Texas Tech University Should Grant a Posthumous Honorary Degree to Timothy Brian Cole

  • by: Fred B. McKinley
  • recipient: Dr. M. Duane Nellis, President, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
  • Timothy Brian Cole, a young African-American veteran and student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX, was wrongfully convicted in 1986 of a brutal rape that he did not commit. While serving a 25-year sentence, he died in prison in 1999, at the age of 39.
  • When the Lubbock Police Department made the unjust arrest, without any physical evidence whatsoever, Texas Tech asked both Tim and his brother, Reggie Kennard, to leave the University.
  • After Tim's death, DNA evidence proved his innocence, some 13 years after the actual rapist began trying to confess his guilt.
  • Extraordinary legal measures were then brought to bear, and finally Tim was totally vindicated, exonerated, and pardoned.
  • It is time for Texas Tech University to grant to Tim Cole a posthumous honorary degree. It is not a matter of whether they were wrong then; it is simply a matter of doing the right thing now.


Click the petition link just above to see the full details of Tim's tragic story.

Timothy Brian Cole, a Texas Tech University student, was unjustly arrested for the brutal rape of Michele Jean Murray-Mallin that occurred in Lubbock on March 24–25, 1985. He was tried, wrongfully convicted without a single shred of physical evidence, ordered to serve 25 years, but during the thirteenth year of his sentence, he died in prison on December 02, 1999.


On the day before his trial began, Tim was offered a plea bargain if he would only admit guilt. He refused, because he knew that he was innocent. Later, his parole board offered to release him--but he refused, because he did not want to admit to a crime he did not commit. Furthermore, he said that he would rather spend his entire life behind bars rather than see his name on a sex offenders list and then have to constantly look over his shoulder.


Texas Tech University has refused in the past to grant a posthumous honorary degree to Tim Cole. The following paragraphs outline their reasons why—and then, we provide the justification as to why they should.


In a letter to Fred B. McKinley, the petition sponsor, dated September 01, 2011, Mr. Ben Lock, Executive Assistant to the Chancellor & Secretary of the Board of Regents, wrote, "The posthumous award of a degree is done only in cases where a student had completed most of the coursework required for the degree but passed before completing the remaining few courses needed to graduate.” He continued, "That was not the case with Mr. Cole."


We, the petitioners, argue that soon after Tim Cole’s arrest on April 10, 1985Texas Tech University asked both Mr. Cole, who held a sophomore standing at the time, and his brother, Reginald Kennard, who was also enrolled at that juncture, to leave the University. Therefore, due to the combined actions of the Lubbock Police Department and Texas Tech University, Tim Cole, through no fault of his own, was unable to complete the necessary coursework outlined in Mr. Lock's letter dated September 01, 2011. 


Furthermore, according to Mr. Lock, “There is a process and a set of standards and criteria set out in Board policies” for the granting of a degree—with “the clear emphasis  . . . on distinguished and outstanding achievements by the honorary degree candidate. A candidate for an honorary degree must be evaluated on that person’s scholarly, creative, professional, service or occupational achievements.”


The current set of Texas Tech University’s Regents' Rules, Chapter 12 – Honorifics and Seals, approved and amended on August 09, 2013, includes a section that specifically pertains to honorary degrees, which is covered under Section 12.04 (12.04.1), bottom of page 2, ending on page 5 (12.04.10). We, the petitioners, argue that nothing contained therein mentions any requirement that in order for a former student to be considered, he/she must have completed a majority of the coursework toward an intended degree.


We, the petitioners, argue that both during his short life of freedom, and long after his death, Tim Cole’s service to the criminal justice system as a whole, to the State of Texas, and the entire nation is so immense and critically important that it most assuredly fulfills all of the required criteria used by Texas Tech University and the Regents' Rules to bestow honorary degrees, and specifically to Timothy Brian Cole.


Listed below are several unique accomplishments:



  • Tim Cole served his country in the United States Army and was granted an honorable discharge on September 02, 1985.

