During his first four years as Harvard president, Lawrence S. Bacow largely stayed away from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, avoiding the kind of major controversies that brought down Lawrence’s presidency. H. Summers 16 years ago.
But despite mostly positive or neutral reviews from faculty members, some say they are looking for someone from a different mold as Harvard prepares to begin the selection process to find its 30th president.
Bacow announced Wednesday that he plans to step down next year, paving the way for Harvard’s second presidential search in a decade. In interviews after his announcement, faculty members offered a wide range of hopes for Harvard’s next president: some say they want someone with a different academic background, and many others are vying for a candidate who will use the perch of the university presidency to tackle the global social crisis. problems.
“We…need a leader who can mobilize our core academic resources and influence to tackle growing local, national and global issues – from deep economic disparities to growing social injustices, to the dangers of climate change , to the growing national polarization around the value of higher education itself,” Suzanne P. Blier, professor of fine arts and African and African American studies, wrote in an email.
Some faculty members said they hoped to see Harvard’s 30th president strengthen the sciences and humanities.
“I think the new president has an opportunity to link 21st century skills – creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication – to the humanities,” Doris Sommer, professor of Romance languages and literatures, wrote in an email. . “The pursuit of these skills should lead to more opportunities to connect the humanities with all other fields.”
Bacow will step down next year after just five years in office, tying Summers for the shortest term since the Civil War. His departure, announced Wednesday in an email to Harvard affiliates, surprised some FAS members.
Jacob K. Olupona, a professor at AAAS and Harvard Divinity School, said the news of Bacow’s retirement came as “a great shock” to him and other faculty members.
“His retirement is a great loss not just for Harvard but for higher education in the United States,” Daniel E. Lieberman ’86, a professor of human evolutionary biology, added in an email.
Bacow joins more than half a dozen higher education leaders who plan to leave their posts this year or next.
Blier wrote that the challenges of the pandemic may have contributed to Bacow’s departure.
“In light of COVID and how Harvard has handled this time, perhaps the timing shouldn’t come as such a surprise,” she wrote.
History professor Philip J. Deloria wrote in an email that Bacow “has been a steady hand in a difficult time,” praising his leadership during the pandemic.
“We ask a lot of our college presidents, and there are all sorts of structural issues that can prevent them from meeting our many expectations,” he writes. “I can’t imagine anything less enjoyable than guiding an institution through the past two years of a pandemic, but Harvard has done it competently and reasonably, and we can attribute much of that to President Bacow’s leadership. “
Faculty members also praised Bacow for his attention to other global issues.
University professor Stephen J. Greenblatt wrote that Bacow was an “effective advocate for foreign students, held hostage by the irrational political forces of nativism.” In 2020, Harvard sued the federal government over immigration rules that barred international students from staying in the United States unless they took in-person classes, prompting the Trump administration to finally change its guidelines.
Sommer hailed Bacow’s “determination to confront the shameful history and legacy of slavery” at Harvard, adding that his contributions inspire him in his own work. Harvard released a report in April that acknowledged the university’s deep ties to the institution of slavery.
“I am encouraged that his leadership through the public taking stock of Harvard’s involvement will inspire us to develop reparations projects in our particular disciplines,” she wrote in an email.
Most faculty members declined to offer names of potential candidates, but two pointed to current SAF leaders.
University professor Irwin I. Shapiro nominated Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs as a potential candidate. Blier wrote that “if Harvard looks internally”, FAS Dean Claudine Gay “has done an amazing job and would be a terrific president”.
Other faculty members said they wanted to see a candidate from a different academic background than Bacow, who has degrees in three areas of the social sciences: law, public policy and economics.
Science professor Abraham “Avi” Loeb said Harvard should appoint a lead scientist who also understands the “ethical issues” that “the humanities must address.”
James Bryant Conant, Class of 1914, who served in Massachusetts Hall from 1933 to 1953, was the last president of Harvard with a scientific background.
“The future of the University should reflect the challenges we have, both in science and technology, but at the same time combine the progress we are making in science and technology with new policies, with new new ways of dealing with challenges that come from the humanities,” Loeb said. “There are ethical issues. There are issues about how to regulate some of the abilities that we have.
Jill E. Abramson ’76, an English lecturer who was previously editor of The New York Times, said she hopes fundraising ability won’t be the “main prerequisite” for the job.
Instead, she said, Harvard’s 30th president should focus on strengthening the humanities.
“I would like to see a president who values the humanities and could put some energy into trying to steer students towards concentrations that are part of the humanities, because I think the humanities [are] a fundamental part of a good education,” she said.
Bacow came to Massachusetts Hall from an inside track: He served at the Harvard Corporation for seven years before his appointment as president and he left the search committee that ultimately selected him in 2018 for consideration. for the post itself.
Loeb said he hopes the search committee will prioritize someone outside of his ranks.
“What I really hope will happen now is that there will be attention to people outside of the search committee and attention to people who have a vision and not just administrative experience,” a- he declared.
—Writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ArielH_Kim.
—Editor Meimei Xu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.