Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
Just earlier today, Larry Bacow announced his plans to step down next June as Harvard’s 29th president.
Harvard could not have asked for a better, wiser, more thoughtful, dedicated, experienced, and humane leader through these times of extraordinary challenge and change.
Both of us have had the privilege of serving alongside Larry as members of the President and Fellows of Harvard College, the University’s principal fiduciary governing board. Both of us were extremely pleased when he accepted the invitation to serve as Harvard’s president. And, having watched him lead Harvard these past years—with great inner strength, a steadfast moral compass, and a deep devotion to serving others—we have come to admire him all the more.
Larry is an adroit sailor, and having his steady hand on the tiller in these turbulent times has served Harvard exceptionally well. He is also a dedicated runner, and over these past several years, after hitting the ground running, he has managed to run a metaphorical marathon—often at a sprinter’s pace, on a course with more than its share of hills and hurdles. We know he is looking forward to a productive academic year ahead, as a culmination of his remarkable efforts to help Harvard progress from strength to strength.
A related Harvard Gazette article describes some of the many initiatives that have been launched, opportunities that have been pursued, and challenges that have been faced with the benefit of Larry’s guidance. Rather than repeat them here, we’d like to underscore some of the larger qualities and commitments that have made Larry such an outstanding leader during these unusually challenging times.
- He has led the University and its people through an unprecedented public health crisis, working relentlessly to keep Harvard’s core activities of education, research, and service moving forward under conditions that none of us would have envisioned.
- He has focused attention on how Harvard can best marshal its academic resources to shape new frontiers of inquiry and to help confront some of the world’s most complex and consequential problems.
- He has encouraged innovation in education—and sought to expand access to Harvard’s educational resources, so that they can benefit learners not only on campus but far beyond.
- He has worked to guide a renewal and expansion of our physical campus and to ensure a firm financial foundation essential to realizing our academic ambitions.
- He has summoned Harvard to become more inclusive, to embrace our collective diversity as a wellspring of excellence, and to face up to troubling aspects of our past.
- He has insisted on the importance of sustaining the flow of people and ideas across boundaries—both among Harvard’s schools and departments and across borders in the wider world.
- He has urged us all to consider how, at a time of widespread division and disharmony in society at large, a university like ours can best model ways to encourage candid, mutually respectful discussion of difficult issues among people with different points of view.
- He has consistently asked not just how Harvard can strengthen itself, but how Harvard’s academic and human capacity can contribute to a better world.
- And he has, by word and deed, helped each of us to reflect on how we can direct our energies toward causes larger than ourselves.
When people speak highly of him, Larry can be counted on to deflect the compliment by saying that leadership is a team sport and that he is blessed with a great team. He is right. Harvard is blessed with a singular community of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and others whose aspirations and talents make all the difference. But great teams rely on great captains. And—through the tone he sets, through the values he affirms, through the common purpose he cultivates, through the trust he builds, through the initiatives he launches and sustains—Larry Bacow is just that.
We will have time to recognize him in other ways in the coming year—which, knowing Larry, we have no doubt will be a full one. We will also have time, before long, to say more about the coming search for his successor. For today, please join us in thanking Larry Bacow for his extraordinary leadership and service—to Harvard and to higher education. He embodies a rare combination of mind and heart.
William F. Lee, Senior Fellow (through June 30, 2022)
Penny Pritzker, Senior Fellow (as of July 1, 2022)