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Lawrence Bacow Will Be Next Harvard President

February 12, 2018
 
 

Photo of Lawrence S. BacowHarvard University on Sunday announced that its next president will be Lawrence S. Bacow, former president of Tufts University.

Bacow, 66, is currently the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership. Prior to serving as president at Tufts for a decade, he spent 24 years on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he served as chancellor, chair of the faculty and the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies.

The son of immigrants, he attended college at MIT and then earned three degrees from Harvard, including a Ph.D. in public policy. His scholarly work has included environmental policy, bargaining and negotiation, economics, law, public policy, and higher education.

Bacow will succeed Drew Faust, who announced in June that she would step down as Harvard president at the end of the current academic year. She has been president since 2007.

Harvard posted the following video in which Bacow talks about his parents, noting that they were both refugees and that his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz, was the only member of her family or her town who survived the Holocaust and World War II. He offers praise for the United States, asking "where else" can you go from an immigrant with nothing to the life of opportunity he has had. Of his opportunities, he says that "higher education was at the root of that."

He also says in the video that this may be the first time that people are challenging the value of higher education, and argues that higher education should be defended, both for its impact on students and society. He reflects on his decade at Tufts and says that his most significant accomplishment there was raising money to dramatically increase spending on financial aid. He expresses strong support for diversity, saying that "ultimately, we learn from our differences."

Following are some of the articles in which Bacow has been quoted on issues in higher education generally or at Tufts.

  • At a conference in 2013, he said that some form of online education would soon become an expected part of every undergraduate course. But Bacow dismissed naysayers who predict the current model of higher education is destined to fail. “Online is here to stay,” Bacow said, adding that as new technologies become available, “Faculty are going to run to that. Our students are going to demand it.” He also said online education would help colleges limit what they charge students. “We’re not only pricing ourselves out of the market, we risk jeopardizing public support,” Bacow said.
  • He was co-author of a 2012 report that said machines would soon be sophisticated enough to fill certain faculty roles at traditional universities. But to make this revolution work for students, academic leaders at those traditional institutions will need to broker a peace between artificially intelligent teaching programs and their human counterparts, the report said.
  • He was involved in disputes over free expression at Tufts, expressing strong support for free expression but also appointing a task force that led to new Tufts policy in 2009 affirming free speech but not stating it was absolute, and saying that expression at Tufts should "respect the human dignity of others" and maintain a climate that does not interfere with students' ability to "study, grow, and attain their full potential."
  • In 2011, his final year as president of Tufts, he ordered the end of the decades-old tradition of the naked quad run, citing physical and alcohol-related dangers that befall student participants in the annual event.

How long will Bacow serve as president? Harvard, of course, didn't say anything about that. But when he announced he was stepping down at Tufts, he said, “I have often said that 10 years is about the right term for a university president. It is long enough for one individual to have a substantial impact but not so long that the institution, or the president, becomes comfortable.”

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