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Claudine Gay Named Harvard’s Thirtieth President

12.15.22

Claudine Gay

President-elect Claudine Gay

Credit Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Public Affairs and Communications


President-elect Claudine Gay

Credit Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Public Affairs and Communications

Claudine Gay—dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) since 2018—will become the thirtieth president of Harvard University on July 1. The announcement of her election by the Harvard Corporation, with the consent of the Board of Overseers earlier today, was made at 1:35 p.m. She will succeed Lawrence S. Bacow, who last June announced his plan to step down at the end of this academic year. The transition promises to be a seamless one: Gay, then dean of social science within the FAS, was a member of the faculty advisory committee during the search that resulted in Bacow’s election in 2018, and he appointed her dean of FAS. She has therefore been a member of the president’s academic council, and is well acquainted with all other members of the University’s and the schools’ senior leaders.

See  updates below for coverage of the University introductory event and subsequent news briefing.

By Harvard’s recent standards, the announcement brings to a remarkably swift close a search inaugurated only last June 8, when Lawrence S. Bacow announced his intention to step down. The formal search was begun on July 7, when Penny Pritzker, the Corporation’s new senior fellow, unveiled the committee charged with identifying his successor; the faculty and staff advisory committees were not named publicly until August 25—and the student cohort not until September 22.

But unlike the 2017 search—in which Bacow, a Corporation and search committee member, did not emerge as a possibility until mid December—this time things appear to have come together quickly. Gay is a known quantity, deeply familiar with the University’s people, operations, and the governing boards themselves. At a time of fierce competition for academic talent—Dartmouth, Tufts, and MIT have all recently appointed presidents; Boston University, Columbia, and Michigan are all in the hunt with Harvard—the search committee apparently found its candidate quickly, and moved to seal the deal.

The President-Elect

Claudine Gay, a Stanford graduate in economics, earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1998 for a thesis entitled “Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Politics.” A scholar of political behavior, focusing on race and politics in America, she was assistant and then associate professor of political science at Stanford from 2000 until she was recruited to Harvard in 2006 as a professor of government; subsequently appointed as a professor of African and African American Studies in 2007; and named Cowett professor of government in 2015—the year she became the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ dean of social science. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Gay has pursued her scholarship as a fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Radcliffe Institute, where she was a fellow in 2013-2014.  She currently serves on the boards of the Pew Research Center, Phillips Exeter Academy (where she was a student), and the American Academy of Political and Social Science. She also served as a member of the American Association of Universities advisory board on racial equity in higher education.

As FAS dean, Gay led her large, heterogenous faculty through the pandemic, disseminating long, warm, encouraging messages explaining Harvard’s precautions and processes for maintaining teaching and research. She also had to address old business, disciplining several faculty members for sexual harassment or misconduct and making absolutely clear the norms for behavior that apply to all members of the community today.

Emerging from the pandemic, during which Gay engaged a wide range of FAS members to plan for the faculty’s safe operation and future, she launched a comprehensive strategic planning exercise aimed at assuring its financial and intellectual resourcesThat work is approaching important milestones, but it may well fall to her successor to carry it through to completion. And along the way, she has made important appointments, such as a new dean for the division of continuing education—the locus of much of FAS’s online teaching expertise—and a new dean of administration and finance; she will get plenty of opportunities to exercise that skill when she assumes her new responsibilities in Mass Hall (see “On the Agenda,” below).


A twenty-first-century space
Photograph by Jonathan Shaw/Harvard Magazine

The Introductory Event and News Briefing

[This section is new, updated material posted as of 5:45 p.m., December 15, 2022.]

The event introducing the president-elect was held in the very twenty-first-century setting of Smith Campus Center’s Harvard Commons: a very different look indeed from the nineteenth-century, men’s-club environs of the Thompson Room, in Barker Center, where Presidents Drew Faust and Bacow first appeared. In brisk proceedings beginning at 3:15 p.m. emceed by Paul Andrew, vice president for public affairs and communications, Penny Pritzker and then the president-elect spoke for 25 minutes to an enthusiastic crowd populated by Corporation members, vice presidents, fellow deans, and others—including a beaming President Bacow and his wife, Adele Fleet Bacow.


