Larry Summers To Return to Harvard at Year's End

Updated 8:00 p.m.

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers will return to Harvard after stepping down from his White House position at the end of 2010, according to a statement released by the White House.

Summers, who emerged as one of President Barack Obama’s closest economic advisers during the presidential campaign, has played a key role in crafting economic policy during the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“Over the past two years, he has helped guide us from the depths of the worst recession since the 1930s to renewed growth,” Obama said in a statement. “And while we have much work ahead to repair the damage done by the recession, we are on a better path thanks in no small measure to Larry’s wise counsel.”

Summers will continue to advise Obama as a member of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

“I’m looking forward to returning to Harvard to teach and write about the economic fundamentals of job creation and stable finance as well as the integration of rising and developing countries into the global system,” Summers said in a statement.

It is unclear what courses Summers will teach in the spring—he taught at the Harvard Kennedy School before leaving for Washington—but economics faculty are already anticipating his contribution.

“It’s great news for Harvard; I think it’s good news for Larry; I’m not sure it’s good news for the country. I think President Obama will have an impossible time replacing him and I expect he won’t try,” said Richard J. Zeckhauser, professor of political economy at the Kennedy School.

Currently the head of the National Economic Council, Summers has been tied to unpopular economic policies. Many of those policies, like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, helped end the economic contraction but have become politically unpopular as the current administration faces a backlash.

Summers has been at the center of economic policy making over the past year, serving as the head of the task force that oversaw last year’s bailout of the auto industry. He also structured large portions of the $787 billion stimulus act.

At Harvard, Summers’ five-year presidency was marred by controversies, feuding with prominent scholar Cornel West and supporting economics Professor Andrei Shleifer admist a federal lawsuit for alleged financial misconduct.

Though perpetually popular with undergraduates, Summers received a vote of no-confidence from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2005, a step that led to his 2006 resignation.

After leaving Mass. Hall, Summers took a one-year sabbatical before returning and left again in 2009 to join Obama’s economic team.

“Larry Summers is one of a number of distinguished Harvard faculty who took leave to serve the Government, continuing a long tradition of public service by Harvard faculty,” said Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin. “We look forward to his return.”

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer William N. White can be reached at wwhite@fas.harvard.edu.

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