Guidelines for the awarding of honorary degrees

In these guidelines, the following terms shall have the following meanings:

“committee” shall mean the Senate Nominating Committee for Honorary Degrees at the university.

“AFIW” shall mean, collectively, the federated university and affiliated colleges of the University of Waterloo, and each federated university or affiliated college shall be referred to as “a AFIW institution.”

“university” shall mean the University of Waterloo.

Honorary degrees awarded

The university confers the following honorary degrees, honoris causa:

  • For scholarly/professional achievement: DEng (Doctor of Engineering), DES (Doctor of Environmental Studies), DLitt (Doctor of Letters), DSc (Doctor of Science), DD (Doctor of Divinity), DMath (Doctor of Mathematics). These degrees are normally awarded to persons of international stature who have made outstanding contributions to their discipline, to the development of their profession, or who have pioneered or revolutionized a field.
  • For service to society: LLD (Doctor of Laws). This degree is awarded for outstanding contributions to the enrichment of society.


An honorary degree is the highest honour conferred by the university. Through the conferring of honorary degrees, the University of Waterloo seeks to recognize outstanding achievement, whether academic or through service to society.

Selection guidelines

The committee will review each nominee in terms of whether they personify the core values of the relevant faculty and/or the university, and exemplify the personal and professional characteristics to which we wish our students to aspire. People thus recognized should be such as to provide example and inspiration to students and graduates of the university. Decisions taken by the committee will seek to reflect the diverse social and cultural character of Canada as well as the academic diversity embodied in the university itself.

The range of achievement considered by the committee is broad, and includes such fields as research, scholarship, the arts, business, and professional and voluntary service, including exceptional service or significant contribution to the university, the community, the nation, or the world.  

It is not required that nominees have a direct connection with the university, but there should be a compelling reason why this particular university should confer its highest honour on an individual at a particular time.

Serving politicians, either Canadian or foreign, are not excluded from consideration for honorary degrees. Sensitive, however, to the perception of government influence on institutional autonomy and academic freedom, the committee will look for evidence in nominees of: exceptional service or leadership over an extended period in public life; general (as distinct from partisan) esteem; and a strong reason why the University of Waterloo in particular should confer the honour.

Individuals holding adjunct appointments are not excluded from consideration.


Active or newly retired members of the university faculty or staff will not normally be considered for honorary degrees. Where an exception is made, it should be for achievement or service beyond the university.

In absentia

Normally, honorary degrees are not awarded posthumously or in absentia.

Nomination package

All nominations must be submitted in writing.

For all honorary degrees, the nomination package should normally include:

  • a nomination letter (2-3 pages) from a member of the university community or a AFIW institution, signed by one or more nominators;
  • a nomination form with a clear statement (up to 300 words) of the reasons why the nominee should be honoured by the university at this time. This statement should provide a brief overview of the outstanding achievements/contributions the nominee has made that have led to the nomination and why it is believed that this university in particular should consider conferring an honorary degree on this individual;
  • a current curriculum vitae, including current mailing and email addresses;
  • links to online information, or other attachments, or any other appropriate materials such as news articles, literature, etc., that would help in the committee’s evaluation of the nomination.

Because of the need for strict confidentiality, nominators must not seek letters of support or reference from individuals external to the university and AFIW. However, prior to signing the form in support of the nomination, the vice-president, academic & provost, or the dean of the relevant faculty shall use best efforts to consult with their colleagues to achieve as broad a perspective as possible on the suitability of the nominee to be honoured by this university. The committee may contact the nominators should it require further information to make an evaluation.

Completed nomination packages should be sent to the secretary of the Senate Nominating Committee for Honorary Degrees, c/o Secretariat, NH 3060. All information received by the committee is held in confidence.

If possible, and as deemed appropriate, nominators are encouraged to organize supplementary events within the nominating faculty or the university to complement the convocation activities (such as a special lecture by the honorary degree recipient).


Since almost all candidates for honorary degrees will be distinguished people in one way or another, it is the task of the committee to investigate and judge their relative merits and make preferential choices. While there are not specific criteria against which to assess nominees, there are certain questions which will guide the committee in its deliberations:

  • In what ways is this nominee’s achievement truly outstanding?
  • In what ways has scholarship, a profession, or some significant segment of society benefitted by this contribution?
  • Will this person's achievement be seen to be important and exemplary to the students who will graduate at that convocation?
  • Has this person been appropriately recognized by the field or profession in which they are said to excel?
  • Why is it appropriate for this university to honour this person at this time?
  • Does this candidate help Waterloo achieve the goal of reflecting, in the honours it bestows, the diversity of Canadian society or the academic diversity of the university?


Honorary degrees are approved by Senate on recommendation of the committee. The committee shall consist of the following members:

  • Five ex-officio members: the president (chair); vice-president, academic & provost; vice-president, advancement; associate provost, graduate studies; and chair, Honorary Member of the University Committee (a staff member); and
  • the following members appointed by Senate: one member from each faculty; one faculty member representing the federated university and affiliated university colleges; two undergraduate students and one graduate student; and one alumnus/a.

An open-call for nominations will be issued once a year. All employees, students or alumni will be invited to submit a standardized nomination form/package. The Secretariat (on behalf of the HD Committee) will provide support for nomination writing/submissions.

The Secretariat will collect nominations and distribute to relevant Faculties for review. LLD nominations received by the Secretariat will be distributed to the President and Vice-President Academic & Provost and reviewed in consultation with the Deans.

Supportive nominations from the Faculty Deans and Provost will be forwarded to the Secretariat for due diligence research and forwarded to the HD Committee for consideration. The committee will meet once a year in the Fall term to consider nominations.

While quorum for the conduct of ordinary business of the committee is a majority of its membership, the quorum for approving nominees for recommendation to Senate shall be two-thirds of the membership. Only nominees who have the support of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee present at the meeting will be approved for forwarding to Senate. The committee may, where it chooses, defer consideration of candidates pending further information. Mindful that committee discussions are confidential, in the event that a candidate is not approved, a brief note will be sent to the nominator(s) advising that the nomination can be carryover for two additional years. Nominator(s) will be provided with the option to update the file for the next annual call.

Once approved by Senate, candidates are normally invited on behalf of the President to receive an honorary degree. The invitations are not intended to be open-ended, candidates will be expected to communicate their acceptance of the University’s offer within three months, and to attend a convocation ceremony for the conferral of the honorary degree within two years of the offer. Normally, not more than one honorary degree will be conferred at any convocation ceremony.

Nominees chosen to receive an honorary degree at any particular convocation ceremony may be asked to deliver the convocation address, but this is not required.

Approved at Senate:
March 22, 1999
April 17, 2006
June 21, 2010
November 18, 2013
February 26, 2018 (reflects a change to the terms of reference approved by Senate)
January 16, 2023