Zimbabwe's prime minister, Robert Mugabe, the newly minted honorary doctor of laws from the University of Massachusetts...told the academic convocation in his honor that accusations against his government--that it jailed, tortured, and murdered hundreds of dissidents--were "propaganda" by "our enemies." No surprise there. But what about the remarks of the president of U. Mass, David Knapp, at the same ceremony? Knapp called Mugabe "a champion of human rights" who was being honored for his "enduring and effective translation of a moral ethic into a strong, popular voice for freedom." With this remarkable statement, Knapp reveals either his utter ignorance of the well-documented human rights situation in Zimbabwe or his utter misunderstanding of the words like "human rights," "moral ethic," and "freedom." At best, what can be said of Mugabe is that he has shown that Zimbabwe is not less adept than Rhodesia at tormenting its people. This reflects one of the melancholy truths of the postcolonial era. But American universities didn't honor Ian Smith, and even Jerry Falwell's college isn't giving honorary degrees to P.W. Botha. The University of Massachusetts is a public institution, the incarnation in higher education of the values of the state with what is said to be the most advanced liberal political culture. This degree for Robert Mugabe, a scandal for both Massachusetts and liberalism, went virtually unnoticed and uncommented upon. And that is perhaps the really telling scandal.
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