By Segan Helle
Lawrence S. Bacow announced to serve as the 29th president of the University
By SEGAN HELLE
On Sunday February 11th, the Presidential Search Committee announced that Lawrence S. Bacow will become the 29th president of Harvard University, ending the seven month-long deliberation period that followed President Drew Faust’s announcement of resignation.
“Larry’s extraordinary professional accomplishments take root in equally extraordinary human qualities – of integrity and collegiality, intelligence and compassion, humility and high standards, openness and warmth,” William F. Lee, chairman of the Presidential Search Committee and senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation wrote in an email sent to the Harvard community. “He is someone who inspires trust in others, who motivates people to do their best work, who sees the exciting possibilities amid pressing challenges, who constantly reminds us to set our sights on something larger than ourselves.”
Bacow’s presidency comes at a turbulent time for Harvard as the university faces a hostile political climate, a punishing tax plan, challenges surrounding DACA protections, and a law suit over the university’s affirmative action policies. At a press conference immediately following the announcement, Bacow spoke about the challenges he expects to face as president as well as some of the goals he has for his time in office.
“These are challenging times for higher education in America…These days, higher education has plenty of critics, and candidly, I’d say some of the criticism is fair,” Bacow said. “We need to do a better job of controlling our costs. We need to do a better job of operating more efficiently. We need to collaborate with others, with our peer institutions, with industry, with the broader world, and we need to be vigilant to ensure that our campuses are always open to new ideas — that they are places where our members feel free to express themselves and also where every member of this community feels he or she belongs.”
Bacow declined to provide specific administrative policy goals during the press conference, though he gave mention that he looks to continue Faust’s divisive sanctions on single gender organizations and will commit himself to further efforts in encouraging diversity on campus and protecting DACA students.
“We learned a lot during the search process and we spent a lot of time listening to students, and faculty and staff. I’m going to draw upon what we learned in that process,” Bacow said. “I still have a lot to learn. I’m interested in listening to what others have to say about what would be better and how we can make this place better together.”
Prior to becoming a candidate for the presidency, Bacow earned three degrees from Harvard with a Ph.D. in public policy and worked at his undergraduate alma mater, MIT. While there, he became the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies, the Chair of the Faculty, and later rose to the position of Chancellor. Following his time at MIT, Bacow served as the President of Tufts University from 2001 to 2011. While there he led efforts to increase collaboration between the eight schools at Tufts and the outside community and led the Beyond Boundaries fundraising campaign which raised a history $1.2 billion for the university.
Since his time at Tufts, Bacow served as President-in-Residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education until 2014, at which point he began his most recent role as the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.
Bacow is also a member of the Harvard Corporation and was a part of the Presidential Search Committee until stepping down mid-December—five months into the search—after Lee approached him about considering the position for himself.
“We have heard from a number of the folks at the interviews suggesting that we consider Larry, and then several members of the faculty contacted me directly and suggested, ‘What about Larry?’ I was in a car on the way home from an airport and I thought to myself it would be irresponsible not to ask him, so I called him and said ‘What about you?’ We had a good discussion and he decided to think about it,” Lee said at the press conference.
Bacow is set to officially take office on July 1 of this year. The Independent also examined the students’ perspective, to attempt to determine the nature of the process as a qualitative study.
The process itself was a unique one from the perspectives of students on campus, but also one that felt like a “black box.” As one student mentioned, “looking at the results, I’m sure he is going to do incredible work for the University. Do I wish the process put more emphasis on diversity? Yes; some part of me feels as if we just repeated exactly what Harvard would have done 50 years ago. Or a 100.” When asked further however, the same student responded that “at the end of the day, who knows what really went on behind the scenes or who was actually considered.”
While the choice of President is solely up to the University, the selection ultimately holds tremendous consequences for Harvard students, and some wished that they were more involved in the process. “Asking for nominations is definitely silly. How am I supposed to know someone who might be qualified? But finding out what the new President’s policies and ideas are regarding my life at this school only after he is chosen is a practice I would hope will change going forward. While satisfaction with the selection process was varied, interest and cautious acceptance of the new President flowed readily. “He’s done great work at so many other institutions; I’m excited for what he brings to this side of the River in Cambridge.
Across the wide range of students at Harvard, Seniors (class of 2018) seemed most interested in the future president. After speaking with Freshman and Sophomores, phrases such as “I only know about this because of the Lampoon” and “I haven’t really had time to think about it much, to be perfectly honest” seemed to dominate conversations. Upperclassman, however, having felt both the positives and challenges of the previous President, had a slew of opinions on everything including the clubs, varsity athletics, the new SEAS Campus, HUDS and campus atmosphere. More than anything, however, they emphasized leadership from above as being a significant factor in their college experience.
According to one student, “one of the biggest indicators of the popularity of the Presidential search follows as a natural consequence of the Lampoon’s little prank.” Students indicated being inundated with emails from Harvard, regarding everything from dorm closings to crime alerts and section updates: most are ignored. The hit rate, and subsequent hilarity that followed the Lampoon’s prank, on the other hand, demonstrated, as one Junior noted, “the fact that students are truly interested in the outcome of the search. In order to be pranked, they first had to click on the article itself.”
It’s unclear what the future at Harvard will look like: but with the search having been concluded, an era begins anew. “I’m enormously excited to be a part of the adventure and for these next several months, I also look forward to being a Harvard student again,” Bacow said. “I still have much to learn, and I know from my prior life here, there is no better place to learn than at Harvard.”
Segan Helle (firstname.lastname@example.org) looks forward to seeing what policies Bacow plans on enacting to protect students and workers in the coming years.