Senior fellow Penny Pritzker
Photograph by Jonathan Shaw/Harvard Magazine

Pritzker, in her capacity as senior fellow and chair of the search spoke first about Gay, and then about the search. She lauded the president-elect as “a remarkable leader,” “a remarkable scholar,” “a remarkable teacher and mentor,” “a bridge-builder,” “a champion of inclusion,” “a beacon of excellence,” and “a terrific human being.” Of the search process, she said:

We have received more than 600 nominations.  And we’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with an array of extraordinarily impressive nominees from both inside and outside Harvard. 

All of us on the search committee have learned a great deal from the experience—about Harvard, and about people’s hopes for its future.  

Pritzker’s full remarks follow.

What a phenomenal day. Aren’t you thrilled?

Good afternoon, everyone.

I am Penny Pritzker—chair of our presidential search committee and Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation. 

I’m so pleased and so honored to be here today, to celebrate this important moment in Harvard’s history.

Harvard was founded nearly four centuries ago.

In all that time, only 29 people have served as its president.

Today, I am privileged—and I am delighted—to announce the election of Harvard’s 30th president, the person who will lead the University toward its fifth century of learning and service:  Claudine Gay. 

Claudine is a remarkable leader. 

She has done outstanding work, through unusually challenging times, as the dean of Harvard’s largest and most academically diverse faculty, our Faculty of Arts and Sciences—which spans disciplines ranging from biology, physics, and engineering, to economics and anthropology, to philosophy and literature. 

Claudine is a remarkable scholar. 

She is one of the academy’s most creative and rigorous thinkers about vital aspects of democracy and political participation.  She is a political scientist who is deeply engaged with practical issues and concerns – someone who is strongly focused on how the ideas and inventions born in our universities can make a positive difference in the world.

Claudine is a remarkable teacher and mentor.  

She is passionate about the experience of our students; about the quality of our educational programs; about the importance of expanding educational access and opportunity; and about the power of education to transform lives.

Claudine is a bridge-builder. 

She consults widely.  She collaborates naturally.  She seeks ways to transcend boundaries between disciplines and schools.  She brings people together in a spirit of common purpose – whether envisioning the possibilities of quantum science and engineering, or affirming the power of the humanities, or confronting the persistence of social and economic inequality.

Claudine is a resolute exponent of free inquiry and expression.  

She knows that the pursuit of truth depends fundamentally on a campus climate in which people from different backgrounds and points of view can come together and talk, candidly and respectfully, about issues that matter.

Claudine is a champion of inclusion.  

She knows that our community is made stronger and better when we draw from the widest possible pool of talent and ability.  She embraces the imperative of shaping a university culture in which people from different backgrounds can thrive.  

Claudine is a beacon of excellence.  

She sets high standards for herself.  She sets high standards for others.  She knows that Harvard’s capacity to do good in the world rests on the extraordinary talents and energies of the people who come here to do research and create new knowledge, to teach and to study, to work and to learn, and to pursue causes larger than themselves.  

Not least of all, Claudine is a terrific human being.  

She’s engaging.  Warm.  Empathetic.  Humane.  At once confident and humble.  A pleasure to spend time with.  Someone with deep integrity.  And someone who’s intensely curious.  She’s  always eager to learn more about fields beyond her own, always interested to learn about other people—their work, their lives, their ideas and aspirations.  She leads from values, and those values run deep. 

 

So before we hear from Claudine, let me say just a few brief words about our search.

Since early July, our search committee has met formally some 20 times, for hours at a stretch, in addition to many informal engagements.

We have been greatly helped by the extensive outreach and thoughtful advice of three excellent advisory committees—comprised of faculty, students, and staff from across Harvard’s schools.  

We have spoken with hundreds of people—individually or in groups—to solicit their nominations and counsel.  

We have benefited from written comments sent by hundreds of members of the worldwide Harvard community.  

We have received more than 600 nominations.  And we’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with an array of extraordinarily impressive nominees from both inside and outside Harvard.  

All of us on the search committee have learned a great deal from the experience—about Harvard, and about people’s hopes for its future.  

On behalf of the search committee, I want to express our deep gratitude to everyone who has offered us counsel on the search.  Your views have not only informed the selection of our new president.  They have also produced a wealth of valuable perspectives on the University’s opportunities and challenges as Harvard approaches its fifth century.  

