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Preparing to Vacate Mass. Hall, Faust Promises A Smooth Hand-off

Presidents Past and Future
University President Drew G. Faust and president-elect Lawrence S. Bacow at the press conference announcing Bacow's appointment.
Shortly after Drew G. Faust was named the 28th president of Harvard University on Feb. 11, 2007, she ordered pizza.

After an improvised party celebrating her brand-new presidency, Faust said she remembers heading back to Greenleaf House, the traditional residence of the Radcliffe Dean, her then-job.

“I went back to Greenleaf, I was living in Greenleaf, and a group of my closest friends came back and we ordered pizza and we sat around and ate pizza,” Faust said in an interview last week.

“I don’t know if a new president would like to do the same thing or not,” she added.

It is unclear if Harvard Corporation member Lawrence S. Bacow ordered pizza after his debut as the University’s 29th president-elect on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, exactly 11 years to the date after Faust’s first presidential appearance. And as of now, it is also unclear whether he will follow in Faust’s footsteps on a wide range of other, more important matters confronting the University as he begins the transition to his new role.

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But for the next few months before Faust officially steps down on June 30, she and Bacow will face a delicate dance as she seeks to wrap up several signature initiatives from her presidency and he seeks to learn the ropes of the University’s top job. In interviews over the past two weeks, both said they will work to make the transition period as smooth as possible.

Bacow’s extensive knowledge of Harvard’s administration will likely aid the switchover. After serving for seven years on the Corporation, the University's highest governing body, Bacow is well-versed in how the University runs and has likely already considered many of the key issues Harvard must tackle in the next few years.

In the days before Bacow’s announcement, Faust said she did not expect to give her then-undisclosed successor any formal briefings on topics like the College’s penalties on single-gender social organizations.

“I will wait for my successor to indicate what she or he would like to hear from me,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any set of formal briefings that are anticipated at the moment.”

On other issues, like the University’s diversity-focused task force on Inclusion and Belonging—slated to release a final report later this semester—Faust said she still plans to set some new projects in motion before she steps down. She added, though, that she will consciously work to avoid limiting her successor.

“I’ve had conversations with the chairs of the task force about some of the things that I think might be coming forward and there are a number of them that I think I can invest in right away,” Faust said. “I also have some thoughts about how I can set some things in motion that my successor can either continue with or enhance or take a different direction on.”

“I don’t want to tie that person’s hands unduly but I do want to make sure that there’s momentum and immediate action in response to these recommendations,” she said.

More broadly, Faust said she has been extra conscious in her decision-making since she first announced her impending retirement in June 2017—mulling each decision in light of the effect it might have on number 29.

“As I do things I think, ‘Okay, am I going to constrain my successor in some way? How can I make sure that there’s a transition here that makes this policy or this selection make sense? How can I take actions that will support my successor rather than end up posing dilemmas for my successor?’” she said. “I have been thinking in those terms increasingly as the year has gone on.”

In particular, Faust said she has considered how her use of presidential discretionary funds might limit the next president. She said she has worked with the Corporation to ensure she leaves behind sufficient resources when she departs Massachusetts Hall.

Bacow, meanwhile, said in an interview Sunday that he plans to spend the next few months listening, in the hopes learn as much as he can about areas of the University with which he is less familiar.

“Harvard can only have one president, and it has a great one right now,” he said. “Between now and the end of June, June 30, which is Drew’s last day, Drew will be our point person and leader in addressing those issues.”

“I’m going to be in full sponge mode,” Bacow added.

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.

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