  • While he was in prison waiting on justice to prevail, Tim Cole donated money to worthy causes, and he also enrolled at Elkins Institute of Dallas and completed a correspondence course that earned for him a certificate in Small Business Entrepreneurship.

  • For the first time in Texas history, a little-known provision in the Texas Constitution, which allows for the calling of a Court of Inquiry, was used by Jeff Blackburn, founder and chief legal counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, to seek justice on behalf of an innocent person. DNA evidence and testimony were presented to the Honorable Charles Baird of the 299th District Court of Texas, who issued on April 07, 2009, a full and formal vindication of Tim Cole, who became the first person in Texas and United States history to be posthumously exonerated by DNA.

  • Tim was the first person in Texas history to receive a posthumous pardon. This action was made possible only as a result of a ruling by Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General, which gave the governor the power to grant “posthumous pardons.” Otherwise, that specific power would have required a constitutional amendment. Governor Rick Perry signed Tim’s posthumous pardon on March 01, 2010.

  • With the passage of the Tim Cole Act by the Texas Legislature, exonerees of wrongful convictions receive $80,000 for each year of confinement through annuities that provide a life-time of income; educational benefits; and other programs designed to help them better assimilate into society.

  • The Tim Cole case resulted in the passage of the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. After several months of study, the panel recommended that the Texas Legislature adopt new standards in “eyewitness” procedures; in the manner that interrogations are conducted; and in the ordering of DNA testing. During a previous session, the Legislature passed these much-needed reforms which have become state law.

  • Deserving applicants will now receive an education provided by a $100,000 scholarship in Tim Cole’s name at the Texas Tech School of Law.

  • A State Historical Marker—the first of its type honoring a wrongfully-convicted person—was placed near Tim’s grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth, Texas.

  • A 13-foot statue of Tim Cole was placed on park land donated by City of Lubbock near where Michele Murray’s abduction occurred at 1500 University.  This statue is the first of its type honoring a wrongfully-convicted person.


 In summary, it is now up to Texas Tech University to do the right thing, as did Judge Charles Baird of the 299th District Court of Texas, the Texas Legislature, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Governor Rick Perry, various entities of law enforcement, the Texas Historical Commission, Mount Olivet Cemetery, and the City of Lubbock. 


Texas Tech, please grant an immediate posthumous honorary degree to Timothy Brian Cole.

Update #54 years ago
Thanks to your support, Tim will receive his degree, but we’re not stopping there. Tim’s story can help elevate the injustices of the wrongly convicted, so we’re urging President Obama to grant the Medal of Freedom to Tim, in recognition of his contributions to a justice system that he never gave up on. Sign and share the new petition today!
Update #44 years ago
WE DID IT!!! Texas Tech will award an honorary degree to Timothy Cole! Tim is finally getting the degree he was denied due to this injustice. We’re grateful that TTU is doing the right thing for his family, and his legacy. Tweet your thanks to TTU or write on their FB wall.
Update #34 years ago
Thanks for supporting Tim's legacy! To learn the complete story behind the campaign for Tim's posthumous honorary degree, get a copy of author Fred B. McKinley's book titled, A PLEA FOR JUSTICE: The Timothy Cole Story, available on Amazon.
Update #24 years ago
From his prison cell, an innocent Tim Cole wrote, "I still believe in the justice system, even though it does not believe in me." Let's band together and convince Texas Tech to grant Tim a posthumous honorary degree. Sign, share our petition, and then send Dr. Duane Nellis, Texas Tech President, a separate e-mail and tell him how you feel. His address is: duane.nellis@ttu.edu
Update #14 years ago
Every major paper in Texas, and now even the New York Times, have shared the story about our petition to have Texas Tech grant Tim Cole a posthumous honorary degree. HELP KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING: Sign and share the petition right now! Let's top 40K people urging Texas Tech to do the right thing. Thanks for your efforts - We can make this happen! And please, send Dr. Duane Nellis, Texas Tech President, a separate e-mail and tell him how you feel. Send to: duane.nellis@ttu.edu
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