Bok Passes ‘Go’ But Does Not Collect Paycheck

Interim president says his decision to work for free was not a statement

Shortly before Lawrence H. Summers announced his resignation from the Harvard presidency last February, the University’s top governing board asked Derek C. Bok to take the reins while the school searched for a new leader. Bok, of course, agreed to take the job—but he refused to take a paycheck from the world’s richest university.

Bok said yesterday that he did not want to publicize the fact that he’s offering his services gratis. Just last week, University spokesman John D. Longbrake declined to release Bok’s salary when a Crimson reporter asked for it.

Bok has criticized “out-of-scale” presidential salaries before—he wrote in a 2002 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that “a huge presidential salary tends to exacerbate tensions that too often exist between faculty and administration.” But he said yesterday that he did not mean to send a broader message by doing his job for free this year.

“My decision not to take a salary was purely personal,” Bok wrote in an e-mail. “Although I stand by the article I wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, my decision was not intended as a statement of any kind.”

Bok, who has been in office since last summer and is expected to serve through next June, added that he did not know how The Boston Globe, which first reported the story, had learned of his decision.

During his first term, which ran from 1971 to 1991, Bok earned a reputation for his often unassuming manner and most memorably, for driving himself to work in a red Volkswagen Beetle.

Now, Bok still drives himself to work—but in a Toyota Prius.

“It’s very good for getting in and out of small parking spaces,” Bok said in a sit-down interview in September. “If you don’t use a University car very often, it’s important to be able to get into small parking spaces.”

The Crimson reported last decade that Bok took in $213,389 in his last year as president—equivalent to about $301,121, adjusting for inflation since 1991. Summers earned $595,871 in fiscal year 2004-2005, the most recent year for which Harvard data are available.

And while the paycheck for Harvard’s president has grown considerably in recent years, it’s still substantially lower than the pay given to other Ivy League leaders. The presidents of Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Cornell, Yale, and Princeton all earned more than Harvard’s chief in 2004-2005, according to the Chronicle’s annual report on presidential salaries released last week.

—Staff writer Daniel J. T. Schuker can be reached at dschuker@fas.harvard.edu.