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Honorary degrees have a long and illustrious history.
Universities in Europe began granting degrees "for the sake of the honor" (honoris causa) in the 15th century, and the first such degree was awarded at Oxford in the 1470s to the future Bishop of Salisbury. These were essentially academic peerages, entitling the recipient to full privileges in the university, privileges that were much more extensive then than now. At the same time universities conferred degrees on certain scholars who had not kept residence or met the usual requirements (exams, etc.), but whose career achievements warranted such recognition. The individual or the university may initiate the review of a career portfolio to determine its equivalence to an earned degree. A panel of examiners usually issues the verdict. In practice it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a degree for a non-resident scholar is thus substantive, warranting the title Dr., or more honorary, and thus not entitling the recipient to be known as Dr. Both Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson, however, held honorary doctorates but referred to themselves as "Doctor," implying that they regarded theirs as a substantive degree. The Archbishop of Canterbury can confer degrees, and many academies and learned societies award fellowships in recognition of distinguished achievement.
At the University of Wyoming, an honorary degree recognizes individuals who reflect the university's high ideals and values and exemplify the concepts of excellence, service, and integrity. These degrees recognize distinguished accomplishments in the professions, sciences, arts, humanities, public service, and service to humanity. Degrees awarded honoris causa are among the highest honors a university can confer.