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Outgoing University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview Tuesday his successor will likely appoint the new deans for the Harvard Divinity School and the School of Public Health.
Both David N. Hempton, dean of the Divinity School, and Michelle A. Williams, dean of the School of Public Health, announced this fall that they plan to step down at the end of the academic year. Bacow 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,” Bacow said.
Bacow inherited three dean vacancies from then-University President Drew G. Faust. Though two of the searches were already “close to the end” before Bacow was selected in February 2018, Bacow made all three appointments.
“At that point, I took them over because Drew said, ‘Look, these are going to be your deans. You should make the decision,’” he said.
Harvard’s administration is experiencing rapid turnover as many long-standing officials retire. In addition to the two deans and Bacow himself, several members of Harvard’s top brass have stepped down from their posts or announced their departures in the last year: the executive director of the Harvard Alumni Association, the chief financial officer, the executive vice president, and the senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing board. The school is still searching for a new CFO.
Still, Bacow said he isn’t worried about the overlapping transitions because the University has “known of virtually all of those [departures] well in advance.”
“Each of those positions are people, basically, who are retiring — long-scheduled, serious retirements,” Bacow said. “If you look at their age, none of it is surprising.”
He added the University has “tried to make sure that we at least have some good internal options” for any vacancies, but that external candidates are not ruled out either.
Bacow also discussed the following topics:
While Bacow does not sit on the 15-member search committee for the 30th president, he confirmed the body met Dec. 5 at Loeb House.
Since 1991, every Harvard president has had a Ph.D. and a Harvard diploma. But Bacow said he does not think it is “absolutely necessary” for his successor to be a Harvard graduate or have a Ph.D. so long as they “adapt to the circumstances that they find themselves in” and are “a scholar of sufficient prominence” to earn the respect of the faculty.
“It’s, I think, helpful to have some administrative experience,” he said. “This is a very large and complicated organization.”
In recent months, some affiliates have taken aim at what they describe as Harvard’s bloated bureaucracy, suggesting that the school should slash significant portions of its administrative ranks. Today, Harvard employs 7,024 total full-time administrators.
Bacow defended the size of the University’s bureaucracy in Tuesday’s interview, saying that major projects require new personnel to ensure successful execution.
“I don’t consider that expanding the bureaucracy,” Bacow said. “I consider that, ‘How do we see that a major initiative fulfills its mission?’ So I really don’t think we’ve expanded the bureaucracy on my watch.”
Still, Bacow acknowledged that Harvard has added more administrative staff for research support, cyber security, helping the University meet federal reporting standards, and the school’s mental health and Title IX resources.
“It’s not as if we added people just to add people,” Bacow said, saying new staff members help the University carry out its mission.
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