Professor Lawrence Seldon Bacow

Photo of Professor Lawrence Seldon Bacow

JD, PhD (Harvard), SB (MIT)

Honorary Fellow
President of Harvard University; Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows, ex officio; Professor of Public Policy

Lawrence S. Bacow is the 29th President of Harvard University.

Bacow was the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership and served as a member of the Harvard Corporation, the university’s principal governing board. One of the most widely experienced leaders in American higher education, known for his commitment to expanding student opportunity, catalyzing academic innovation, and encouraging universities’ civic engagement and service to society, Bacow is the former President of Tufts University and past Chancellor and Chair of the Faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As President of Tufts from 2001 to 2011, Bacow advanced the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching, research, and public service and fostered collaboration across the university’s eight schools. Under his leadership, Tufts pursued initiatives to enhance the undergraduate experience, deepen graduate and professional education and research in critical fields, broaden international engagement, and promote active citizenship among members of the university community.

While at Tufts, Bacow emerged as a nationally recognized champion of expanding access to higher education through need-based student aid, while also advocating vigorously for federal support of university-based research. He worked to engender novel connections across academic disciplines and among Tufts’ wide array of schools and helped craft a new partnership between the university and its principal teaching hospital, Tufts Medical Center. Bacow convened an international conference of higher education leaders in 2005 to initiate the Talloires Network, a global association of colleges and universities committed to strengthening the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education. He launched Tufts’ Office of Institutional Diversity and highlighted inclusion as a cornerstone of the university’s excellence. He also strengthened relations between Tufts and its host communities and expanded outreach to alumni, parents, and friends. While guiding Tufts through the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and its aftermath, he brought to fruition the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the university’s history.

Before his time at Tufts, Bacow spent 24 years on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he held the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professorship of Environmental Studies. He served as the elected Chair of the Faculty (1995-97) and then as Chancellor (1998-2001), one of the institute’s most senior academic officers. As Chancellor, he guided the institute’s efforts in undergraduate education, graduate education, research initiatives, international and industrial partnerships, and strategic planning, while playing an integral role in reviewing faculty appointments and promotions across MIT. Early in his career, he held visiting professorships at universities in Israel, Italy, Chile, and the Netherlands.

With academic interests that range across environmental policy, bargaining and negotiation, economics, law, and public policy, Bacow emerged as a widely recognized expert on non-adjudicatory approaches to the resolution of environmental disputes. He was co-director of MIT’s Consortium on Global Environmental Challenges and played a key role in launching and leading both the MIT Center for Environmental Initiatives and the MIT Center for Real Estate. He was also associated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. He is the author or co-author of four books and numerous scholarly articles on topics related to environmental policy, economics, land use law, negotiation, and occupational health and safety. At Tufts, he held faculty appointments in five academic departments: Urban and Environmental Policy, Economics, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Public Health, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

In recent years, he has turned his scholarly focus to higher education and leadership. From 2011 to 2014, he served as President-in-Residence in the Higher Education Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Since 2014, he has served as the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership. He has devoted his time to advising many new and aspiring higher education leaders, mentoring students interested in careers in education, teaching in executive education programs, and writing and speaking on salient topics in higher education – innovations in learning, academic freedom, the economics of universities, the impact of digital technologies, and university governance and leadership, among others.

Bacow is a senior advisor to Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit organization devoted to innovation in higher education, and was one of the authors of its major 2012 study of online learning systems in U.S. higher education. He has recently served as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Lincoln Project on preserving and strengthening the nation’s public research universities (2014-16), as well as the White House Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (2010-15). In 2017, he was Clark Kerr Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has received six honorary degrees.

While president of Tufts, Bacow served as chair of the council of presidents of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, chair of the executive committee of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, and a member of the executive committee of the American Council of Education’s board of directors.

Since July 2011, Bacow has served as a member of the Harvard Corporation, the university’s principal governing board. He chairs the Corporation’s finance committee and is past chair of both the Corporation’s committee on facilities and capital planning and the governing boards’ joint committee on inspection.

Bacow was raised in Pontiac, Michigan, by parents who were both immigrants, and whom he saw as embodiments of the American dream. Interested in math and science from an early age, he attended college at MIT, where he received his S.B. in economics and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He went on to earn three degrees from Harvard: a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an M.P.P. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a Ph.D. in public policy.

Bacow is an avid runner, sailor, and skier. He launched the President’s Marathon Challenge at Tufts to raise funds in support of health and nutrition research, and he has completed five marathons. He was a member of the varsity sailing team at MIT, and the Sailing Pavilion at Tufts is named for him and his wife, Adele Fleet Bacow, an urban planner and graduate of Wellesley College and MIT. He met Adele on his first day of orientation at Harvard Law School. In 2012, Tufts recognized her with the Hosea Ballou Medal, an honor bestowed only 17 times since 1939 for exceptional service to the university. The Bacows have two sons.