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Boston University criticized for timing of release of new policy on conferring degrees posthumously

A pedestrian walked by the Boston University campus on April 20Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

Boston University was criticized on social media Wednesday for the timing of an announcement about a new policy over the conferring of degrees posthumously just as students prepare to return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A university spokesman quickly apologized.

“This policy is not a result of the pandemic and we sincerely apologize for the insensitive timing of the announcement,” BU spokesman Colin Riley said in a statement.

BU had been working to develop a standard policy on the awarding of degrees for people who die in their final semester of coursework, according to Riley.

Families of students who have died frequently ask about posthumous degrees, but in the past “these requests have been processed on a case-by-case basis without clear guidelines or transparency,” he said.


Riley said the Boston University Council approved the degree policy in the spring, but it has been under discussion since 2013.

After the council adopts new policies, BU publishes them in the summer, and the protocol on posthumous degrees was one of more than a dozen published Tuesday, Riley said.

“This is a normal practice at the university to update and enact new policies in the spring, and this policy, which we had not had in place before but had been discussing, was being looked at back in January and is unrelated to the current pandemic,” Riley said by phone. “It’s unfortunate it’s been misconstrued, and we apologize for that.”

An outcry broke out on social media Wednesday, The Daily Free Press, the university’s independent student newspaper, published a report and shared it on Twitter

Under the published policy, students who have died will be awarded posthumous degrees if they were in good academic standing in their degree programs and were on track to complete their course work and other degree requirements.


Graduate students must have completed their coursework and have been near completion of a research paper or creative product that would have met their department’s standards. Those who don’t meet the standards for a posthumous degree but had made progress toward a diploma may be awarded a certificate of academic achievement.

The Daily Free Press published a report on the policy early Wednesday afternoon and followed it with a series of tweets.

Given the timing of the announcement, some Twitter users expressed doubt that the protocol was unrelated to the pandemic.

“What a coincidence!” tweeted @StoryofAhQ

“Suuure, and the moon is made out of cheese,” read a tweet from @SPTO

Others posted memes and movie quotes mocking the policy.

Steve Annear of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him @jeremycfox.