Harvard trustees announced Sunday afternoon that lawyer, economist, and former Tufts University president Lawrence S. Bacow will replace Harvard’s Drew Gilpin Faust, who is retiring in June.
When Bacow — who had been named to the presidential search committee but stepped down after agreeing to be considered — starts his new position in July, he’ll be inheriting the university’s top office during a relatively peaceful time.
But the next decade in higher education is likely to be rocky as campuses across the country, including Harvard, have been roiled over the past year with controversies over free speech, immigration, diversity, and inclusion.
Here’s a look at the man who will lead the 380-year-old institution:
Bacow is returning to his old stomping grounds
The Michigan native is no stranger to Cambridge: He majored in economics as an undergraduate at MIT before earning his law degree and PhD at Harvard. He worked at MIT for 24 years and was the chancellor of the school before moving on to Tufts.
Bacow returned to the Harvard’s campus in 2011 as the president-in-residence in the Higher Education Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education after stepping down as Tufts’s president. During an interview with Harvard Magazine in fall 2011, Bacow noted that he had been “two stops away from Harvard on the Red Line for 34 years — two stops north [Tufts] and two stops south [MIT].”
He was on the shortlist the last time Harvard searched for a new leader
In 2006, as Harvard was hunting for its 28th president, Bacow’s name appeared as a possible replacement for then-president Lawrence Summers. In an e-mail to the Tufts Daily, Bacow told the publication that he took the top job at Tufts “expecting it to be my last.” The search committee later named Faust to the position.
His parents are immigrant refugees
Bacow’s mother is a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and was the only Jewish person in her family — and her town — to survive World War II, Bacow said in a video interview with Harvard. His father was born in Minsk, Belarus, and brought to the United States as a child “to escape the pogroms of Eastern Europe.”
“I would not be standing here today, literally, if this country had turned its back on my parents,” Bacow said during a press conference Sunday.
He’s known nationally for his advocacy for access to higher education and the importance of need-based financial aid
Financial aid at Tufts for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students rose nearly 94 percent during Bacow’s tenure, according to the Tufts Journal. It was also under Bacow’s watch that in 2007, the university replaced loans with grants for families who make under $40,000.
He met his wife, Adele Fleet Bacow, while he was a first-year Harvard Law student
She was working her first job at a management consulting firm, his roommate was dating her college roommate, and the pair were “fixed up,” according to a profile in Tufts Magazine. Their first date was an Armenian cultural festival in Watertown.
They married in 1975 and have two sons, but no pets — Bacow is allergic to both cats and dogs.
He’s a runner
Bacow, according to Tufts, is an avid runner with at least five marathons to his name (four of which were in Boston). He was also known for taking early morning training runs for the Boston Marathon with Tufts students, faculty, and staff, according to the New York Times.
He’s faced university social life issues before
During his tenure as Tufts president, Bacow ended the annual “Naked Quad Run” — a tradition where students would go streaking through the campus — over safety concerns. “Even if I did not act now, NQR would end some day. The only question is whether a student has to die first,” Bacow wrote in a 2011 memo to the community announcing his decision.
Bacow will likely face similar decisions at Harvard, where the university’s “Primal Scream” event — where students run naked through Harvard Yard — continues.
Meanwhile, Bacow — who was in a fraternity at MIT himself — will have to face the ongoing pushback against the school’s decision to curtail off-campus, male-only social clubs, which administrators say foster a party culture that leads to sexual assault.
The fate of the social clubs, which count US presidents and powerbrokers among their alumni, has sparked fierce debate among Harvard’s students, faculty, and graduates over the past two years.
Bacow said during a press conference Sunday that he had a good experience as a member of Zeta Beta Tau during his college days, “but that was a very different time.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the presidential search committee’s process of picking a leader.Laura Krantz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Aimee Ortiz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @aimee_ortiz.