King’s has officially rescinded the honorary degree awarded to the Sultan of Brunei in 2011, a result of anti-LGBT legislation being passed in the country that “collided with values and freedoms which are upheld and championed at King’s.”
On the 4th of April, the LGBTQ+ Staff Network, Proudly King’s wrote an open letter to the King’s College Council, demanding the revocation of the Sultan’s degree, a condemnation of Brunei’s new penal code and an apology to the LGBT community for distressed caused by KCL’s lack of urgency while dealing with the situation. The letter was posted alongside a petition highlighting the community’s demands, which received 5,242 signatures.
King’s College London’s Student Union stood in solidarity with the LGBT community and openly condemned Brunei’s new penal code. In a statement, KCLSU said: “In 2014, KCLSU officers and KCLSU’s Student Council called on King’s to revoke the honorary degree which it had conferred on the Sultan of Brunei in 2011. A King’s spokesperson said at the time that this degree was awarded ‘for his lifelong commitment to higher education.’
“We believe that a commitment to higher education must include a commitment to higher education for all, including the LGBT+ community.”
On the 24th of April, King’s students received an open letter from the Chairman of King’s College Council which condemned Brunei’s legislation. It reaffirmed that it would formally review the honorary doctorate awarded to the Sultan. The Fellowships and Honorary Degrees Committee recommended a course of action to Council, which the Sultan was invited to respond to.
On the 6th of June, King’s officially released a statement announcing that the Sultan’s honorary doctorate had been rescinded. It said: “The willingness of the Sultan of Brunei to inflict death by stoning and other egregious penalties upon individuals in Brunei simply because of who they are or whom they love provoked real anguish within our community.
“The Council met on 3 June to consider a recommendation from the Fellowships and Honorary Degrees Committee that the award be rescinded. That recommendation was approved. Accordingly, the decision has now been communicated to His Majesty and will take immediate effect.”
In a similar course of events, Oxford University decided to review the honorary degree it had granted to the Sultan in 1993, following a petition with 120,000 signatures demanding the same. While it was under review, the Sultan decided to return the degree.
Although King’s has issued a statement in support of its LGBTQ+ community, its lackadaisical fashion of dealing with the community’s concerns has raised many eyebrows. It also raises pertinent questions that scrutinise problems within the system, such as the basis for granting honorary degrees. Proudly King’s addressed these complexities in their open letter, where they stated that “an urgent review of the process for the award of honorary degrees, with a focus on the ethical implications of any individual award, and the effect on the King’s community” was required.
King’s has yet to address these issues.