Laurie A. Recht, a legal secretary in New York, received encomiums from the press and various and sundry others for endorsing the court-ordered plan for integrated housing in Yonkers last year. In fact, when Ms. Recht was the only speaker in favor of the integration proposal at an open hearing, arguing that the City Council in defying the court order “was doing something illegal, immoral, and unethical,” she was informally nominated by the media as the champion of compliance and good sense in what was otherwise a vitriolic and divisive argument.

After her triumphant speech Ms. Recht claimed she was harassed by crank callers who left nasty messages on her answering machine and by someone who sprayed a swastika on the wall outside the apartment of her Yonkers residence. In addition, she claimed to have received death threats by mail after speaking in favor of the scattered-site low income housing project in the predominantly white neighborhood of East Yonkers. She described these acts against her as “cowardly” conduct “by insecure people who don’t have to guts to discuss the issue or face me.”

For her outspokenness and courage in the face of threats and for being “the lone voice of reason,” according to a New York newspaper, Ms. Recht was granted an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the College of New Rochelle last May 29. At the commencement Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, president of the college, said this incident in Yonkers recalled Pope John XXIII saying that people who address inequities are “far too few in number, yet they are deserving of the highest recognition from society.” Ms. Recht was given a standing ovation from faculty members and students.

After the degree was conferred, a police investigation uncovered the culprit behind Ms. Recht’s harassment: Ms. Recht. The police report indicated that she sent herself the death threats, recorded the crank calls, and probably painted the swastika in her hallway. It was also argued that Ms. Recht’s testimony at the open hearing was designed for self-aggrandizement.

If that was Ms. Recht’s goal, she certainly achieved it. However, the real question that emerges from this incident is why the College of New Rochelle reacted with such haste to confer an honorary degree. The most sensible answer is that the college was eager to use an honor as a way of making a highly political judgment.

One could say the Recht case has its analogue in the Joyce Brown (AKA Billie Boggs) case. After winning her suit against New York City for illegal detainment as a public nuisance. Brown was invited to speak at Harvard University. Ms. Brown was not given an honorary degree, but she was honored by faculty members and students and she was offered a forum for her views that included television coverage. Two months after this appearance at Harvard, Ms. Brown was arrested for selling drugs and was subsequently apprehended for harassing passersby on the street.

If any condition exemplifies the ideological ardor on campus, it is the urge to honor those whose views fall neatly into the institutional catechism. And if ever one needed a justification for cynicism about what transpires at our campuses, here it is.