Rep. Tom Cole Voluntarily Relinquishes Honorary Degree

January 13, 2021

Dear Grinnellians,  

The insurrection of January 6 in the nation’s capital and its aftermath continue to reveal how the words and actions of individuals and groups can safeguard or undermine democracy. The acts of those who supported or otherwise gave credence to a baseless challenge to an election that had been certified as free and fair multiple times by multiple processes have threatened the electoral process and the peaceful transfer of power. These acts have been rebuked and condemned in the United States and across the world.

On Sunday evening, the College received a petition asking for the revocation of the honorary degree awarded to U.S. Representative Tom Cole ’71 in 2016 in response to his objection to the certification of the Electoral College votes for the next president of the United States. Members of the Board of Trustees, campus leaders, and I prepared to review Grinnell’s honorary degree processes and principles, as well as the historical and constitutional context within which Rep. Cole acted. This review was to inform the necessary deliberations of the governing bodies that would be involved with a decision to revoke an honorary degree.   

On Monday, Rep. Cole contacted my office to request a meeting. On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Cole called me and voluntarily relinquished his honorary degree. The College affirms that Rep. Cole no longer holds an honorary degree from Grinnell College.

I am grateful to those who have reached out, shared their expertise and opinion, and engaged with me and others in our community on this matter. We are simultaneously constituents and caretakers of our community’s commitment to education and democracy. As a result, the connections between education and democracy are shaped and re-shaped by both participation and critique. Especially in this moment of grave concern about the peaceful transition of presidential power upon which our democracy depends, I am heartened that Grinnellians remain engaged in upholding deliberative and informed inquiry and analysis.

With admiration and respect for our community,

Anne F. Harris

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