The rippling effects of the Capitol Riots from January 6, are beginning to be felt, even locally at St. John Fisher College. In 2015, Fisher awarded Former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani an honorary doctoral degree after he was invited to speak at the college. However, this decision has recently been questioned by staff, students and alumni.
Giuliani is the lawyer and close confidant of President Donald Trump. Days prior to the Capitol Riots, he was vocal at “Stop the Steal” Trump rallies urging supporters to protest the election and prevent the certification of electoral college votes using “trial by combat”. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of Trial by Combat is a dispute whose outcome is determined by “a combat between parties”. Giuliani has since claimed that he used the phrase “trial by combat” as a Game of Thrones reference, rather than actually meaning to incite violence. However, he did not make this clarification to listeners prior to the riot.
I asked Rudy Giuliani about his call for "trial by combat" during last week's rally that preceded the Capitol riots. He first explained the concept by referencing Game of Thrones, then rejected the idea that he was referencing physical violence or that it incited the crowd. pic.twitter.com/J6HV5rVBBf
— Brett Samuels (@Brett_Samuels27) January 13, 2021
A petition was started stating that Giuliani’s “statements and actions related to the 2020 United States Presidential election, its aftermath, and the ongoing COVID epidemic do not reflect the mission and values of this institution”. The petition goes on to include links to news stories of Giuliani admitting to claiming false voter fraud, inciting violence amongst Trump supporters, and ignoring health guidelines relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of writing, this petition had over 400 signatures including current students, staff, and alumni.
“I do not believe that there is anything for the trustees to ‘consider’,” English Professor Dr. Jill Swiencicki said. “He is a handmaid of a leader who sowed disinformation and division to stay in power”. One concern she holds regarding Fisher’s slow action to rescind is sending “a conflicting message to our students and alums about how we live out our school mission and motto”.
For Giuliani’s degree to be rescinded, it would be the responsibility of the Board of Trustees to make the decision. The Board is currently chaired by Diana Nole and Tom Bowles ‘71 (vice chair). The board made a statement on Tuesday, January 12 saying that they will be meeting to discuss the issue although they did not offer a specific date. They did however say that as more information became available, it would be shared with the campus community. Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Middlebury College in Vermont, and Wagner College in Staten Island have already rescinded their own honorary degrees granted to Giuliani.
This is not the first time that the college has been met with resistance regarding Giuliani; in 2015 when he was granted the degree there was a petition signed by 49 staff members against doing so. Donald Bain, College President at the time, eventually ignored the petition and granted Giuliani with the degree.
The petition currently has over 400 signatures and is growing.