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Who is Alan Garber? Meet Harvard’s New Interim President.

Provost Alan M. Garber '76 became Harvard's interim president Tuesday, bringing an insider's outlook and years of administrative experience to the post.
Provost Alan M. Garber '76 became Harvard's interim president Tuesday, bringing an insider's outlook and years of administrative experience to the post. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Thomas J. Mete, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, who has served in his role since 2011, became Harvard’s interim president following Claudine Gay’s resignation on Tuesday.

Garber, an economist and physician who has served as provost under three successive Harvard presidents, will bring an insider’s outlook and years of administrative experience to the role at a moment of immense uncertainty, with Gay’s resignation capping off a semester of scandals and crises across the University.

The elevation of Garber suggests a desire from the Harvard Corporation, Harvard’s top governing body, to install a steady hand at the top of the University as it launches its second presidential search in less than three years under national scrutiny.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Alan’s broad and deep experience, incisive judgment, collaborative style, and extraordinary institutional knowledge to carry forward key priorities and to guide the university through this interim period,” the Corporation wrote in an email to affiliates Tuesday.

As students return to campus at the end of January, Garber will be tasked with mending divisions on campus fueled by the Israel-Hamas war and exacerbated by national backlash against both Gay and pro-Palestine student organizers.

Raised by a Jewish family, Garber expressed regret about the University’s initial response to the war in Israel and Gaza during an interview with The Crimson in November, calling the backlash to the University’s response the most serious crisis Harvard has faced during his over 12 year tenure — including the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I certainly have regrets about the first statement,” he said. “Our goal is to ensure that our community is safe, secure, and feels well supported — and that first statement did not succeed in that regard.”

In October, Garber addressed Harvard Hillel over Shabbat dinner where he emphasized the importance of free speech and condemned the use of the pro-Palestine slogan “from the river to the sea.”

In a statement to The Crimson Tuesday, Garber wrote that he had “deep respect and admiration” for Gay and hoped his tenure as interm president would help “heal and strengthen a university that I cherish.”

“There is much to be done, and while today has been a difficult day, I know what this community can accomplish together,” Garber wrote. “I am confident we will overcome challenges we face and build a brighter future for Harvard.”

Garber’s long resume — in addition to being provost, he served for 25 years as a professor at Stanford University and led Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research — has long fueled speculation that he could be a contender for Harvard’s presidency.

He was a likely internal candidate during the 2017 presidential search which ultimately selected former president Lawrence S. Bacow. During the most recent search that ended in Gay’s selection, Garber told The Crimson he was happy in his position as provost.

Garber will be the first Harvard College alum to serve as president since Nathan M. Pusey, class of 1928, who was president from 1953 to 1971.

Graduating from the College in 1976 summa cum laude in Economics, Garber later received his masters and doctorate in Economics from Harvard while concurrently pursuing a medical degree from Stanford. He remained a clinical fellow at Harvard until 1986, when he joined Stanford’s faculty as an assistant professor.

Over the course of his academic career, Garber published over 150 academic papers and has accumulated nearly 20,000 citations for his work bridging the fields of medicine and economics, beginning with his 1982 Harvard dissertation titled “Costs and Control of Antibiotic Resistance.”

Garber returned to Harvard in 2011 when he was appointed provost by former president Drew Gilpin Faust. Over his long tenure, Garber worked closely with administrative leaders, managed Harvard academic activities and policies, and oversaw the Harvard libraries, Harvard University Health Services, and over a dozen University departments.

As provost, Garber has also played an integral role in several high-profile dean searches and has often led negotiations with unions representing Harvard employees.

Since his 2011 appointment, Garber has served on the board of directors of Exelixis, Inc. and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, earning him more than $2.7 million as of 2019, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Garber annually files conflict of interest forms with the University disclosing his affiliations.

Garber is married to Anne M. Yahanda, an oncologist, with whom he has four children. He is also an elected member of the Association of American Physicians, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In a post on X Tuesday afternoon, former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers, who was critical of Gay’s response to the Israel-Hamas war but publicly backed her presidency last month, praised Garber’s selection.

“Alan Garber, who is universally liked, admired, and respected, is a superb choice as Interim President,” Summers wrote. “At this complex juncture, there will be much to reflect on as Harvard sets its course forward.”

—Staff writer Thomas J. Mete can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @thomasjmete.

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