Be careful whom you honor. The Swedish Academy gave its Nobel Prize in Literature to Gunter Grass, at the time generally recognized as Germany’s most important postwar novelist, and, in certain ways, its social conscience. But Grass had left something important out of his vita, namely that he served late in World War II as a member of the SS. That news made things look a little different. Too late, though. You can take certain things back, but not, at least so far, Nobel Prizes.
Honorary academic degrees normally attract little attention. I’ve never quite been able to figure out what they’re for, since, unless they’re given to past or prospective donors, there is no necessary connection between the institutions that grant them and those who receive them. The general idea, though, is that both backs get scratched a little. The institution basks in someone else’s fame, possibly fleeting, or the recipient is associated with a place more or less reputable.
It seems harmless. But sometimes there’s blowback. Such was, and is, the case with the degree granted Rudy Giuliani by Drexel’s then-Mack School of Law in 2009. There was no good reason to grant it to Giuliani twelve years ago. There is every reason, and necessity, to withdraw it now, and no conceivable reason not to, unless Drexel wants to align itself in perpetuity with the man who most publicly assisted, abetted, and to a significant degree orchestrated the recent attempt to overthrow the Constitution of the United States.
Giuliani started out as a liberal Democrat who voted for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. Seeing a career opportunity, he abruptly embraced Reagan Republicanism after 1980, and was rewarded, first with the Assistant Attorney-Generalship of the Justice Department, and then as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in which latter capacity he won a name for himself prosecuting Mafia crime families (but also the reproach of erstwhile mentors and allies for prosecutorial overreach and misconduct). On a second try, he was elected mayor of New York, and was given credit for reducing the city’s crime rate through aggressive stop-and-frisk policing that grossly violated minority rights, and, in several notorious cases, resulted in torture and homicide. (The crime rate in the city had in fact already been declining steadily.)
Then came 9/11. Giuliani appeared to rally the city and even the country in its aftermath, and Oprah Winfrey declared him “America’s mayor.” A more careful analysis of his performance showed not heroism, however, but gross negligence and misjudgment before the event, indifference to the health and safety of first responders and New Yorkers generally, betrayal and contempt for the afflicted and the dead, and personal profiteering on a grand scale.
The World Trade Center had been attacked by terrorists before, in 1993. Despite its evident vulnerability and against all expert advice, Giuliani insisted on locating the city’s Office of Emergency Management—its essential command and control structure—in the Center, along with a large quantity of flammable fuel. After 9/11, Giuliani tried to place the blame for this decision, which had been wholly his, on the head of the OME director, Jerome Hauer, only to be publicly confronted with Hauer’s eight-page memorandum opposing it.
The 1993 attack also revealed the wretched obsolescence of the Fire Department’s radio communications. Giuliani refused all requests to modernize them, with the result that the equipment failed when 343 firefighters were ordered to evacuate the burning towers eight years later and never received the command, trapping them fatally. Giuliani subsequently lied to the 9/11 investigative commission, saying that the firefighters had refused to evacuate but insisted on continuing to remain in the burning buildings. Their deaths, with those of many others they might have helped lead to safety, were on his head. So, in addition, were those of first responders tasked with cleaning up the WTC site, who lacked adequate protection gear, including respirators (which Giuliani discouraged, as presenting a bad image). Instead, resisting attempts by federal agencies to evaluate health conditions in the city, Giuliani insisted that the air around the site, and for New Yorkers generally, was safe. It was not. New Yorkers continue to die prematurely from their exposure to lethal chemicals to the present day. Giuliani has never acknowledged or taken responsibility for these additional deaths, whose full tally may never be known. But perhaps the ugliest aspect of the story was his haste, after gold and silver deposits in the World Trade wreckage had been fully recovered, to remove the remains of still-unidentified victims, including firemen, who were in some cases deposited in Staten Island’s aptly-named Fresh Kills Landfill.
That was the man Drexel honored in 2009.
The man who betrayed his city has gone on to betray his country. As lead counsel for his then-law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, he defended PurduePharma, the company whose relentless promotion of opioids triggered the deadliest drug epidemic of the past generation. He worked to discredit the Mueller Report. He ran shotgun for Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden, a blow against the American electoral system that resulted in Trump’s first impeachment. Giuliani’s own multifarious contacts in Ukraine included ones with, among others, Dymytry Firtash, characterized by the U.S. Justice Department as an “upper echelon” associate of “Russian organized crime.” Giuliani himself is currently under investigation for, among other things, bribery, money laundering, obstruction of justice, mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and failure to register as a foreign agent—by the Southern District of New York, the court he once headed.
All that, though, pales beside Giuliani’s efforts to discredit the result of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, including more than five dozen state and federal lawsuits brought by him and dismissed with astonishment and contempt in court after court. Nor was this merely Rudy’s personal sideshow, but part of a concerted effort to overturn the election, capped at last by the funding and deployment of the armed mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to prevent the certification of the election by Congress itself. That mob, shortly before it moved on the Hill, had been addressed by Giuliani himself, whose message to it was, “Let’s have trial by combat.”
That wasn’t mail fraud. It was treason.
The next day, President Brennan O’Donnell of Manhattan College condemned its alumnus, Rudy Giuliani, as among “the loudest voices fueling the anger, hatred, and violence” that drove the Capitol mob, calling his conduct “a repudiation of the deepest values of his alma mater.”
Four days later, the New York State Bar Association, responding to hundreds of complaints, initiated proceedings to remove Giuliani from its membership. On the same day, a suit for his disbarment was filed with the New York State Supreme Court. The day after that, Middlebury College revoked its own honorary degree to Giuliani, describing his behavior as “an insurrection against democracy itself.”
From Drexel? A near-unanimous resolution to withdraw Giuliani’s degree from its Faculty Senate, seconded by a resolution from the Executive Committee of Drexel’s AAUP Chapter, a petition from the Law School’s student body, and a letter from a group of emeritus faculty. And, after, two full months, complete silence from the University administration, the Board of Trustees, and, not least, the Law School itself.
Does bad news just go away when you don’t respond to it? For Drexel’s own upper echelon, the answer is apparently yes.
My favorite characterization of Giuliani’s legal team in Pennsylvania was that of State Attorney-General Josh Shapiro, who called its members “nutballs.”
Is that how Drexel wants to rebrand itself now? As Nutball University?