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Harvard’s next president a trusted voice in higher education

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:46 PM PST

Last summer, Trinity College was engulfed in a firestorm after a faculty member released a tweet that some interpreted as saying that bigots should not be aided by emergency responders who are minorities and instead be left to die.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president of the Hartford, Conn., college, was blindsided by the controversy, which rapidly escalated, fanned by conservative outrage at liberal campus views on one side and by fears of white supremacist movements on the other. The outcry grew, resulting in death threats against the professor, who left the state with his family, and the closure of campus for a day due to safety concerns.

As tensions rose, Berger-Sweeney, president of the school since 2014, needed someone to talk to about a situation that isn't in any leadership textbook. She called Larry Bacow.

"Being a president is hard," Berger-Sweeney said. "You run into things that you have never seen before. I first heard about it on a Monday. On Tuesday morning I called Larry to say, 'OK, I don't know who else I can talk to. Just help walk me through this.'"

Lawrence S. Bacow, who was named Harvard's 29th president on Sunday, has a reputation as someone fellow leaders seek out for advice. Berger-Sweeney, who first met Bacow when he was the president of Tufts University and she was the school's dean for arts and sciences, said she was delighted when she heard the Harvard news. A storm of emails from former Tufts colleagues showed she was not alone.

"Being a president is hard. You run into things that you have never seen before,” said Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, who turned to Lawrence Bacow when a controversy hit her campus. Photo by Al Ferreira Photography

"I got the email yesterday, I was in the car," she said. "Luckily my husband was driving or I'm sure I would have had an accident. I was thrilled."

When she spoke with Bacow last summer, Berger-Sweeney recalled, he didn't tell her what to do, but rather asked questions that helped shine a light on the problem and guided her through its most important dimensions.

"He just gives such sound, reasonable advice," Berger-Sweeney said. "He doesn't tell you what to do, but asks questions that lead you to … understand how you might approach a situation."

In naming Bacow the University's next president, Harvard leaders cited wide respect for his wisdom and counsel among his qualifications.


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"He is someone other leaders across higher education look to for advice on leadership and solving hard problems," Bill Lee, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and chair of the presidential search committee, said as he introduced Bacow.

Former Princeton president Shirley Tilghman, who as a Corporation member has served alongside Bacow, praised the choice.

"Larry Bacow brings an extraordinary combination of broad experience in academia, deep knowledge of Harvard, and that intangible quality, wisdom," Tilghman said in a statement Sunday. "I have been struck during the years I have served with him on the Corporation by his generosity to many leaders, both inside and outside Harvard, who regularly turn to him for thoughtful counsel."

Danoff Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana, who was paired with Bacow as part of a Corporation initiative linking senior leaders with deans, said that Bacow was helpful as both a coach and a sounding board. That was at least in part because he has such high standards about what an institution of higher education should be, Khurana said. In addition, Khurana said, Bacow was never too busy to talk.

Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana

"He's somebody who demonstrates how important good listening is and who knows how powerful empathizing can be for someone," said Danoff Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana when describing Lawrence Bacow.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard file photo

"He always made himself available and was willing to invest time and effort," Khurana said. "He's somebody who demonstrates how important good listening is and who knows how powerful empathizing can be for someone. What you could see is what an extraordinary teacher he is. … I always thought about him as one of the real statespeople of higher education."

Bacow's willingness to act as a sounding board for colleagues extends back to his time on the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to Robert Birgeneau, who has served as chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, and president of the University of Toronto, and knew Bacow when they were both MIT professors.

During the late 1990s, Birgeneau said, he asked Bacow and a handful of other MIT faculty leaders to gather and discuss academic issues in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The six scholars hit it off enough to continue to meet every few months. The discussion expanded over the years as their careers evolved to include broader issues important to higher education.

When Birgeneau was Berkeley's chancellor and Bacow was Tufts' president, each provided the other with insight that was difficult to find elsewhere.

"I found meeting with this group — including Larry in particular because he was also a university leader — invaluable, because it was a set of very smart people who cared deeply about academia and who were not part of your institution," Birgeneau said. "It can be very hard to keep your head above water."

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Praise and optimism in reaction to choice of Bacow as president

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:26 PM PST

As news spread Monday about Harvard's choice of Lawrence S. Bacow as the University's next president, members of the academic community and others praised the selection of the former Tufts University president, lawyer, economist, and environmental policy expert, who in July will become Harvard's 29th leader in 381 years.

