President Bacow receiving an honorary doctorate from University of Haifa.
President Bacow receiving an honorary doctorate from University of Haifa.University of Haifa

The University of Haifa on Monday night conferred an honorary doctorate upon Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow in recognition of his global leadership in higher education, redefining the critical role universities play in developing and sustaining communities, and his advocacy for the importance of diversity within education.

In receiving his doctorate, President Bacow praised the “start-up nation” for its ability to draw talent from around the world through the opportunities that exist within the country.

“We live in a world right now where the only truly scarce capital is human capital,” said President Bacow. “Israel has demonstrated to the world that a country or a region doesn't need to be rich in natural resources in order to be a wealthy country. Israel does it by creating, aggregating, and acting as a magnet for human capital. It draws people to Israel from around the world who come to Israel's universities to study, and people who are attracted to Israel by the opportunity that exists.”

University of Haifa is collaborating with Harvard in a number of areas, including marine sciences, archaeology, and environmental studies. Currently, the universities are conducting a joint project on the etiology of large sea mammals which is considered the world’s most ambitious research initiative on that topic, an initiative President Bacow described as one that “may change what we know about some of the most extraordinary animals on the planet.”

“Harvard and the University of Haifa, in their tireless pursuits that they inspire and enable, have never been more important for society than they are now,” President Bacow said.

After receiving the honor in a virtual ceremony, President Bacow delivered an address that covered how higher education is responding to defining challenges during the pandemic era by delivering unprecedented value to society.

“Colleges and universities across the United States have cut 650,000 jobs in the last year, about 1 in 10 jobs in the entire sector. Institutions continue to struggle with fulfilling their mission in the face of upheaval and uncertainty. Despite it all, I remain optimistic because there is one aspect of the research university that has become clearer to me over the past year than it has ever been, and that is, where else has failure been embraced and resilience valued so highly?” President Bacow said.

The “innately curious” nature of university faculty is a key component of paving the way toward a brighter future, he said.

“[Faculty] have big ideas, big hypothesis they seek to test,” said President Bacow. “Rarely do things work the first time. Experiments have to be redone, theories revised and reevaluated. The work of discovery and innovation requires persistence, dedication, curiosity, and creativity. Society is, in the end, far better off for it.”

President Bacow reinforced this message by recounting how research conducted at Harvard decades ago paved the way for the COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson as well as Waze, the Israeli-founded navigation app that was eventually acquired by Google.

“People around the world at institutions like ours are being given a chance to follow their curiosity, to satisfy the deep urge to know and to understand, to seek, and to find. The partnerships that exist between our two institutions have expanded the frontiers of knowledge,” President Bacow said, adding, that “in challenging times, the research university inspires action and illuminates a way forward for all of us.”

“The University of Haifa, under the vision of the multiversity, takes upon itself a national mission to be the entrance gate to the Israel creative class and to be an efficient tool for social mobility within Israeli society,” said University of Haifa President Ron Robin.

“That said, in the past 50 years, the University of Haifa is also a leading force in a variety of scientific disciplines in which we are also partnering with Harvard faculty for over a decade. We take pride in nationally and globally leading in marine research, education, health, and social sciences, as well as the humanities.”