Harvard's 29th President

Lawrence S. Bacow

Lawrence S. Bacow, one of the most experienced and respected leaders in American higher education, will become the 29th president of Harvard University on July 1, 2018.

Currently the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Center for Public Leadership, Bacow served with distinction for ten years as President of Tufts University, where he was known for his dedication to expanding student opportunity, fostering innovation in education and research, enhancing collaboration across schools and disciplines, and spurring consideration of how universities can best serve society.

Bacow's decade of leadership at Tufts followed 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.

Read more information in the Harvard Gazette and visit Harvard University on Facebook on February 11th at approximately 3:15pm EST for a live stream of the announcement.

Message from William F. Lee

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

On behalf of Harvard’s governing boards, I am extremely pleased to report that Lawrence S. Bacow will become the 29th president of Harvard University, effective July 1, 2018.

Larry Bacow is one of the most accomplished, admired, insightful, and effective leaders in American higher education. This is a pivotal moment for higher education – a time 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.

He 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. With the curiosity and keen intelligence of a scholar and teacher, the vision and steady hand of a seasoned leader of institutions, and the energetic commitment and buoyant stamina of a devoted marathoner, he is ideally positioned to hit the ground running and keep Harvard moving ambitiously forward.

The son of immigrants, with three degrees from Harvard including a Ph.D. in public policy, Larry was a longtime faculty leader at MIT, his undergraduate alma mater. There, he rose to become the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies, the Chair of the Faculty, and then the institute’s Chancellor – a role in which he had responsibility for undergraduate education, graduate education, research initiatives, international and industrial partnerships, and strategic planning.

After MIT, he served for a decade with great distinction as President of Tufts University. Known for expanding student opportunity, catalyzing innovation across disciplines, and enhancing universities’ civic engagement, he worked tirelessly to advance Tufts’ excellence in teaching, research, and public service, and to weave new ties among the university’s eight schools. With colleagues, he embraced diversity as a cornerstone of excellence; he strengthened Tufts’ connections with its host communities as well as alumni; he engineered a new partnership with what is now Tufts Medical Center; and he led the most ambitious fundraising drive in Tufts history, while adroitly steering the university through the Great Recession. At Larry’s final Tufts commencement in 2011, Charles Vest, president emeritus of MIT, saluted him as “perhaps the most respected university president in the country.” And the graduating students chimed in with their by-then-familiar chant of “Larry, Larry, Larry.”

For the past six-plus years, Larry has continued his focus on higher education and leadership, with Harvard as his principal professional home. He served as President-in-Residence at our Graduate School of Education from 2011 to 2014, then took up his current post as the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. He has devoted himself to advising scores of new and aspiring higher education leaders, mentoring students interested in careers in education, teaching in executive education programs, and writing and speaking widely on major issues facing higher education – from online learning to the economics of universities, from innovations in teaching and academic freedom to university leadership and governance.

At the same time, he has played an integral role in Harvard’s own governance, as a member since 2011 of the university’s principal governing board, the Corporation. His wisdom, perspective, and counsel have been invaluable, and he has become well acquainted with the full range of strategic imperatives facing the university – from planning future developments in Allston to bolstering support for university research across all disciplines, from envisioning new modes of learning to fostering academic collaborations focused on society’s most complex challenges, from realizing the full potential of our growing diversity to assuring that Harvard continues to attract faculty, students, and staff whose talent and promise can change the world. 

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. 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. He radiates a deep conviction in the importance of what universities do, yet does so without a hint of self-importance. He is not just a remarkable leader, scholar, and educator, but a terrific human being.

Larry, of course, began the search as a member of the search committee. From the summer through late last year, as we reached out widely to solicit advice and nominations, increasingly many people within Harvard and beyond – faculty, students, staff, alumni, institutional leaders here and elsewhere – encouraged us to consider Larry for the presidency. We ultimately decided to ask him if he would consider becoming a candidate. After pondering the request, he agreed to step down from the search committee in mid-December. In doing so, he emphasized his deep belief in the university’s mission and values and his desire to do everything he can to enable Harvard to be the best it can be.

Today’s announcement concludes a wide-ranging search that, since its launch last summer, benefited from the helpful counsel of a great many people across Harvard and beyond. With my colleagues on the search committee, I thank all of you who offered your thoughtful advice. Our gratitude goes especially to the members of the three advisory committees – of faculty, students, and staff – who worked so hard and contributed so much to informing the search committee’s deliberations, both by sharing their own views and by eliciting robust input from many others. We owe particular thanks to the advisory committee chairs – Robin Kelsey, Jyoti Jasrasaria, and Katie Lapp. Finally, I want again to salute Drew Faust for her outstanding leadership and service, which will leave her successor with so strong a platform to build on. With her, we will do our best to make her final spring in Mass Hall both memorable and productive.

For today, please join me in congratulating and welcoming Larry Bacow as Harvard’s next president. He is someone who leads by giving credit rather than taking it. And he knows that what Harvard can accomplish for its students and for the world in the years ahead will depend foremost on all of you.

William F. Lee
Chair, Presidential Search Committee
Senior Fellow, Harvard Corporation