Doctor -he who teaches, the scholar (doctus) is the word used to define, already in Cicero and Horatio, the instructor, the mentor who complements the person who learns, the unlearned (indocti) -thus, docti dicant et indocti discant-(scholars instruct and the unlearned may learn)- and it is used in Spanish during the 14th and 15th centuries with this exact meaning.
The term was first used to define a university degree in a 1462 ruling. This distinction was given to people as adulation or to people who in fact deserved such extreme excellences. The word has been sometimes used together with laudatory words such as angelicus, eximius, mirabilis, subtilis, illuminatus... (angelic, extraordinary, wonderful, thorough, illuminated...), which we will only give as an example with no intention of exhaustiveness.
Once the title of Doctor had been defined as the highest academic order, each university naturally wished for the most eminent academics to take a chair in their institution.
And this chair could only be granted as an honorary distinction in the cases in which such eminencies were already part of another academic institution. This distinction would mean recognition -and even profit in some cases- for both the institution and the grantee.
This was the origin of the title Honorary Doctor or Doctor ad honorem only awarded to those in hand of relevant academic merits. Granting such honours to politicians, businessmen or any other relevant citizen for reasons other than those mentioned above could be regarded as simony.
During the solemn public act of investiture, the rector awarded the newly elected member with an honoured ceremonial cap, venerated insignia of the highest academic status and symbol of the distinction granted. This distinction entitled its holder to the privilege of delivering opinions and resolving inquiry procedures by means of a signet ring used to sign and seal such documents.
And, through the white gloves in his hands he was reminded of the strict ethics that should preside over all academic activities. The current protocol maintains these rituals, although few universities maintain the use of traditional Latin for such effects.
In the past
The University Senate of Doctors were those in charge of deciding on the future bearers of these awards -after hearing the proposals presented by one or several universities-, since they represented the highest collegiate body and have done so until recent times.
The secular reasoning similis similibus (he who is alike, joins), which agrees with the criterion of authority, could not allow imagining any person to reach such academic honour by any other procedure than being chosen by his peers or superiors, a corporate system long forgotten in the case of honorary titles but still used for granting ordinary academic posts.
The University Senate of Doctors has evolved into a more democratic body, influenced by the different political trends in each historical period, until it became what is currently known as the University Senate. Its ancestral memory remains, as a venerated relic, in the inscription engraved on the medallions worn over the academic hoods that symbolically identify, by means of colour, the degree of doctor during solemn academic events.
During this transformation and for the purpose of government agility, the fundamental executive competences fell on the University Governing Council. Thus, this is the body which is now responsible for granting the degree of Honorary Doctor and the University Medallion.
After the Spanish Civil War, the procedure for awarding an Honorary Doctorate Degree remained unlegislated until a law was approved on 20th June 1957, which was written according to the political cautiousness of the time. This law was unable to legislate on any proceedings regarding the so-called special engineering schools (Schools awarding technical degrees), since technical degrees did not include PhD studies at the time.
This legislative deficiency had to be solved, and so it was by the 28th December 99/1966 law, in the same year the first Polytechnic Universities were created.
The need to create a regulation for this matter was not considered by our university -which would have meant creating a legislating commission ad hoc on 4th July- until the Faculty of Fine Arts announced in the summer of 1979 its intention of submitting a proposal for an Honorary Doctor, an intention that was materialised on 17th September.
The precariousness of the regulation written for this purpose is excusable if we consider that little more than a month went by between the submission of the proposal and its acceptance by the Governing Board on 30th October. Proof of this precariousness is the need for the agreement of two thirds of the Governing Board in order to proceed with any proposal.
This measure meant that even if only a few unfavourable votes were emitted, the proposal could be rejected if the number of members attending the session were not to fulfil the minimum votes required. Another obtuse regulation designed to filter the selection procedure meant that only those candidatures -once approved by the Governing Board- that were ratified by the University Senate could be considered.
It was not until years later that the UPV arbitrated a reasonable regulation that could allow the proposal of candidates without the fear of unnecessary rejection. It is nevertheless surprising to consider that almost ten years went by between the implementation of the aforementioned regulation and the 1988 investiture, by a more viable system, of Mr. Joaquin Rodrigo Vidre as the first Honorary Doctor of the UPV. The number of people that have since been awarded with such a distinguished degree indicates that time has not been wasted since then.
Nowadays, the proposal for awarding an Honorary Doctorate Degree is presented by a University School, Faculty or Department to the Research Committee, and once accepted, it proceeds to the Governing Council for its final acceptance.
The procedures for the conferral of an Honorary Doctor's Degree have evolved according to the regulations of a given period of time.
Nowadays, the awards are granted according to the University's Regulations for Honorary Distinctions, which were approved by the University Governing Board in July 1989, the first section of which is translated below:
Section 1. On the aims of honorary distinctions at the UPV.
The Universidad Politécnica de Valencia institutes the honorary distinctions hereby regulated in order to manifestly acknowledge the academic, artistic or technical merits of national and foreign individuals or institutions, or to recognize outstanding contributions to the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia.
The current procedure for awarding an Honorary Doctorate Degree at the UPV is as follows:
A proposal is submitted by a School, Faculty or Department Council.
The University Research Committee draws up a report on the proposal. After that, the report is sent to the University Governing Council, which will ultimately decide on the investiture of an Honorary Doctor by the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia.
The academic retinue assembles at the University auditorium. They then proceed to the assembly hall, where they are greeted by those present and escorted to their seats.
Once in the hall, the University's Secretary General calls out: "All rise" and 'VENI CREATOR' is interpreted by the University Orpheum.
Once the interpretation has finished, the Rector of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia declares: "Members of the Council, please be seated and cover yourselves. The session is open. The Secretary General will read the minutes of the awarding of the medal of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia to Mr. /Mrs...." The Secretary General proceeds with the reading of the minutes.
Immediately after, the Rector declares: "Mr./Mrs.... the guarantor of the Doctor, Dr.... has the right to speak." The guarantor reads his/her speech.
Afterwards, the Rector declares: "We are about to proceed with the investiture as Honorary Doctor of ..." The Secretary General declares: "All rise". All rise and the guarantor walks with the guest of honour towards the Board and stands in front of the Chairmanship.
The Rector declares: "The Governing Council of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, following the proposal of ...and in acknowledgement of your relevant achievements, has conferred you the title of Honorary Doctor. By virtue of the powers vested in me, I confer this title and I impose on you the honoured ceremonial cap, venerated distinction of the highest academic order. Wear it on your head as the crown of your studies and achievements. Receive the signet ring that has been given in this ceremony since ancient times as a symbol of the privilege to sign and seal judgments, enquiries and sentences related to your science and profession. Take these white gloves, symbol of the purity that your hands must protect. All of these are, as well, symbols of the distinction of your order."
The investiture comes to an end and the newly appointed Honorary Doctor is embraced by the Rector, who declares: : "Because you have joined our class, receive this fraternity embrace from all those that feel honoured and congratulated for being your brothers and colleagues". The newly appointed Honorary Doctor is then embraced by his/her guarantor. All take seat.
The Rector declares: "Mr./Mrs. ... has the floor." The Honorary Doctor reads his/her speech.
The round of speeches returns to the Rector and, next, the Chairmanship takes part. Alter this speech, the Secretary General declares: "All rise". All rise and the Doctors take off their ceremonial caps.
Finally, the Rector ends the ceremony by declaring: "The session is closed" and University Orpheum sings "GAUDEAMUS IGITUR". After the canticle, all present exit the auditorium inversely to their order of entrance.