Old Trinity: A 90-degree university

A QUICK look at the 2010 Statutes reveals the remarkable number of degrees which the University of Dublin awards or has awarded in the past. Just over 90 different degrees are listed, ranging from the venerable BA to odd new creations like the BStSu (bachelor in deaf studies, or baccalaureus in studiis surditatis). And this doesn’t include the various licentiates once awarded by the university, or the lucrative diplomas which the college hands out.
All of the university’s degrees are associated with a colourful hood. Along with the hoods, bachelors and masters both have distinct gowns, and doctors wear colourful gowns in the colours of their degree’s hood.
Several of our degrees are no longer awarded. The bachelor in veterinary medicine and the bachelor in agriculture, among others, lost out during rationalisation in the late 1960s, when these schools moved to UCD. And the DD, as I noted in a recent column, seems to have been abandoned for no particular reason.
The proliferation of degrees seems to have little logic behind it. There’s the bachelor in science, for example, and then many versions of it: the BSc (Hum Nut), the BSc (Syst Inf), and so on, each with its own multiple-word Latin name. Several other degrees have similar parenthetical variations. Why these degrees had to be created is a mystery: perhaps it was thought that a specially named degree would more easily attract candidates.
The university survived quite well until the mid-19th century with just 10 degrees: these were BA, MA, BD, DD, LLB, LLD, MB, MD, MusB and MusD – arts, divinity, law, medicine and music, respectively. Degrees in surgery and obstetrics were the first additions to this list. The need for honorary degrees to award at the tercentenary in 1892 then led to the introduction of the LittD and ScD (letters and science). These degrees were also a response to the disappearance of clerical Fellows, who would previously have been content with the DD.
The most popular doctorate is now the doctor in philosophy, but this was not available until 1920. Dublin University agreed with other UK universities to introduce this degree in response to American pressure – students from the United States wanted the magic letters PhD after their names. Despite this the award proved initially unpopular, and even in the mid-1940s only 10 a year were being taken. (Oxford, interestingly, awards a DPhil rather than a PhD.)
While most graduates earned their degrees via study here at Trinity College, there are several other ways of taking a DU degree. These can usually be recognised by italicised letters after the degree.
Degrees honoris causa are honorary degrees, and these are usually one of the higher doctorates, but sometimes the MA. These are handed out to a lucky few every year to recognise the recipients’ contributions to learning, society, culture or the university.
The jure officii degree – usually the MA – is relatively common. These are usually taken by graduates of other universities who take up academic posts at this university. Members of staff with more than 40 years’ employment in the college are also eligible to apply for a j.o. degree.
The Calendar always points out honorary degrees – have a look to see if any of your lecturers have h.c. noted after a doctorate. For some reason MAs j.o. are just given as MA, making it impossible to know if someone has upgraded his Dublin B to an M, or if he has been awarded the degree jure officii.
A degree jure dignitatis can be awarded to a Trinity alumnus who has distinguished himself in his area of expertise. These seem to have been forgotten in recent years, but judges and bishops were once regularly admitted to degrees in this way.
Another often-forgotten route to a DU degree is via Oxford or Cambridge. A degree ad eundem gradum (usually abbreviated ad eund Oxon or ad eund Cantab, depending on the degree holder’s original university) may be taken here by graduates of either of these ancient universities. An Oxbridge graduate is entitled to take the same degree in Dublin – though not a doctorate, and subject to a large fee – if he joins the college’s academic staff or plans to read for a higher degree here. You may also do the same with your Dublin degree at those universities.
All of this is obscure to the modern student. But in 1935 it was the subject of satire in the undergraduate periodical TCD: A College Miscellany. LJD Richardson, MA 1916, who went by the pen-name El Jadir, wrote regular satirical pieces under the title Episodes in the History of Trinity College, Dublin. In one he noted the existence of other methods of obtaining a degree, among which you may recognise your own.
El Jadir suggested alieno capite – by impersonation – not an easy one for a non-twin to pull off. There may be a few holders of the codicillis celatis degree – with the help of notes secretly introduced to the Examination Hall. Many can boast a BA interventione Caeli ­– by a miracle. And how many claim a degree vicini contaminatione – by copying from a neighbour’s answer book? You can read El Jadir’s full list at trinitynews.ie/oldtrinity.

THE SOCIETY of St Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 to serve the poor of Paris. A Catholic charitable organisation, it was founded by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, and named after the 17th-century saint Vincent de Paul.
The group’s “SVP” logo is well known. So why does the Dublin University St Vincent de Paul Society, which was founded in 1975, use the strange three-letter acronym “VDP”? Is it to avoid the word “saint”?
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