Bill Clinton, John Sexton visit NYU to receive degrees from Israeli university

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton and ex-NYU president John Sexton were awarded honorary degrees from the Israeli University of Haifa for achievements in their respective fields.


Kevin Wu

Bill Clinton, president of the University of Haifa Ron Robin and the faculties of the University of Haifa. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

Yezen Saadah, Deputy News Editor

Bill Clinton visited NYU alongside former university president John Sexton on Monday to attend a ceremony in which they were awarded honorary degrees from an Israeli university. Clinton was recognized for his commitment to social and economic sustainability and his support for Israel and “Mideast coexistence,” while Sexton was awarded the degree for his work in promoting diversity in education and championing academic excellence.

Both leaders were presented doctorates of philosophy, honoris causa, from the University of Haifa, located in Israel, by its president Ron Robin at the ceremony on Monday, Dec. 12.

“I thank you for always trying to bring out the best in people and never believing the worst, even when the rest of us demonstrated and for reminding all of us that a day spent beginning again is always full of hope,” Clinton said to Sexton.

ill Clinton and John Sexton, both wearing black robes with red stoles, sit for a panel discussion.
Bill Clinton and former NYU president John Sexton. (Kevin Wu for WSN) 

The former U.S. president described his admiration for Sexton’s achievements and his friendship with the former NYU president. He also highlighted the contributions of Sexton’s late wife, Lisa Ellen Goldberg, in the fields of education, medicine and urban planning.

Over 300 people, including faculty from the University of Haifa, attended the ceremony, held at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Mayor Eric Adams, who was scheduled to deliver an opening address, did not make an appearance at the ceremony. His absence was not addressed.

Robin commemorated Sexton’s involvement in NYU’s global network, especially in his commitment to founding and developing NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus. Current NYU President Andrew Hamilton also attended the ceremony. Other attendees included Katherine Fleming, who served as the university’s provost until earlier this year, when she left to lead the J. Paul Getty Trust, congratulated Sexton, her “lifelong friend.”

“The word transformational has been so frequently yoked with your name that your image might appear beside it in the dictionary,” Fleming said. “We are all joyous with you. But we are even more grateful for you.”

The University of Haifa is an Israeli research university that aims to build cooperation between Arab and Jewish students and communities. During the ceremony, Robin, the Haifa president congratulated the honorees for their dedication to global education and human advancement.

“John envisioned an idea capital, a circulatory system of knowledge-seeking activity,” Robin said. “The Clinton Foundation is a site where global challenges are mitigated through collaborative partnerships where the commitment to excellence, shared knowledge, empowerment, and creative solutions meet the challenges of an interdependent world.”

Sexton, Hamilton’s predecessor, was president of NYU from 2002 to 2015 and increased the university’s size and academic reputation among top colleges during his tenure. In 2013, Sexton received a vote of no confidence, in part due to criticisms over the university’s alleged labor violations during the construction of the Abu Dhabi campus. During NYU Abu Dhabi’s commencement in 2014, Clinton — who was chosen as one of the graduation speakers — raised concerns about the construction of the new campus.

Sexton was initially supposed to travel to Israel next summer to receive his honorary degree at the university’s 50th anniversary, but he said would not be able to attend, leading to the combined ceremony with Clinton.

Bill Clinton wears a red tie with a blue robe as he speaks behind a wooden podium on a stage with a blue backdrop behind him.
(Kevin Wu for WSN) 

“I owe many debts to John Sexton,” Clinton said. “But from that day, all those long years ago to this through the loss of his beloved wife through all sorts of upheavals in storm and sunshine and through the great triumphs he had as president of New York University. I never saw him once without a song in his heart and a smile on his face.”

Contact Yezen Saadah at [email protected].