Deans, faculty, and students across Harvard lauded the choice of a seasoned leader who they said is highly respected, driven, and dedicated to expanding student access and opportunity and to helping institutions of higher learning address some of the world's pressing challenges.

David Ellwood, the Isabelle and Scott Black Professor of Political Economy and a member of the faculty group that advised the presidential search committee, called the choice of Bacow "inspired."

David Ellwood.

"Like nearly every one of my colleagues when I was a dean, I turned to Larry for the wisest counsel when I would need it most," says David Ellwood, pictured. "Harvard has selected a wise, inspiring, and humane leader."

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard file photo

"His intense commitment to his core values of excellence, service, humanity, integrity, and open discourse are drawn from his earliest lessons growing up, and from many years of exceptional educational leadership," said Ellwood, whose tenure as dean of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) from 2004 to 2015 overlapped with Bacow's HKS appointment as Hauser Leader-in-Residence in the School's Center for Public Leadership in 2014.

"Like nearly every one of my colleagues when I was a dean, I turned to Larry for the wisest counsel when I would need it most. Harvard has selected an inspiring and humane leader."

Dean Huntington D. Lambert of the Harvard Division of Continuing Education (DCE) also praised the choice, saying Bacow's "dedication to improving student success and fostering new paths for learners are two pivotal areas that we are deeply passionate about at the DCE. I look forward to working with Larry as DCE continues to extend Harvard to nontraditional and summer learners and help Harvard reach his goals" of ensuring broader access to higher education.

John Silvanus Wilson Jr., M.T.S. '81, Ed.M. '82, Ed.D. '85, former president of Morehouse College, a Harvard Overseer, and past executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), has known Bacow for more than 25 years. They worked closely while at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Wilson as an administrator and Bacow as chair of the faculty. Wilson recalled Bacow's keen ability to synthesize complex ideas and arguments and his ease at managing occasionally tense discussions during faculty policy meetings.

"He was able to navigate through what often were conflicts and disagreements, and he was able, always skillfully, to elevate everyone's understanding of whatever we were discussing to a higher place. That always impressed me."

But Bacow's heart, said Wilson, matched his intellect. Wilson, who served as a head of house on the MIT campus, remembers when Bacow, then MIT chancellor, and his wife comforted students and faculty after a tragedy.

"We experienced a student death, and that's when I saw his true humanity. He had the skills and compassion and understanding and depth of human spirit to reach people. It is a very rare and special virtue for a leader. I saw Larry lead with head and heart at MIT, and I think he is a better man and a better leader because he is that way."

Michelle Williams.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard file photo

Many in the Harvard community issued congratulations to Bacow on social media, among them psychologist Steven Pinker, who was once on the MIT faculty with Bacow. "Delighted to welcome my former colleague, the wise and witty Larry Bacow, as the 29th president of Harvard," tweeted Pinker, Harvard's Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology.

"Congratulations to Lawrence S. Bacow … I look forward to working with him to address some of our most pressing global health challenges — including climate change," tweeted Dean Michelle Williams of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Williams expanded on that note Monday afternoon, saying, "Larry is deeply knowledgeable about Harvard, deeply familiar with the Harvard Chan School, and exceptionally well-positioned to lead the University at a time when higher education is facing new political headwinds and public health issues — particularly the issue of climate change and health — are in danger of being neglected or becoming needlessly politicized. Larry's experience as a leader, his personal belief in the power of higher education to change lives, and his strong commitment to building on President Drew Faust's legacy of positive impact through engagement with local and global communities make him the ideal president for our time."

University of Miami President Julio Frenk, former dean of the Harvard Chan School, said of Bacow, “His stature as a widely admired leader in higher education makes him an inspired choice to lead Harvard. After the remarkable achievements of President Drew Faust, the selection of Larry Bacow assures a bright future for Harvard. Like so many others, I have benefited from Larry's insightful advice. From his new position, he will continue to be a strong voice in defense of all that universities stand for.”

Author and journalist Walter Isaacson, '74, a former member of Harvard's Board of Overseers, called Bacow "an awesomely qualified candidate — with great values, instincts, leadership skills, and humanity" in a tweet Monday afternoon.

