Opinion letter to the editor

Four centuries, three Larrys, and one woman

Harvard could have chosen better.

Emily Nussbaum once joked that late-night television features more dudes named Jimmy than women. Last week, Harvard achieved a similar milestone. In tapping Lawrence S. Bacow for its top post, Harvard’s list of presidents now includes three men named Lawrence and one woman (outgoing president Drew Faust). For that matter, women are also outnumbered by Samuels (four), Johns (three), Charleses (two), and Jameses (two). Women are tied one-to-one with men named Eliphalet, Urian, and Increase. Incidentally, men named Cornelius also outnumber people of color 1–0.

President Bacow’s former home at MIT — the Department of Urban Studies and Planning — has a remarkably similar roster. The list of DUSP department heads includes two Larrys and one woman, Amy Glasmeier. Of course, there is no doubt that Larrys Vale, Susskind, and Bacow served MIT with dignity and competence. (Regrettably, the same is not necessarily true of Larrys Lowell and Summers. As president of Harvard, the former Larry proposed a cap on Jewish admissions. In the same role, the latter Larry once explained women’s underrepresentation in the upper echelons of academia with the line “in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude.”)

Regardless of any given Larry’s qualifications, President Bacow’s appointment is a missed opportunity to correct a record of inequality at the helm of our most prestigious universities. In 2015, MIT’s Graduate Writing Exam asked many incoming students to explain why women hold a minority of tenured faculty positions worldwide. As a new grad student, this prompt encouraged me that the Institute recognized its responsibility as an equal opportunity employer. Last week, the announcement at Harvard reminded me that changes at the top are a symbolic occasion for universities to fulfill that obligation. Harvard took a pass.

Scott Middleton is a graduate student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.