And, besides conveying thanks from the search committee, let me express my personal thanks to all my colleagues on the committee. I could not have asked for a more dedicated group, more thoughtful partners in such an important endeavor.

Finally, before I close, I want to recognize our 29th and current president, Larry Bacow.  

Larry has done an absolutely superb job leading Harvard in recent years.  He has guided Harvard through unprecedented challenges while driving important academic initiatives forward.  He has led with wisdom, humanity, humility, and grace.  Larry, thanks to you, Harvard and its presidency are poised to move from strength to strength. 

 

And now as we now embark on that transition, I want to salute our new president-to-be—someone with a deep commitment not just to this University and its people, but to thinking imaginatively about how Harvard and its people can best be a force for good in the world.

I am proud to introduce—for the very first time as Harvard’s president-elect—Claudine Gay.


President-elect Claudine Gay and Christopher Afendulis
Photograph by Jonathan Shaw/Harvard Magzine

Claudine Gay, who stood toward the rear of the room during Pritzker’s remarks, accompanied by her husband, Christopher Afendulis, a healthcare policy scholar (who was not introduced), then came to the front of the room to speak, first in personal terms about her life trajectory and experience in higher education, and then about her new institutional role. Harvard’s mission, she said, “calls us to take a leap into the unknown, to have the bravery, the drive, the unbridled curiosity to search for answers to the questions that really matter. That’s Harvard to me.”

She envisioned a post-Ivory Tower institution:

When I imagine Harvard in the years ahead, I see a university that is even more connected to the world. Through our scholarship—the questions we pursue and the partnerships we build to advance and share knowledge; through our educational programs—who’s in the classroom, whether that classroom is on campus or online, and what we’re teaching; and through our public engagement—how we extend Harvard’s extraordinary teaching and research to have an impact on issues that matter. 

The idea of the Ivory Tower is the past, not the future, of academia. We don’t exist outside of society, but as part of it. And that means Harvard has a duty to lean in and engage, and to be in service to the world. Our people, our collections, our research, how we use our convening power in business and law and public policy, for all of that, our commitment must be to openness and engagement.


The president-elect as she is cheered...
Photograph by Jonathan Shaw/Harvard Magazine

The full text of President-elect Gay’s remarks follows, beginning with an impromptu response to the applause and hoots of approval.

This is crazy, right. I thought I was the only person still on campus.

Thank you, Penny. I am absolutely humbled by the confidence that the governing boards have placed in me.  I am also incredibly humbled by the prospect of succeeding President Bacow in leading this remarkable institution.  President Bacow, or Larry, as we all know you, working with you over the last five  years has been a master class.  You have shown me that leadership isn’t about one person, it’s about all of us, moving forward together, and that’s a lesson I take with me into this next journey. Thank you.

And now, I’m excited to introduce myself to all of you. Hi. I’m Claudine Gay, and I am honored to stand before you as the next president of Harvard University. I must admit that, as I say those words, I can’t help but think of a much younger version of myself. A first-year graduate student, moving into Haskins Hall, lugging the things that seemed most essential to my success at the time: a futon, a Mac Classic II, and a cast iron skillet for frying plantains. 

I was full of excitement, though not exactly sure where the Government Department was; very much at “step one” in my Harvard journey. That Claudine, could not possibly have imagined that her path would lead here. But I carry forward both her excitement, and her belief in the infinite possibility of Harvard.

My parents are immigrants from Haiti. They came to the U.S. with very little and put themselves through college while raising our family: my mom became a registered nurse, and my dad, a civil engineer, and it was the City College of New York that made those careers possible. 

College was always the expectation for me. My parents believed that education opens every door. But of course they gave me three options—I could be an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer—which I’m sure other kids of immigrant parents can relate to! So let’s just say that my becoming an academic was not what my parents had in mind. So, my decision to pursue a liberal arts and sciences education was a leap of faith—really, for all of us. But thankfully, my parents supported my choice. And by virtue of that fact, my life’s path took shape.

Attending Stanford as an undergraduate ignited everything for me. That’s where I discovered the reach of my own curiosity, where I experienced firsthand the detective work that is research and learned for the first time that knowledge is created and not just passed on. And it’s where I found what I wanted to do, what I felt born to do with my life. 

