Northern Illinois University officials demurred in November when they were asked about the honorary law degree the university had awarded to J. Dennis Hastert in 1999.
At the time, NIU board member Robert Boey, the only trustee who was on the board when Hastert received the honor, said he would hesitate to strip him of it “unless we really know the details.”
Now we know the details of this sad story. Hastert, in the words of federal Judge Thomas M. Durkin, is a “serial child molester,” who sexually abused several boys who competed on wrestling teams that he coached at Yorkville High School. His abuse left young people tormented, even years after they had grown into adulthood. In some cases, it set them on a path to destruction.
Hastert, 74, of Yorkville, knew what he had done was repugnant and was willing to pay millions to keep it secret. At Hastert’s sentencing hearing Wednesday, two victims spoke out about how the abuse had affected their lives.
Not long after, Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison. That is not punishment enough, however.
Hastert lived for decades without having to face what he did. He rose in stature to become one of the most powerful people in America, serving as speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, something that never would have happened had the public known what he had done to those boys.
Another part of his punishment should be stripping him of the honors he accumulated while concealing this secret.
Already, his portrait has been removed from the speaker’s lobby at the Capitol. His name has been erased from public places, including from the Public Policy Center at Wheaton College, his alma mater.
It is time Hastert’s name also was removed from the list of those who have received honorary degrees from NIU. He no longer is fit to be listed alongside the likes of former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, astronomer Carl Sagan, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, and others who have been honored by the university.
NIU must rescind the honorary doctor of laws degree it awarded Hastert. It need not be quiet about doing so, as it was when it removed the image of Bill Cosby from the wall of the Convocation Center.
The board should let the world know it is stripping Hastert of this honor, and any others it might have afforded him in the past.