Terms of office: 1971-1991 and 2006-2007
Derek Bok served as interim president of Harvard University from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007. Bok was the only person in the modern era to twice serve as Harvard president. As interim president, Bok devoted himself to bringing to a successful conclusion an ongoing review of undergraduate education, planning for the development of University land in Allston, and identifying organizational changes necessary to promote interdisciplinary research, such as reform of the academic calendar. Bok’s annual report outlines the work that went into advancing these goals.
Bok, the 300th Anniversary University Research Professor and faculty chair of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, previously served as the 25th president of Harvard from 1971 to 1991. Prior to being named president, Bok served as dean of Harvard Law School from 1968 to 1971.
During his 20-year tenure as president, Bok restructured the University’s central administration and oversaw creation of a Core Curriculum that became the framework for undergraduate education at Harvard. He advocated increasing the number of female undergraduates, supporting the 1975 adoption of equal-access and gender-blind financial-aid policies in admissions.
Bok also focused on expanding the Kennedy School of Government faculty and programs. He encouraged the establishment of academic programs and research centers addressing issues such as AIDS, energy and the environment, poverty, professional ethics, smoking, and international security.
As president, he was a vocal advocate for student participation in public-service programs. By the end of his presidency, more than 60 percent of Harvard undergraduates were engaged in some form of public service. Envisioning the important role Harvard could play internationally, Bok also signed innovative debt-for-scholarship agreements with the governments of Ecuador and Mexico during his tenure.
In 1975, Bok established the Office for the Arts, whose programs to this day serve more than 3,000 undergraduates annually. He established the Danforth Center for Teaching and Learning to explore innovations in undergraduate teaching, which was renamed the Bok Center in 1991.
He has written six books on higher education: Our Underachieving Colleges (2005), Universities in the Marketplace (2003), The Shape of the River (1998, with William G. Bowen), Universities and the Future of America (1990), Higher Learning (1986), and Beyond the Ivory Tower (1982).
In addition to studying the state of higher education, Bok is also the author of two books examining the adequacy of the U.S. government in coping with the nation’s domestic problems: The State of the Nation (1997) and The Trouble with Government (2001).
He serves as chair of the board of the Spencer Foundation.
Bok has an A.B. from Stanford University, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an A.M. in economics from George Washington University. Following law school, he was named a Fulbright Scholar and studied at the University of Paris’s Institute of Political Science.
Bok is married to Sissela Myrdal Bok, a writer and philosopher who is senior visiting fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. They have two daughters and one son.