FEBRUARY 22, 2018 – CAMBRIDGE – Lawrence Bacow, who formerly served as president of Tufts University and chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will become the president of Harvard University on July 1.
Bacow, 66, will become the third Jewish president to lead Harvard, following Lawrence Summers (2001-2006), and Neil Rudenstine (1991-2001).
Bacow grew up in Michigan, and is the son of Eastern European immigrants. His mother was the only member of her family to survive Auschwitz, and his father witnessed pogroms in Europe. When he was introduced as the incoming president on Feb. 11, he credited his parents for creating opportunities for their family in their new country.
“My parents came to this country with literally nothing. I wouldn’t be here if this country was not open to people like my parents at the time,” he said after the announcement.
“It was higher education that made this all possible, and I look forward to working every day as president of Harvard to ensure that future generations benefit from the same opportunity that my family had and so many of us, I suspect, who sit in this room today also have – and that is the opportunity to experience the American dream,” he said.
Bacow attended MIT as an undergraduate, and holds a law degree and a PhD from Harvard. He served as president of Tufts from 2001 to 2011. An economist, he is considered an expert in environmental policy and is also a proven fund-raiser: at Tufts, he helped raised $1.2 billion. At Tufts, he placed a mezuzah on the front of the president’s residence.
Alan Dershowitz, Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard, lauded the choice. “I know Larry. He’s a terrific choice. In addition to his incredible accomplishments at MIT, and at Tufts, he’s a real mensch. He’s a guy who has very balanced views, very thoughtful, he’s proudly Jewish,” said Dershowitz.
Dershowitz believes that the days of excitement around naming a Jewish president at one of America’s most prestigious universities are over. “Today, I don’t think people even notice,” he said. “I mean so many Jews have been presidents of so many universities – and [have become] deans – that’s it’s just not a factor,” he said.
Bacow’s wife, Adele Fleet Bacow, is an urban planner and graduate of Wellesley College and MIT. The couple met on the first day of his orientation at Harvard Law School. In 2012, she was awarded the Hosea Ballou Medal by the Tufts Board of Trustees. The medal has been awarded only 17 times since its inception in 1939, and was created to “recognize members of the Tufts community who have rendered exceptional service for the institution.” The Bacows have two sons.