In a letter to the Harvard Divinity School (HDS) community, Dean David N. Hampton said Bacow's "astonishing breadth of expertise includes environmental policy, bargaining and negotiation, economics, law, and public policy… Bacow is also one of the most respected voices in American higher education. His passion for inclusion and access will drive Harvard and HDS's commitment to diversity, to service, and to student opportunity."

Claudine Gay, another member of the faculty advisory committee on the presidential search, lauded the selection and said she is "optimistic about what the future holds" under Bacow's leadership. "I am excited about Larry's appointment and about the diversity of perspectives he will bring to the role: as an academic who understands the importance of connecting scholarship to the urgent problems of the day; as someone with a deep understanding of Harvard; as an academic leader with a wealth of experience from other institutions," said Gay, the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government and of African and African American Studies and dean of social science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Claudine Gay.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard file photo

Students interviewed across the campus Monday afternoon agreed that Bacow had the resume to do the job. Some also offered the incoming president a list of priorities as varied as their backgrounds.

Benjamin Sperling, a freshman from New York City, said faculty at his high school seemed at odds with administrators. He hopes Bacow makes strong connections with faculty and with students. "I'm looking for improved discourse among all three groups," said the 18-year-old.

In the Science Center, Andre Chatfield, a Kirkland House senior and member of the basketball team, said he shared a concentration with the incoming president and hopes he can ponder the needs of student athletes who have rigorous team demands that can rival academic ones.

"My freshman year, we made the NCAA tournament, and fall of my junior year we traveled to China to play Stanford," he said. "We had to miss classes, and it's hard to find a balance. He could have an understanding of that balance."

Andre Chatfield.

Andre Chatfield.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Jake Gober hopes Bacow spends time with students. The 21-year-old applied-math concentrator, who plans to work at a New York startup after graduation, said town hall-style meetings could be a device for reducing any disconnect that some students may feel with administrators.

"Having some connection between students and the administration is really important," he said. "That should be a big part of his schedule."

Ben Sperling.
Kaylee Kim.

Ben Sperling; Kaylee Kim.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Sitting in the Science Center lobby with Gober was Raj Vatsa, who was "surprised" to hear of the presidential choice. "I am hopeful he will be a president who actively advocates for diverse backgrounds and identities," said the 21-year-old senior, who shares a home state (Michigan) with Bacow.

An applied-math concentrator who plans to attend medical school, Vatsa said he has close friends on campus who are directly affected by the Trump administration's tough immigration policies and the threat facing Dreamers, the undocumented students who have been protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

"It's very important the next president actively lobby for immigration and human rights in general," he said.

Jake Gober.
Raj Vatsa.

Jake Gober; Raj Vatsa.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Several students said they hoped Bacow would continue prioritizing environment issues. Ben Austin, a government concentrator, said he thinks Bacow should build upon President Faust's recently announced climate goal that would make the University fossil-free by 2050.

"I like his commitment to environmental policy," said the 20-year-old sophomore. "Harvard is a leader, and to set that precedent now is very important in a time when government is reversing regulations."


Bacow, named Harvard president, meets the press

Explains who he is, how he's learned, what he values

Harvard launches presidential search

Committees will canvass University and beyond for suggestions on a new leader

Trusted voice among leaders in higher education

Harvard's next president praised by his peers as a problem-solver and thoughtful adviser

Kaylee Kim, a history and literature concentrator, said she thinks Bacow is "positively qualified," and came across in his press conference as a nice person. That quality was important to the 20-year-old, who said she heard about the announcement not through campus sources, but in a New York Times notification to her phone.

"Sometimes I 'forget' I go to Harvard," she said. "A lot of what he will do in the next years will set precedents not just for Harvard, but other universities."

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At conference on migration, panel debates human rights vs. state security

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 02:19 PM PST

To some, it seems obvious that migrants are human beings forced to move, rather than amorphous threats against the state. But little about human beings is simple. On Friday, at the inaugural Mahindras Humanities Center conference on "Migration and the Humanities," a panel of academics tackled different facets of the many population movements now crisscrossing the globe.

And no surprise: The experts raised more questions than answers as they discussed a complicated problem worsened by adversarial administrations, here and abroad, and the untold suffering of millions.

Before the final talk, on "Survival and Security," Mahindra Center Director Homi Bhabha said the conference had two goals: The first was to focus on "the ways in which the humanities contribute to the centuries-long process of migration," he said; the second, "How do the issues that are raised by migration — questions of justice, of citizenship, issues of security, of social and global equity — speak to the foundational paradigms of the humanities?"

