Ronald W. Bailey of the Department of African American Studies and Antoinette Burton of The Humanities Institute nominated Dr. Lonnie Bunch III to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Illinois in 2020. Covid-19 delayed Dr. Bunch's visit to campus until this year's 2022 Commencement. In addition to receiving the honorary degree, Dr. Bunch was hosted at a lunch and tour of the Spurlock Museum.
Bunch's nomination letter stated: "Lonnie Bunch III made history when he was the first African American named Secretary of the Smithsonian Institutions. In that capacity, he oversees the most prestigious and arguably most comprehensive museum complexes in the world. His portfolio includes 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers, and several education units and centers. The Smithsonian, as this complex is commonly referred to, hosts upward of 30 million visitors a year and has an annual budget of $1.2 million. Previously, Bunch was the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. When he started as director in July 2005, he had one staff member, no collections, no funding and no site for a museum. Driven by optimism, determination and commitment to build “a place that would make America better,” Bunch transformed a vision into a bold reality. The museum has welcomed more than 6 million visitors since it opened in September 2016 and compiled a collection of 40,000 objects that are housed in the first “green building” on the National Mall."