Leeds emeritus professor rejects CBE

January 5, 1996

A prominent academic has turned down a CBE because he says the honours system perpetuates inequality and is undemocratic.

Gordon McGregor, emeritus professor of education at Leeds University, who taught for several years in post-colonial Africa and was on the United Kingdom commission for Unesco, also objects to being awarded the title "Commander of the Order of the British Empire".

Professor McGregor said it was important that people were given the arguments against accepting honours. He believes that there should be a national honours system that recognises merit, but says the current system is "distributed largely according to social status".

"This year as usual the lowest awards include craftsmen and gardeners," he said. "One or two steps up for teachers, nurses, junior officials and sports stars; up again for top civil servants, junior politicians and university professors. Some of the highest awards are for that most esteemed activity of our wealth-obsessed society - making money."

Professor McGregor argues that it is inappropriate for honours that are awarded for merit to be associated with royalty. He says that: "In Ireland and South Africa we have examples of elected presidents with no wealth but with real distinction, limited powers and wide opportunities for good influence. I would gladly accept public acknowledgement from such a leader."

In a letter to the Prime Minister, responding to the offer of a CBE, Professor McGregor said that the honours system "helps to entrench the unnecessary sense of class and hierarchy which so inhibits and divides our society".

Professor McGregor was formerly the principal of the university college of Ripon and York St John.

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