Lawrence S. Baco, who has led Harvard University through the epidemic and spent more than 50 years studying, teaching and presiding over three major universities in the Boston area, announced Wednesday that he will step down as president of Harvard next summer.
“There has never been a better time to leave a job like this, but now it seems right to me,” Baco said in a statement. “Through our combined efforts, we have found our way through the epidemic. We’ve worked together to keep Harvard afloat through change and through storms, and together we’ve made Harvard better and stronger in countless ways. “
When Bacow resigned as president of Tufts University in 2016, he described the decade as the best length of presidency. “I have often said that 10 years is the right term for a university president. It’s long enough for an individual to make an impact, but not so long that the organization or the president becomes comfortable. “
Baco will leave Harvard after nearly half a long presidency, but that period included two full years of the COVID-19 epidemic, each arguably counted as three. (He also spent the previous seven years as a member of the Harvard Corporation, the university’s principal board.)
During that time, the university sued for blocking a federal policy that barred international students from living in the United States if their coursework was primarily online, as would inevitably be. “Larry immediately acknowledged that this would be detrimental not only to individual students but to the whole concept of global education,” said Rafael Reif, a BACO opponent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a release. “The fact that the policy was overturned next week is proof of the power of his argument.”
Bacow also led Harvard’s efforts to defend its positive policy against the constitutional challenge. A federal appeals court in 2020 found no evidence of discrimination against Asian American applicants in upholding Harvard policy, but many hope the U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal in the autumn to find flaws with university policies.
Among other highlights of Bacow’s tenure at Harvard, which is covered Inside higher ed:
- The university has announced that it will stop investing in fossil fuels. “Climate change is the most consequential threat facing mankind. The past several months have left undeniable evidence of the world approaching our feet: huge wildfires that engulf entire cities, unprecedented floods that inundate major urban areas, record heatwaves and droughts that destroy food supplies and exacerbate water shortages, “Baco writes.” As citizens, as scholars, and as an institution, we must work to address this crisis to the best of our ability. “
- Harvard pledged 100 million this spring to revise its historic relationship with slavery. “The truth is that slavery has played an important role in our institutional history,” Baco wrote. “The captives worked on our campus to support our students, faculty and staff, including several Harvard presidents. The labor of enslaved people, both near and far, has enriched countless donors and, ultimately, the organization. ”
- The university has significantly expanded its research into stressful issues in society, including a new center for the study of natural and artificial intelligence and a new center for cities.
Prior to being appointed President of Harvard, Baco spent 10 years as President of Medford, Mass. Tufts University, and 24 years as a faculty member and administrator at MIT.
The son of an immigrant, he attended college at MIT and then earned three degrees, including a PhD from Harvard. In public policy. His scholarly work includes environmental policy, bargaining and negotiation, economics, law, public policy and higher education.