By Andy Thomason and Adam Harris FEBRUARY 11, 2018
Bill Sikes, AP Images
Harvard University has chosen for its 29th president a veteran leader of elite colleges. Lawrence S. Bacow, a former president of Tufts University, will succeed Drew Gilpin Faust in July, the university announced on Sunday.
Before he became president at Tufts, Bacow spent 24 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where was chair of the faculty and then chancellor, a senior academic post. And today Bacow holds the Hauser Leader-in-Residence position at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership.
“The Harvard I have known has always stood for at least three things: the pursuit of truth, an unwavering commitment to excellence, and opportunity,” Bacow said in a university news release. “In a nation divided, these guiding ideals have never been more important.”
In a video announcing his selection, Bacow makes prominent mention of the fact that both his parents were immigrants to the United States, “actually both refugees.” He adds that his mother was a survivor of Auschwitz, and the only member of her family who survived World War II.
Bacow’s selection comes in a moment when college leaders have been more vocal in speaking up against some of the priorities of the Trump administration, which was swept into power on a wave of anti-intellectualism that many in higher education found troubling.
This is not the first time a Harvard presidential search committee has focused on Bacow. During its last search, Bacow was among 30 academics the university identified as targets — a list of the names was leaked to the media. That time, however, he did not talk to the search committee.
“If I had not been at Tufts, I am sure I would have talked to the search committee. Would I have taken the job if offered? Hard to say,” he told The Chronicle at the time.
“I think any potential president of Harvard has to ask what they hope to accomplish in the job. Harvard is a great place and will be regardless of who is president,” Bacow continued. “This is another way of saying that the marginal return to leadership may be greater at other institutions.”
Hard to Say No
During his decade-long tenure at Tufts, Bacow was credited with helping the institution come into its own as a leading research university.
Under his leadership, Tufts announced that it would help pay off the loans of its students who sought public-service jobs, including public-school teaching and social work. The university also doubled its annual budget for financial aid, and replacing loans with grants for low-income students in that time.
Why They Said No to Harvard
In an exit interview with The Chronicle following the announcement that he would be leaving Tufts and returning to teaching, Bacow threw cold water on the idea that he would seek another presidency.
“It’s one and done for me. I’ve enjoyed it and loved it,” he said. “It’s difficult to imagine going through a process of getting to know an institution again and getting a good team in place.”
But the Harvard presidency is tough to turn down. “Those of us privileged to lead this University are invested with a precious trust,” Bacow said in the news release. “I promise to do everything within my power to prove worthy of it.”
And Bacow has big shoes to fill. Faust was the university’s first female president, and pushed the institution to do the messy work of coming to grips with its complicated past. Most recently, she sought to effectively ban single-gender groups on campus, most notably the university’s elite final clubs.
“I could not be happier contemplating Harvard in his hands,” Faust said of Bacow in Harvard’s release, “and I look forward to his many successes as president.”
Harvard University’s next president will be Lawrence S. Bacow, a former president of Tufts University and top academic officer at M.I.T., the university announced on Sunday.
The appointment was greeted as a safe, mainstream choice to replace Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s first female president, who is stepping down after 11 years.
Mr. Bacow is better known as a manager and institutional leader than as a scholar. His selection reflects Harvard’s need for a steady hand at a time when the university must navigate the difficulties of dealing with the Trump administration’s antagonism toward elite universities like Harvard with large endowments.
William F. Lee, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and the chairman of the search committee, reflected those concerns in making the announcement.
It is, he said in a statement, “a time when the singular value of higher education and university research has too often been challenged and called into doubt. Such a time calls for skillful leadership, strategic thinking and disciplined execution. Larry will provide just that.”
The university, like others in its league, is facing a new 1.4 percent excise tax on the investment returns of university endowments that amount to more than $500,000 per student. Harvard administrators have said the tax could cost the university around $43 million a year, and would weaken Harvard’s ability to support students and research.
Harvard is currently facing an investigation by the Justice Department into its affirmative action policies and whether they discriminate against Asian-American applicants. A lawsuit making that claim has been filed in federal court in Boston by a group organized by Edward Blum, an advocate who has orchestrated more than two dozen lawsuits challenging affirmative action practices and voting rights laws across the country.
Mr. Bacow will take over on July 1, becoming the 29th president of Harvard. He is now the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership.
He was president of Tufts University for 10 years, through July 2011. The Harvard announcement said he was known there for increasing collaboration across schools and disciplines. Before that, he was on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 24 years, where he served as chancellor, chair of the faculty and a professor of environmental studies.
Mr. Bacow is the son of immigrants; his father was a refugee from Eastern Europe and his mother a survivor of Auschwitz. He is known as an avid runner who took early morning training runs for the Boston Marathon with Tufts students, faculty and staff.
In its announcement, Harvard highlighted his work on behalf of low-income students and faculty diversity. It said that while at Tufts, he presided over the doubling of the university’s annual budget for financial aid and the replacement of loans with grants for undergraduates from low-income families. He founded the university’s Office of Institutional Diversity and worked to increase the presence of women and minorities in faculty and leadership positions, the announcement said.