When I was applying to graduate schools, I needed a place where, no matter what I chose to pursue, there was excellence there. That place was Harvard. So it was easy to say “yes” when I had the opportunity first to come back as a professor, and then to serve as a dean.

love this place. Harvard is where I found my intellectual home. It has nurtured and inspired me since I first set foot in the Yard. I am deeply invested, not only in what Harvard is today, but also in what Harvard’s leadership means for the future.

With each leadership role I’ve taken on at Harvard, from the Dean of Social Science to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, I’ve been connected to wider worlds, to new questions and new possibilities for how, through research and through teaching, the world can be better than it is today. 

Few things give me more joy, more energy than talking to a colleague working in a field that is entirely new to me, or hearing the questions that are on the minds of a new generation of students. It’s those conversations that let me see the world with fresh eyes and reveal things that were previously invisible to me—from quantum science and engineering, to ancient Greek theater, to the gut microbiome. 

That is what our mission is all about. It calls us to take a leap into the unknown, to have the bravery, the drive, the unbridled curiosity to search for answers to the questions that really matter. That’s Harvard to me.

 

So, today, we are in a moment of remarkable and accelerating change—socially, politically, in the economy, and technologically—so many fundamental assumptions about how the world works and how we should relate to one another are being tested and in some cases turned on their head. 

There’s less trust in institutions of all kinds, and a shift in how people view them. There’s endless access to information, but it’s getting harder to know what to believe. There are new ways for people to speak their truth, regardless of whether they hold positions of power. And then there’s a restlessness in this new generation, to constantly push for something better, motivated by the belief that change is both necessary and possible, particularly when we take problems on together.

And Harvard has always found a way to meet the moment. We have a long history of rising to meet new challenges, of converting this energy into forces of renewal and reinvention. 

With the strength of this extraordinary institution behind us, we enter a moment of possibility; one that calls for deeper collaboration across the University, across all of our remarkable schools. An urgency for Harvard to be engaged with the world. And a need to bring bold, brave, pioneering thinking to our greatest challenges.

 

When I imagine Harvard in the years ahead, I see a university that is even more connected to the world. Through our scholarship—the questions we pursue, the partnerships we build to advance and share knowledge; through our educational programs—who’s in our classrooms, whether that classroom is on campus or online, and what we’re teaching; and through our public engagement—how we extend Harvard’s extraordinary teaching and research to have an impact on issues that matter. 


...and taking charge
Photograph by Jonathan Shaw/Harvard Magazine

The idea of the Ivory Tower is the past, not the future, of academia. We don’t exist outside of society, but as part of it. And that means Harvard has a duty to lean in and engage, and to be in service to the world. Our people, our collections, our research, how we use our convening power in business and law and public policy, for all of that, our commitment must be to openness and engagement.

Together, we have accomplished so much in recent years. Opening the way for important new possibilities, from radically advancing our understanding of natural and artificial intelligence, to our collective commitment to issues of climate and sustainability, and our bold agenda for reckoning and repair inspired by the groundbreaking report on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery. 

But our work is not done. There are new frontiers for us to explore.  On the future of democracy, why it matters and how to sustain it; or how we bring the insight and imagination of literature, of philosophy, of the arts to a troubled world; the role business can plan in advancing innovation and growth; or, in the life sciences, where we can bring together the extraordinary strengths of both Harvard and our region, across the spectrum from basic science to its most beneficial applications, to shape the future of human health.

For me, that’s what the role of president is about. Harnessing the power of ideas and then supporting the people who pursue them. As I start my tenure, there’s so much more for me to discover about this institution that I love, and I’m looking forward to doing all of that, with our whole community.

I am so grateful for the leaders who have come before and the powerful legacies they have left for Harvard.  I will build on those legacies.  And even as I say that, I’m reminded of Larry’s frequent adage, that leadership is a team sport. And here, we are fortunate, because our community is a large and diverse team. We are united by our commitment to academic excellence and to the values that ensure it. Embracing those values, especially academic freedom and open inquiry, is not only the path to excellence, it’s how we marshal our breadth and diversity to build a legacy that will make all of us proud. 

And, it’s our people who make that legacy possible. They set the standard for excellence in every field.  Together they create a culture that is ambitious, broad-gauged, and recognizes that, in shaping the next generation of scholars and thinkers and teachers and leaders, our impact is magnified. 

