Kenyon: Who Dartmouth considers worthy of honor

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 06-07-2024 7:01 PM

Modified: 06-10-2024 3:38 PM


I can think of 92 reasons why graduates at Dartmouth College’s 2024 commencement ceremony on Sunday might want to walk out in protest.

The first 91 are easy to identify. It’s the number of people, including 67 students and five staff members, President Sian Leah Beilock’s regime has had arrested for criminal trespass at peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus during the 2023-24 academic year.

Reason No. 92 isn’t as obvious, and Dartmouth prefers to keep it that way. I’m talking about the honorary degree that Dartmouth is bestowing Sunday on an alum named Richard Ranger.

In announcing this year’s nine honorary degree recipients, Dartmouth glossed over the fact that Ranger spent 43 years in the oil and gas industry. The college failed to mention that for the last 19 years of his career, Ranger worked for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top lobbying group. Ranger was a senior policy analyst and advisor for the 600-member API, as it’s known. API is to the fossil fuel industry what the NRA is to gun manufacturers. Not much happens in Washington or state capitals without API throwing its weight — and money — around to press Big Oil’s views.

In 2021, the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists had this to say about Ranger’s longtime employer: “For decades, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has been a powerful force against US action on climate change. Representing the interests of its oil and gas company members, API has a long and ugly history of spreading disinformation on climate science and lobbying heavily to oppose any limits on climate pollution from burning fossil fuels.

“API is unequivocally a clear and present danger to public health and the environment.”

Ranger, who was overseeing API’s Arctic drilling strategy, claimed in 2012 that the Obama Administration’s energy policies were hurting America. “This has cost jobs, energy production and revenue to our government,” Ranger said, advocating for more drilling on federal lands, at a press briefing. “This undermines America’s energy security and deprives the nation of a much needed spur to job creation and economic growth.”

Ordinarily, shilling for an industry that’s bent on destroying the climate for its own financial gain would automatically disqualify someone from receiving an honorary doctorate degree at a prestigious school.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hanover to temporarily close portion of Allen Street to vehicles
Young bear spotted relaxing on a hammock in a Vermont yard
Dollar store under construction in Royalton
Mother bear euthanized, cubs sent to rehab facility after close encounters in Bartlett, N.H.
Bike Week at Weirs Beach is for old leather and new friends
Protests of president punctuate rainy graduation for Dartmouth’s Class of ’24

But after Dartmouth took an $80 million greenwashing gift from Irving Oil and the family behind one of Canada’s largest conglomerates in 2016, the college must have figured there’s nothing unsavory about honoring a disciple of the fossil fuel industry.

Except in Ranger’s case, another red flag pops up.

Since 2021, Ranger has been on the faculty at Uganda Christian University, where he teaches and advises law and business students. Ranger and his wife, Catherine, who both have law degrees, are missionaries and live on the campus of the university, which was started in the 1990s by the Church of Uganda.

What makes Ranger’s association with a church-run university in East Africa a problem?

For starters, there’s Uganda Christian University’s policy spelled out on its website that says, “We shall shun all sexual immorality, polygamy, adultery, fornication and homosexual practice.”

Last year, Uganda enacted one of world’s harshest anti-gay laws, which includes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

After the legislation passed, Stephen Kaziimba, who serves as both the country’s archbishop and Uganda Christian University chancellor, said the church opposes the death penalty but would “recommend life imprisonment instead.”

With it being pretty clear the country’s persecution of gays has the blessing of Uganda Christian University, I wanted to hear from Ranger. “As a missionary currently serving in Uganda under he Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, I do not comment for attribution on legal or political matters arising in the country where I serve,” he said in statement released through Dartmouth this week in response to my inquiry.

“It is possible for Christians to disagree on one element or another of doctrine, yet still work together on mutually agreeable goals,” he added.

I took that to mean Uganda’s anti-gay law and the support it receives from the university where he lives and works wasn’t a deal-breaker for Ranger.

This week, I reached out to Dartmouth history professor Bethany Moreton. I’d heard that she was among the faculty questioning Ranger’s selection.

Climate change and the persecution of gays are issues that can worry her students the most, Moreton said. “The college is saluting someone who has dedicated his life to making their lives worse,” she told me.

After working for decades promoting an industry bent on “climate destruction,” Moreton said, Ranger is now spending his retirement years “promoting an anti-gay, anti-trans belief system.”

“Which of those two makes him worthy of an honorary degree?” she asked.

A Dartmouth Alumni Council committee nominated Ranger, college spokeswoman Jana Barnello said. The college’s Council on Honorary Degrees, which includes a half dozen faculty members, selects the recipients in consultation with the president and board of trustees.

How did Ranger make the cut? He’s a loyal alum, serving as the Class of 1974 newsletter editor for 40 years and recently worked with Dartmouth engineering students on a solar energy project in Uganda.

“Receiving an honorary degree does not imply Dartmouth’s endorsement of a recipient’s political views or opinions, nor the views of that person’s home government or employer,” Barnello said.

Dartmouth’s website says honorary degree nominees should include individuals from marginalized groups such as “members of the LGBTQIA+ community” and serve as “role models” for graduates.

If Ranger wants to teach at a homophobic university after devoting his career to pumping up the destructive oil industry, that’s his choice.

But unlike Dartmouth, I don’t see the honor in it.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.