Harvard names former Tufts leader Lawrence Bacow as president

Sunday , February 11, 2018 - 2:30 PM

Susan Svrluga

(c) 2018, The Washington Post.

Lawrence S. Bacow, a longtime academic leader with expertise in environmental policy and higher education, will be the next president of Harvard University.

He takes on the role, perhaps the most visible symbol of American higher education, at a time when universities are a lightning rod for cultural debate.

“Larry Bacow is one of the most accomplished, admired, insightful and effective leaders in American higher education,” said William F. Lee, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and chair of the presidential search committee. “This is a pivotal moment for higher education - one full of extraordinary possibilities to pursue new knowledge, enhance education and serve society, but also 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.”

Bacow will replace the first woman to hold Harvard’s presidency, Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian who has led the institution since 2007.

Bacow is the Hauser leader-in-residence at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership after a decade as the president of Tufts University.

His parents were immigrants - his father was a refugee and his mother a survivor of Auschwitz - and he has strong belief in the power of education to elevate people’s lives and opportunities, several people said.

“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 after being elected to the role by the Harvard Corporation with the consent of the university’s Board of Overseers. “In a nation divided, these guiding ideals have never been more important.

“We should never shy away from nor be apologetic about affirming our commitment to making the world a better place through our teaching and scholarship and our commitment to truth, excellence and opportunity for all. And we should always recognize that, for all of our progress toward realizing these ideals over decades and centuries, there is much more we can learn, more we can contribute, more we can do better.”

Bacow grew up in Michigan, attended college at MIT and went on to earn three degrees from Harvard, in law and public policy.

He spent much of his career at MIT, and his research interests include environmental policy, negotiation, economics and the intersection of law and public policy.

Lee said Bacow “will bring to the task not only wide experience, deep expertise, and an intimate familiarity with Harvard’s opportunities and challenges, but also a passionate commitment to helping universities, and everyone within them, serve the larger world. He is ideally positioned to hit the ground running and keep Harvard moving ambitiously forward.”

He will become the 29th president of Harvard on July 1.

Last summer, Faust announced she would step down as president.

L. Rafael Reif, the president of MIT, said, “Larry brings to Harvard a significant wealth of knowledge, breadth, experience and vision in higher education ... He has demonstrated throughout his career a deep commitment to the role of higher education as a pathway to opportunity and a better world.”

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