And so, as I prepare for this next step in my Harvard journey, I do so with the same boundless optimism in our potential to meet this moment of opportunity. I am grateful beyond words for your confidence in me to serve as Harvard’s 30th president. And, alongside all of you, I can’t wait to get to work—after the holiday. Thank you very much.

 

The Search and Next Presidency in Perspective 

The political contextIn early 2018, when Bacow was chosen to lead the University, William F. Lee, then senior fellow, and the president-elect focused, to a notable degree, on the external environment and threats to higher education. Speaking at a time when the Trump administration dominated public discourse from Washington, Lee called Bacow a leader who “clearly sees and is ready to confront the great challenges facing us at a moment when the value of higher education is being questioned, at a moment when the fundamental truth of fact-based inquiry is being questioned and called into doubt.” Citing Bacow’s experience as a president and deep familiarity with Harvard, he continued, “We wanted someone who could hit the ground running, because neither we nor higher education have time to spare.”

For his part, Bacow said, “These are challenging times for higher education in America.” In response to a question, he said, in worry and alarm, that for the first time in his life—a life wholly shaped by the opportunities afforded by higher education—the value of attaining such an education had come into question, as had the utility of giving support to the sector. In a brief interview after the introductory news conference, he amplified his concern: “This was not an opportunity I sought, but I also realized this was not an opportunity which I could turn away, because of the challenging times we face.”

Now, nearly five years later, the context has shifted. Following the pandemic disruptions to education at every level, and the change in national administrations, the criticisms have shifted. The most polarized opposition to colleges and universities focus on contested cultural norms (instruction involving critical race theory and gender issues, partisan definitions of free speech), largely at the state level, and principally involving public systems—particularly in such high-profile states as Florida and Wisconsin. In that respect, the urgency of the moment that figured in the search committee’s 2017-2018 deliberations has somewhat lessened, at least for well endowed, elite, private research institutions like Harvard.

Accordingly, the Corporation may have felt it could identify a different kind of leader: someone who could be afforded more time to become acquainted with the institution in all its complexity, and to take more stock of its internal, academic opportunities and challenges, rather than arriving fully armored for battle against urgent external threats. In Dean Gay, of course, it gets both an insider and someone capable of assessing where the institution wants to go. If the Corporation were indeed intent on considering Harvard strategically, the moment is doubly favorable, because the University’s financial resources are, after the past few years, ampler than they have been in a long, long time. 

Harvard’s finances. Harvard’s internal context has changed for the better, too. When Bacow was elected, Harvard’s endowment was $37.1 billion. That was barely larger than the sum at the end of fiscal 2008, just before the financial crisis and Great Recession—despite the proceeds (ultimately $9.6 billion) from the Harvard Campaign. In part, that reflected the then-uneven record of Harvard Management Company (HMC) in investing the endowment assets. But from fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2017, University spending increased 40 percent, to $4.9 billion. The endowment-dependent financial model was under strain, limiting investments in scholarship and teaching, from a data-sciences initiative to a new College concentration in theater, dance, and media, which were initially staffed with postdocs and adjunct faculty.

Today, after a complete makeover of HMC, returns are improving, and the historic investment year emerging from the shock of the pandemic pushed the value of the endowment to more than $50 billion (where it remains after a more subdued fiscal 2022). Better endowment returns, continued philanthropic support, deft refinancing of University debt to reduce interest costs during the extended period of low interest rates, renewed federal support for research, and the unexpected effects of the pandemic on operating expenses have led to a protracted run of Harvard budget surpluses, culminating in $406 million of black in fiscal 2022—apparently with every school in the black, too, for the first time in a decade or more. (FAS’s improved financial position is discussed here.)

A further source of relief is the reduction in capital spending, from about $1 billion annually a few years ago (when the Allston science and engineering project, Soldiers Field Park renovation, and House renewal were all in full swing) to about one-third that level now. There are projects in the pipeline, to be sure (the new American Repertory Theater and graduate-student housing, the new Allston conference center)—but those are donor-funded. The backlog of deferred maintenance has been reduced, renovated buildings often operate more efficiently, and as noted the capital costs have largely been funded by long-term debt at attractively low rates.

