Clarkson University will be highly selective in awarding honorary degrees to qualified candidates. The Board of Trustees shall govern the selection of honorary degree recipients and in accordance with New York State Law.  


An honorary degree from Clarkson University should recognize individuals who have made outstanding achievements and contributions to an academic discipline or to society through their body of work, either through sustained efforts over a period of time, or as evidenced by one or more significant accomplishments. Contributions to society may include outstanding contributions to the University. Such degrees recognize distinguished scholarship and accomplishments in the professions, sciences, arts, humanities, public service, and service to humanity. Recipients of Clarkson University honorary degrees should reflect the University’s high ideals and values, should enhance the reputation of the University, and should exemplify the concepts of excellence, service, and integrity.


Up to three highly qualified candidates may be presented as honorary degree recipients for each commencement day using the procedures outlined below. It is not mandatory that any honorary degrees be awarded. All members of the Clarkson community are encouraged to submit nominations for honorary degree recipients.

An honorary degree may be awarded at a significant occasion other than commencement if deemed appropriate by the Board of Trustees. Candidates for honorary degrees are expected to be present to receive the degree, but after extending an invitation that the candidate has accepted, the Board Chair may evaluate with the president extenuating circumstances to award the degree in absentia if the recipient is not able to be present.

An honorary degree may not be awarded to members of the University faculty, staff, or Board of Trustees currently serving the University or taking a hiatus year from Board service unless authorized by the full Board and in the presence of exceptional extenuating circumstances.

All nominators shall submit confidential nominations and without notice to the nominee.  To protect the privacy and respect for all nominees, all nominations will remain confidential until the process outlined below has concluded and the president has authorized an official announcement of the honorary degree recipient by the University.

Selection Process
  1. The chair of the Honorary Degree Committee solicits nominations of persons to be considered for the award of an honorary degree in October of each year. Committee members are charged with urging their colleagues to make nominations. Letters of nomination should outline the nominee’s qualifications and the reasons why Clarkson should consider awarding an honorary degree to the nominee. Two letters of recommendation from individuals who support the nomination and materials documenting the nominee’s contributions should be forwarded to the Honorary Degree Committee no later than January 15.
  2. The Honorary Degree Committee assesses the nomination materials, requests additional supporting materials if appropriate, and forwards a list of no more than five nominees to the Faculty Senate no later than February 15. The full Faculty Senate acts, forwarding  a recommendation regarding the suitability of each nominee to the President by April 1.
  3. The President presents candidates for honorary degrees to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees prior to the May Board meeting. The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees reviews the nominees and formulates recommendations to the full board.  
  4. The full board will evaluate nominees at its May board meeting and based on discussion, would then put forward nominees for consideration at its next meeting.  
  5. The board votes on the nominees at its October meeting and approves nominees if there is consent by 2/3 of all trustees present and voting.
  6. The board may decide to make an exception to this process if there is consent from 2/3 of trustees. 
  7. The President contacts honorary degree nominees and makes arrangements for the honorary degree to be conferred in a subsequent academic year.
Committee Composition

The Honorary Degree Committee is a Faculty Senate committee of the University. Its membership consists of

  • A senior academic officer (Provost or Dean) designated by the President, serving as committee chair;
  • Three faculty representatives appointed by the Faculty Senate, with one representative from each school;
  • Two student representatives appointed by the Student Senate, with at least one representative from the junior class;
  • The Director of Development (or his or her nominee);
  • The Chair of the University Board of Trustees (or his or her designated trustee), ex officio.
  • The President of the Alumni Association (or his or her designee), ex officio

Approved by the Board of Trustees  - October 28, 2016
Clarkson Faculty Senate - November 21, 2016 and Campus Administrative Council - November 28, 2016


Clarkson University awarded its first Honorary Degrees in 1931. Past recipients have included a wide variety of distinguished individuals whose calling has ranged from President of the United States (Hon. Herbert C. Hoover, 1945) to Apollo Astronaut (Colonel Frank Borman, 1973), and from Inventor/Entrepreneur (Frank J. Zamboni, 1988) to Medal of Honor Recipient (General James H. Doolittle, 1946).

Some recent recipients of Clarkson Honorary Degrees have included:

Alexandra Cousteau is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, filmmaker and globally recognized advocate on water issues. Alexandra is dedicated to advocating the importance of conservation and sustainable management of water in order to preserve a healthy planet. Her global initiatives seek to inspire and empower individuals to protect not only the ocean and its inhabitants, but also the human communities that rely on freshwater resources. Sc. D. 2018

Jeffery Immelt was chairman and CEO of General Electric from 2001 until 2017.  During his leadership tenure at GE, Immelt transitioned the 125-year-old global corporation into a world premiere digital industrial company. He has been named one of the "World's Best CEOs" three times by Barron's. According to Jack Brennan, lead independent director for GE's board "Jeff has positioned the company incredibly well for the future. He executed a massive portfolio transformation and navigated the company through economic cycles and business disruptions. Today, GE is a high-tech industrial company with a bright future." Sc. D. 2017

Karl Marlantes is the author of the New York Times Bestselling novel Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, which has won numerous prizes. He is a highly-educated and heroic Marine veteran who has parlayed his experiences into an astounding writing career. He has used this hard-won wisdom to help himself and others deal with the pain of war and the factors that drive aggression in our world today. In mitigating those issues, he connects us to our value of service by offering his time and skills for the good of fellow citizens. Sc. D. 2016

Steven Chu is the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, a Nobel Laureate and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. His honorary doctor of science degree was awarded for "his dedication to science and championing scientific inquiry; for his service to the betterment of this nation; for pioneering innovation in the search for sustainable forms of energy; for his commitment to collaboration and his leadership in exploring new solutions to the challenge of our changing climate; for his continuing work educating future generations and for inspiring the leaders of tomorrow to serve humanity and the ecology on which we depend." Sc. D. 2014

Full list of Past Awardees