As rapper Ye’s (formerly Kanye West) incendiary rants become more offensive and unhinged, brands and institutions that once platformed and lauded the celebrity are hastening to put distance between themselves and his virulently antisemitic propagandizing. From the October termination of his relationship with Adidas, which also owns the rights to the Yeezy brand — a projected loss of €250 million (~$246 million), according to Vulture — to getting dropped by Balenciaga, Gap, and even his own agency, CAA, Ye’s landscape is littered with burned bridges and hate speech.
Now the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has joined the scrum on the heels of West’s December 1 display of Hitler enthusiasm on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s InfoWars podcast. This was apparently the last straw for SAIC, who has rescinded the honorary doctorate degree it awarded Ye in 2015.
“The School of the Art Institute of Chicago condemns and repudiates Kanye West’s (now know as Ye) anti-Black, antisemitic, racist and dangerous statements, particularly those directed at Black and Jewish communities,” school spokesperson Bree Witt said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “Ye’s actions do not align with SAIC’s mission and values.”
The original decision to offer Ye an honorary degree was already seen as somewhat controversial at the time. In its 2015 announcement, SAIC called the rapper “an advocate for education, and a thinker and maker who often uses his work — his lyrics, videos, performances, and fashion designs — to deconstruct stereotypes and spur cultural discourse” (although as Hyperallergic pointed out, Ye had just given an interview in which he said things like “racism is a dated concept.”)
Now, SAIC clearly does not want to find themselves the last institution standing by someone so blatantly in the wrong that even Elon Musk has seen fit to suspend their Twitter account following a post that featured a swastika combined with a star of David.
The decision to rescind the degree was perhaps in part motivated by a petition circulated by a group calling itself Against Hate at SAIC, with more than 4,100 signatories by the time the request was honored.
“This award bestows the legitimacy and luster of the School on a figure who has in recent months made repeated public statements expressing and justifying anti-semitism,” read the petition. “Regardless of his contributions prior to receipt of this award, it is harmful to allow Ye, as he is presently known, to continue to use the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to help legitimize hatred and violence.”
Ye has really become persona non grata everywhere but Truth Social, the social media platform started by former president Donald Trump. Peloton has banned his music from all classes, Vogue condemned his behavior towards journalist Gabriella Karefa-Johnson over his “White Lives Matter” antics at Paris Fashion Week this fall, and numerous other lucrative brand contracts have fallen to pieces over his seeming determination to prioritize antisemitic rhetoric over anything else.
While it’s absolutely correct that everyone who chose to affiliate themselves with Ye is doing their best to dissolve those relationships, the retraction of his honorary degree is, like the degree itself, more symbolic than impactful. At whatever point an institution of higher learning is willing to give you a degree without demanding either work or money in exchange, it’s pretty likely that the doors of the world are already open for you.