Thus, one of Bacow’s gifts to his successor is considerable financial running room. The Corporation is being measured about distributing funds from the run-up in the endowment’s value, but the rate of annual increase in the distribution (about 4.5 percent) is more than twice that when he moved into Massachusetts Hall, and on a larger base. That largesse, plus retained surpluses. make it much easier to be a dean today, at least in terms of available resources to invest in academic programs.

On the Agenda

With a less immediately threatening political environment and robust finances, what might be on the new president’s agenda?

The leadership. President Bacow has appointed a new executive vice president and vice presidents for human resources and for information technology. But successor divinity and public health deans need to be appointed, as does a new vice president for finance/chief financial officer. And within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the engineering and applied sciences deanship, at the helm of a vigorously growing school, is becoming vacant at the end of the academic year, too. Now, the FAS deanship will require attention, as well. No doubt other positions will have to be filled, as the administration takes shape.

Science. The University is investing enormous sums in science and science-related initiatives, from the quantum science program (with purpose-built facilities) to climate change and sustainability and research on artificial and natural intelligence. These programs have attracted robust donor support, but will no doubt require more—as will the labs of newly appointed professors, their postdocs and graduate students, and so on. There is similar interest in basic life sciences and biomedical research, with costs on a similar scale. And always there are relationships to manage with the affiliated hospitals, many of them under financial challenges in the wake of pandemic disruptions. So, the University science enterprise will require lots of attention—as will the humanities and arts, and social sciences, which are not growing and perhaps feel like step-children. Gay, as dean of FAS, which includes the engineering and applied sciences faculty, has direct experience of most of these fields, so she can perhaps devote more time to learning more about the professional schools’ needs and desires.

Diversity. In framing the search on July 7, Penny Pritzker named as a trait for prospective candidates “a commitment to embracing diversity along many dimensions as a source of strength.” Diverse appointments were a hallmark of Bacow’s staff and administration, and in such innovations as the creation of a new position of chief diversity and inclusion officer (the initial appointee, Sherri Ann Charleston, was a member of the staff advisory committee for the current search). The institution’s commitment to such principles and processes, extending down to each school and operating unit, is beyond question. Today’s appointment, of Harvard’s second woman and first black president, is emblematic of those values.

And yet, external factors may well intervene. The Supreme Court is now deciding the case challenging Harvard College’s consideration of race in admissions. The stakes were fully evident during the oral arguments on October 31, and it is entirely possible that just as the new University administration takes office next summer, a half-century of admissions practices will be rendered illegal, upending one of Harvard’s core commitments and its chief means of enrolling a diverse student body.

At the same time, Gay will likely want to continue implementing the recommendations of the report on Harvard and the legacy of slavery—a part of coming to terms with its history and current meanings—as recent appointments suggest.

Greater Boston. Harvard continues to pursue its plans for Allston—both the facilities mentioned above, and the commercial enterprise research campus scheduled to be developed along Western Avenue, opposite the Business School. The institutional master plan covering Allston, and the one governing the Longwood Medical Area, are both due for renewal and review by Boston authorities next year. Beyond that, Gay, as Harvard’s new president, will want to establish relationships with the new Boston University, MIT, and Tufts leaders, and those continuing at the helm of other academic partners in the area.

Higher education. Although Harvard finds itself in enviable circumstances, much of higher education is under extreme stress. Enrollments nationwide declined during the pandemic and have not fully recovered, jeopardizing tuition-dependent schools. As noted, the state legislative and regulatory context varies widely, too. To the extent that Harvard is a voice for higher education overall (a role for which Bacow was superbly equipped, but which was necessarily subsumed during much of the pandemic), there is plenty of work to do—and much opportunity to be generous. 

Over the horizon. Harvard remains intellectually ambitious, and an expensive place to run. The Harvard Campaign concluded in 2018, and the Bacow administration—focused on the pandemic and the major projects and programs described above—did not begin to organize a successor campaign. For all its current financial strengths, the University and its most ardent supporters will inevitably want to define the goals for and launch another significant capital campaign to expand research, teaching, and outreach, in the liberal arts and across the professions. That could become a major, and possibly defining, task for Gay’s administration.

