Caught pulling a fast one, senate Chairman Matthew Wheeler pledged that the senate will not hold such secret discussions in the future. The university also released an audiotape of the meeting, the contents of which reveal senators debating the merit of awarding an honorary degree to Shahid Khan, the featured speaker at next month's graduation ceremony.
The failure to grant that degree is a stupendous display of bad judgment. It's so bad that it's breathtaking. UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said it's too late to reverse the decision "for this commencement," but officials higher up the food chain should do so as soon as possible.
Khan, a UI engineering graduate, is not just one of the UI's accomplished graduates, he's one of the most accomplished graduates of any institution of higher learning in this country.
Khan is the personification of the American success story, a living, breathing example of the fact that in this country all things are possible no matter how humble your beginning.
Khan, who came to the UI from Pakistan in the late 1960s, got an education, worked hard and played by the rules, ultimately building a hugely successful business and great wealth. To his great credit, he has shared that wealth, giving generously to community institutions, including Champaign's new library, as well as a variety of academic and athletic endeavors at the UI.
On a more substantive level, he has created economic opportunities for thousands of people across the country and the world. Flex-N-Gate, an automobile parts manufacturer, employs more than 12,000 people at its factories.
Ironically, it's Khan's job-creating activities that have him in hot water with some faculty members, specifically his local facility in Urbana.
Faculty members object to alleged violations of worker-safety rules filed against Flex-N-Gate by the Office of Safety and Health Administration. They cite an accidental release of sulfuric acid vapor that caused a worker evacuation and complaints from those who wish to unionize plant employees. The apparent intent is to portray Khan as some kind of corporate pirate not worthy of the recognition signified by an honorary degree.
That's pretty thin gruel on which to base such an insult. Skirmishes with OSHA, workplace accidents and union activities occur on a daily basis in factories across the country. It's virtually impossible for a manufacturer of substantial size to avoid them. They go hand in hand with being in business, and, under the laws governing these difficult issues, the disputes are worked out in accordance with law.
To deny Khan an honorary degree on such nebulous grounds reflects more on the judgment of the UI senators than it does on Khan's many accomplishments.