Lawrence Bacow to become Harvard’s 29th president

In hiring its 29th president, Harvard University is turning to one of its own.

Lawrence Bacow, a former president of Tufts University who has three degrees from Harvard, will succeed Drew Faust, the university’s first female president, the school announced Sunday.

“Larry Bacow is one of the most accomplished, admired, insightful, and effective leaders in American higher education,” said William Lee, chair of the university’s Presidential Search Committee and a senior fellow for the Harvard Corporation, the school’s governing body.

Faust has served as Harvard’s president since 2007 and announced last June she would step down from her post this summer.

“This is a pivotal moment for higher education … but also a time when the singular value of higher education and university research has too often been challenged and called into doubt,” Lee said.

“Such a time calls for skillful leadership, strategic thinking, and disciplined execution,” Lee added. “Larry will provide just that.”

At a press conference Sunday afternoon, Bacow recognized the challenges facing institutions of higher education today, saying “some of the criticism is fair.”

“We need to do a better job of controlling our costs,” he said. “We need to do a better job of operating more efficiently, we need to collaborate with others, with our peer institutions, with industry and the broader world.”

“And,” he continued, “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 that he or she belongs.”

Bacow, 66, who earned a Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard, served as president of nearby Tufts University for a decade.

Lee touted Bacow’s accomplishments at Tufts in his statement, crediting him with steering it through the Great Recession and being a champion of diversification in the faculty at the school, where he founded the Office of Institutional Diversity.

Prior to his time at Tufts, Bacow held multiple leadership roles at MIT, where he earned his undergraduate degree before attending Harvard Law School.

Bacow has spent the past six years at Harvard, serving as President-in-Residence of the university’s Graduate School of Education before taking on his current role as the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.

The son of two European refugees, Bacow was originally part of the search committee, seeking advice from people within the university and outside of it regarding Faust’s replacement, Lee said. But after the committee was encouraged to consider Bacow, Lee asked if he would become a candidate for the position and Bacow quietly stepped away from the committee.

As a member of the Harvard Corporation, Bacow has also “played an integral role in Harvard’s own governance,” Lee said.

Harvard is looking for a steady hand to lead it through a tumultuous period. The university is currently the subject of an investigation by the US Justice Department into its affirmative action policies. The inquiry was born out of a federal complaint in 2015 that accused the school of discrimination against Asian-Americans in its admissions process.