And looming over the timing of such an effort is 2036: Harvard’s four-hundredth anniversary, and another opportunity to take stock of what the place has accomplished, is now, and might do next for the world. Any fundraiser worth her salt would love to conclude a stupendous capital campaign by 2032 or 2033—and then to launch a successor, snap effort to supercharge the next Crimson century. In Gay, it has a leader at age 52 young enough to stay the course, if wanted.

 

From the perspective of today’s news, President Bacow’s interview with the Harvard Crimson earlier this week appears retroactively deft and amusing. Asked about pending decanal appointments, he said “whether the incoming 30th president fills the vacancies depends on when his successor is announced and how far along the searches for new deans are. ‘I’d be surprised if they’re completed by the time the new president is named, just given where we started, how long it takes to fill one of these jobs.’” Noting that he was not a member of the search committee, he confirmed that it had convened December 5 at Loeb House. He did not think it was “absolutely essential” that a president be a Harvard graduate or hold a Ph.D. But he did think it would be “ helpful to have some administrative experience,” given the University’s organizational complexity. Boxes checked.


Claudine #30 and Larry (Bacow) #29
Photograph by Jonathan Shaw/Harvard Magazine

It is certain that the announcement will bring cheer to several Harvard households: certainly, that of Gay, the president-to-be; equally, the Bacows’—given the clarity created about his second retirement from a demanding university presidency and the opportunity, at last, for the president and Adele Fleet Bacow to spend more time with their grandchildren; and finally, that of Marc Goodheart, the University secretary and chief staff person for such searches, and his nearest and dearest, as a search that could well have lasted until late winter or early spring has come to such an early, successful conclusion. Happy Harvard holidays, all.

[The following concluding paragraphs appended at 6:15 p.m., December 15, 2022]

Following the public event, Gay met with reporters for the CrimsonBoston GlobeWashington Post, this magazine, and other media, briskly answering questions on the affirmative action lawsuit (too soon to say, but Harvard “will continue to champion diversity”); her public role in moving Harvard beyond its Ivory Tower status (the University will be “engaged with the issues that feel urgent,” such as “the future of democracy”—but she won’t decide on her own role speaking out until she is better acquainted with the parts of the University she doesn’t yet know well, and actually becomes president); and so on. Drawing on her remarks earlier in the afternoon, she said of the challenges Harvard faces that it would “meet that moment the way we always have—stepping into it” and “bringing fresh thinking to the challenges we face.”

She was wisely noncommittal on the specifics of divestment, per se, citing her pride in “the work that President Bacow has done” to make sustainability and climate change core concerns across the University, in research and teaching, including in FAS, and her own desire to learn about the “vigorous” debates among alumni and students interested in the subject. Sounding a leitmotif, she said of climate change and sustainability more broadly that Harvard would determine “how to step into this moment.” When asked by the Crimson about a capital campaign, Gay deftly replied, “I’m going to enjoy my next seven months and then discuss that later.” 

For the journalists, the search committee, and Marc Goodheart, the day was done. But for Gay, the next seven months already loomed large. As the conversation with reporters ended, she was (newly) escorted by Harvard staff members to the elevator and on her way, but with the last lines of her earlier remarks still echoing: despite the nod to the holiday, it was the “I can’t wait to get to work” that lingered in the transformed afternoon.

Read the Harvard Gazette release on Gay’s background and career, and the appointment, here.

The University announcement, distributed to the community this afternoon by Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and chair of the search committee, follows.

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

On behalf of Harvard’s governing boards, I am extremely pleased to announce that Claudine Gay has been elected to become the 30th President of Harvard University, starting July 1, 2023. 

Claudine is a remarkable leader who is profoundly devoted to sustaining and enhancing Harvard’s academic excellence, to championing both the value and the values of higher education and research, to expanding opportunity, and to strengthening Harvard as a fount of ideas and a force for good in the world. As the Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 2018, and previously as Dean of Social Science, Claudine has brought to her roles a rare blend of incisiveness and inclusiveness, intellectual range and strategic savvy, institutional ambition and personal humility, a respect for enduring ideals and a talent for catalyzing change. She has a bedrock commitment to free inquiry and expression, as well as a deep appreciation for the diverse voices and views that are the lifeblood of a university community. 

