A recent routine panel discussion at the National Constitution Center is getting a surge of attention from political observers who are surprised by an unlikely recipient of praise from Kenneth Starr: Bill Clinton.

In the May 16 event at the Philadelphia institution, the former special prosecutor whose high-profile and controversial investigations led to Clinton's impeachment criticized the decline in civility in politics and offered complimentary words about the 42nd president.

Clinton was "the most gifted politician of the baby boomer generation," Starr said.

"His genuine empathy for human beings is absolutely clear," he said. "It is powerful, it is palpable. The folks of Arkansas really understood that."

Starr, who has been the president of Baylor University since 2010, was speaking on a panel called "The Presidents and the Constitution: A Living History," with Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina, Ken Gormley of Duqeuesne University and Barbara Perry of the University of Virginia.

His comments seeming to express regret for the "unpleasantness" that tarnished Clinton's legacy and approval of Clinton's "redemptive process" post-presidency did not initially get much attention. But after a New York Times story about the panel was posted Tuesday, Starr's remarks have garnered attention from outlets including Politico and Roll Call.

In an unrelated development Tuesday, several media outlets in Texas reported that Starr had been fired from Baylor after months of criticism for his handling of sex abuse allegations against male student athletes.  A university spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Starr remains in his post, and that the governing board is still reviewing an internal investigation into the matter.