John Hamilton, Harvard's William R. Kenan Professor of German and Comparative Literature and chair of the department of Germanic Languages and Literature, said any discussion of survival and security brings up "modalities of living in the face of civil unrest and oppression, climate change and cultural displacement."

"The humanities are well-suited to posing key questions," Hamilton said. For example: "What is the promise, and what are the limits of living securely? How might security circumvent new, unforeseen threats? How can we be carefree without being careless?"

Inderpal Grewal, professor and chair of women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale, put the focus on the concept of the state, and specifically nation-building. In Grewal's home region of the Punjab, gender roles and the idea of a "militarized masculinity" have shifted, casting Sikh men first as the ultimate defenders and ideal police, and then, too often, as dangerous insurgents. Even more problematically, Grewal said that some Sikh men are still set up as defenders of a united India at the same time the prime minister is promoting Hindu nationalism.

"How do the issues that are raised by migration — questions of justice, of citizenship, issues of security, of social and global equity — speak to the foundational paradigms of the humanities?" asked Bhabha in the penultimate talk of the conference.

Photo by Tia Ann Chapman

In the Punjab, a region divided by Pakistan and India, and for the Sikhs, a religious minority, these issues are not new.

"What is new," Grewal said, "is that migrants are securitized."

Lisa Lowe, Distinguished Professor of English and Humanities and director of the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University, addressed the way current trends of migration are being framed as crises, a tactic that serves to detach the mass movements from their longstanding political roots.

"We are living in a time of unprecedented migration from countries besieged by war, poverty, and unprecedented coups," she said. Lowe said The New York Times last week put the number of forcibly displaced at approximately 64 million — "the highest number since World War II."

However, unlike that post-WWII migration, "contemporary migrants are largely from the global south," Lowe said. She said most are "food refugees, climate refugees, and asylum seekers," who seek entrance to — and are viewed as a threat by — the north, which parlays their numbers into a rationale for becoming "Fortress Europe."

Most migrants are people in crisis, and a refusal to face the underlying causes of their displacement — war, economic inequity, or climate change — compounds the issues they face, she said.

"The migrant is viewed as stateless, homeless, and rights-less," Lowe said. "Perhaps the migrant is a sign of our difficulty in reading the global present."

"Migration and the Humanities" was sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Photos of John Harvard’s Charlestown in winter

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 01:02 PM PST

Visitors posing for photos with the John Harvard Statue may not know that the University's namesake and first major benefactor may never have set foot in Cambridge, Mass. The English clergyman's name is practically synonymous with this college town, but he actually lived and preached 3 miles away in Charlestown.

There's even another square named after him on the other side of the river, no doubt a source of confusion for the occasional tourist who stumbles upon the John Harvard Mall while looking for Harvard Yard.

Harvard died of consumption in 1638 a mere year after he sailed to New England in search of religious freedom — but in his brief time here he left a lasting mark.

After a recent snowfall, we explored his old neighborhood and spoke with historian Rosemary Kverek of Charlestown and Cambridge Historical Commission Director Charles Sullivan.

Some think John Harvard may be buried under the John Harvard Mall or in Phipps Street Burial Ground in Charlestown, but good luck finding a headstone. According to Cambridge Historical Commission Director Charles Sullivan, "In that early period, John Harvard's headstone would likely have been a wooden plank, that would have long rotted by now."

Charlestown's Harvard Square is just outside the John Harvard Mall. If John Harvard ever did make the trek to Cambridge, his commute likely would have taken him along a pre-existing Native American footpath that ran from Sullivan Square, continued onto Washington Street in Somerville, and followed Kirkland and Brattle streets in Cambridge, according to Charles Sullivan.

Two venerable Charlestown landmarks, the Warren Tavern and the Bunker Hill Monument, were built more than 100 years after Harvard's death.

A man walks his dog on a quarter-acre lot once owned by Harvard. According to a book by J. Gardner Bartlett, Harvard also owned a lot of 60 acres in Mystic Field (now Everett), a lot of 120 acres in Waterfield (now Winchester), a lot of 4 acres in Line Field (now Arlington), and two small lots in Mystic Marshes (now Everett).

"It pleased God to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard a godly gentleman and a lover of learning …"


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