As her many admirers know, Claudine consults widely; she listens attentively; she thinks rigorously and imaginatively; she invites collaboration and resists complacency; and she acts with conviction and purpose. She has been an energetic and forward-looking leader of Harvard’s largest faculty – spanning the biological and physical sciences and engineering, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. All of us on the search committee are excited by the prospect of her bringing her high aspirations and interdisciplinary outlook across the Yard from University Hall to Massachusetts Hall. We are confident Claudine will be a thoughtful, principled, and inspiring president for all of Harvard, dedicated to helping each of our individual schools thrive, as well as fostering creative connections among them. She is someone intent on affirming the power of curiosity-driven learning and is eager to integrate and elevate Harvard’s efforts – throughout the arts and sciences and across the professions – to address complex challenges in the wider world.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Claudine received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford, then earned her Ph.D. in government at Harvard, where she won the Toppan Prize for best dissertation in political science. A quantitative social scientist with expertise in political behavior, she served on the Stanford faculty as an assistant professor of political science from 2000 to 2005, then as a tenured associate professor of political science in 2005-06. She joined the Harvard faculty as a professor of government in 2006, was additionally appointed as a professor of African and African American Studies in 2008, and was named the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government in 2015. 

Claudine’s own scholarship and teaching have focused on aspects of democracy – political participation, voting behavior, public opinion, and the interplay of race, ethnicity, and politics in America. Among other recent roles, she has been the founding director of Harvard’s Inequality in America Initiative – a multidisciplinary effort to energize Harvard’s teaching and research on social and economic inequality, and to inform public debate and policy options related to inequality in education, health, employment, economic status, politics, and other domains. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she has pursued her scholarship as a fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, Stanford University, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She has also served on the boards of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the Pew Research Center, and Phillips Exeter Academy (which she attended before college), as well as the Association of American Universities’ advisory board on racial equity in higher education. 

For all her professional accomplishments, even more impressive are Claudine’s personal qualities – her quality and clarity of mind, her broad curiosity about fields beyond her own, her integrity and fairmindedness, and her dedication to creating opportunities for others. She will be a great Harvard president in no small part because she is such a good person.

The election of our new president marks the culmination of a robust and intensive search process. The process formally began in early July, with an email from the search committee to more than 400,000 faculty, students, staff, alumni, higher education leaders, and others well positioned to provide advice. Members of the search committee spoke personally with more than 150 individuals to solicit their advice and nominations. In addition, we conducted dozens of consultations with key faculty leadership groups as well as groups of alumni and friends from across Harvard’s faculties and schools. The outreach process generated more than 600 nominees, and the search committee met formally some twenty times – for hours at a stretch – in addition to many informal engagements, to arrive at our nomination. With the benefit of input from a great many people and groups, we spent time considering the major opportunities and challenges facing Harvard, the key qualities to seek in our next president, and – ultimately – the person best suited to lead the university in the years ahead.

I want to thank especially the members of the three advisory groups formed to gather additional community-wide input and to offer their own diverse perspectives to the search committee. The members of these three groups – faculty, students, and staff – invested extraordinary time and effort in reaching out to colleagues across the university, and their work produced a range of insights vital to the search committee’s deliberations. I personally have learned a great deal from their work, and all of us on the search committee are very grateful for their commitment. That gratitude extends to the hundreds of people who, in one way or another, offered their thoughts on the search. Your observations not only helped inform our selection of the new president; they also produced a wealth of valuable perspectives on the university’s perceived strengths and shortcomings, and on people’s hopes for Harvard as it approaches its fifth century.  

I would not want to end this message without again thanking Larry Bacow for his outstanding service as he looks toward his final six months as our president. His wisdom, judgment, foresight, experience, humility, and values have served Harvard and higher education extraordinarily well during these challenging times, and all of us are deeply in his debt. I know he looks forward to a productive home stretch this spring, and we will have more opportunities to recognize and celebrate his leadership in the months to come.

For today, please join me in congratulating Claudine Gay as our new president-elect. As much as anyone, she knows that anything Harvard can accomplish takes root in the talents, ideas, and energies of the amazing people who are part of the university’s worldwide community. I am sure Claudine will be counting on many of you, and learning from many of you, as she prepares to assume her important new role at such a pivotal time. Many thanks to all of you for your counsel and support, and for all you do, in myriad ways, to help Harvard serve the world. 

Sincerely,

Penny Pritzker

Chair, Presidential Search Committee

Senior Fellow, Harvard Corporation

 

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