Former MIT chancellor Bacow named next Harvard president

Bacow: ‘I learned how to be a professor and a university leader at MIT’

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Harvard's next president, Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, is an MIT alumnus and former chancellor.

Members of the Harvard presidential search committee announced Sunday afternoon that Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, who served at MIT for 24 years as a faculty member and later, senior administrator, will be the University’s 29th president.

As MIT’s chancellor from 1998 to 2001, Bacow led a redesign of the residential system that sought to fulfill then-President Charles M. Vest’s edict that all freshmen be housed on campus while still accommodating the interests of students and living groups, according to The Tech’s coverage at the time.

Bacow also pushed for five faculty residences in Simmons Hall, which was then under construction; for the development of community spaces where faculty and students could interact outside the classroom, such as the Zesiger Center; and for increased support of the UROP program, MIT News wrote in a press release Monday.  

However, several of his decisions, such as his insistence on housing the Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) physics program in the student center and the inclusion of a daycare center in the Sidney-Pacific graduate dormitory, drew the ire and protest of students, The Tech wrote in a 2001 editorial reflecting on his legacy.

“These examples illustrate Bacow’s biggest problem at MIT: communication,” the editorial said. “At times Bacow didn’t seem to realize that other people had different visions of MIT than he did. His obstinacy in clinging to his own vision caused friction between the student body and administration and only served to amplify controversy.”

Bacow, whose academic research focuses on environmental policy, first joined the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT in 1977. Prior to his time as chancellor, Bacow also served as faculty chair from 1995 to 1997.

“I learned how to be a professor and a university leader at MIT,” Bacow told MIT News Sunday.

In 2001, Bacow left MIT to assume the presidency at Tufts, a position he held until 2011. Bacow then returned to Harvard, where he had acquired three graduate degrees (a JD, a master’s, and a PhD) a few decades prior, as a Corporation member.

Bacow will begin his new post on July 1, 2018.

“Over the last 50 years, Harvard and MIT have developed some extraordinary partnerships,” President L. Rafael Reif wrote in a letter notifying the MIT community of Bacow’s appointment Monday. Reif cited the Broad Institute and edX, among other examples.

“Today, as our two institutions seek to tackle the world’s great challenges, I look forward to working with Larry in the same spirit of creative collaboration,” Reif continued.

Bacow succeeds Drew G. Faust, Harvard’s first female president. Students hoping for another first — the first person of color to take Harvard’s highest role — expressed disappointment at the decision to choose Bacow in The Harvard Crimson, although Bacow defended his record of supporting diversity in a press conference earlier this week.