Chomsky may get 'U' honorary degree

BY BO HE
For the Daily
Published October 25, 2005

As one of the most frequently cited scholars alive today, Noam Chomsky is no stranger to recognition.

Chomsky's next accolade may come from the University, which recently nominated him, a linguistics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for an honorary degree. Chomsky has received honorary degrees from more than 25 institutions of higher education, including the universities of Chicago, Pennsylvania and Georgetown, Cambridge, Columbia and Harvard.

But Chomsky is still a long way from being confirmed as a recipient of an honorary degree at the University. The selection process begins when the University's Honorary Degree Committee reviews hundreds of candidates with the strictest academic scrutiny. Several dozen candidates make the initial cut, but in the end, only five or six candidates successfully emerge from the committee's deliberations. Before the candidates can receive their honorary degrees, they must first receive the personal approval of the committee's chairperson and University President Mary Sue Coleman.

University officials did not comment with regard to the reasoning and specific merits behind Chomsky's nomination and the timeframe associated with the nomination.

Chomsky's contributions to linguistics, psychology, philosophy, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy are the reasons behind many of the honors and distinctions he has received.

His contribution to linguistics theory includes the generative grammar theory, for which he is widely known.

Chomsky has also come to fame because of his political activism, especially when it comes to his harsh criticism of the foreign policy of the U.S. and European governments.

Though his greatest accomplishments have been in theoretical linguistics and the philosophy of languages, the 68-year-old Chomsky has been active in left-wing politics since his mid 30s. Chomsky has become one of the best-known American leftists due to his controversial views, which have sparked intense debate on college campuses and at prominent think tanks for many years.

In 1969, he published his first book on politics, and by the early 1980s, he had become both the most distinguished figures in American linguistics and one of the most influential left-wing critics of American foreign policy. Chomsky remains one of the most prolific commentators on international affairs, with more than 30 books on the subject to his credit.

Chomsky has reserved his most scathing criticism for President Bush's war on terror. "9-11," a controversial book Chomsky wrote after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was a New York Times bestseller. In the book, Chomsky wrote in reference to the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan: "Wanton killing of innocent civilians is terrorism, not a war against terrorism." He has also argued that the major sources of international terrorism are the world's great powers.

In one of his best-known works, "What Uncle Sam Really Wants," Chomsky wrote that what the U.S. government really wants when it talks about stability is security for the upper classes and big business. Another focus of Chomsky's political work has been the analysis of mainstream mass media. Chomsky argues that the major U.S. media outlets alter their coverage to promote the interests of large corporations and the government.

Due to both his political and scholarly writings, Chomsky keeps a busy lecture schedule. He is often booked up to two years in advance. Chomsky spoke to a densely packed crowd of University students last year in the University's Law School.

Chomsky's prominence as a scholar and political commentator has won him a global audience. Chomsky is widely read outside the U.S.; "9-11" has been published in 26 countries and translated into 23 languages. The book was a bestseller in at least five countries, including Canada and Japan. Chomsky's views are often given extensive coverage on networks around the world, while he receives few mentions in the U.S. media.

When Chomsky was voted the leading living public intellectual this year in a readers' poll conducted by the British magazine "Prospect," he said only, "I don't pay a lot of attention to polls."