Harvard President Lawrence Bacow to Step Down in 2023

Bacow will step down following 12 years as a member of the Harvard Corporation, including five as president.

June 9, 2022 · Updated on June 10, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Harvard President Lawrence Bacow to Step Down in 2023

  • Bacow will serve as Harvard's president until June 2023.
  • His five-year tenure is short by the university’s standards.
  • He steered the university through the COVID-19 pandemic and led efforts to atone for its role in slavery.

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced Wednesday that he will step down next June.

He'll retire having served 12 years as a member of the Harvard Corporation, including five as president. The Harvard Crimson reported that Bacow's tenure of five years will be tied with former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers' 2001-2006 term as the shortest since the Civil War.

Though his tenure was short by Harvard standards, it was incredibly consequential.

“In a letter to the Harvard community, Lawrence S. Bacow said serving as Harvard's president was "the privilege of a lifetime," and touted his leadership during the pandemic.”

Bacow, 70, took office in 2018, less than two years before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to the Harvard community, he said serving as Harvard's president was "the privilege of a lifetime," and touted his leadership during the pandemic.

"There is never a good time to leave a job like this one, but now seems right to me," he wrote. "Through our collective efforts, we have found our way through the pandemic. We have worked together to sustain Harvard through change and through storm, and collectively we have made Harvard better and stronger in countless ways."

Bacow added that he is looking forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren.

Harvard Senior fellows William F. Lee and Penny Pritzker lauded Bacow's leadership in a separate letter to the university community.

"Harvard could not have asked for a better, wiser, more thoughtful, dedicated, experienced, and humane leader through these times of extraordinary challenge and change," they wrote.

Bacow faced challenges beyond the COVID-19 pandemic during his tenure.

He retires as a legal battle over race and undergraduate admissions culminates at the U.S. Supreme Court. Conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard in 2014, alleging that the university's consideration of race in admissions was unconstitutional.

The case was thrown out by lower courts. However, the Supreme Court last January agreed to hear the case in October. A decision is expected in June 2023 — around the time Bacow is set to depart his post.

During his tenure, Bacow also helped Harvard acknowledge and atone for its role in slavery. In 2019, he commissioned a report that was released in April titled "Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery." It details how the university benefited from slavery and perpetuated racial inequality.

Bacow personally acknowledged the discomfort and pain caused by the findings and announced the creation of a $100 million endowment to carry out the report's recommendations.