Something of a dark horse candidate for the presidency when his selection was announced in 2018, Dr. Bacow was a member of the Harvard Corporation, the Hauser leader in residence at Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership, and on the committee to select a successor to Dr. Faust.
The committee had reviewed 700 different candidates before settling on one of its own members, Dr. Bacow himself.
Dr. Bacow was credited with lobbying Congress for more lenient visa policies for international students during the pandemic, for announcing a university-wide climate change initiative, and for investigating the university’s ties to slavery, recently announcing an endowed Legacy of Slavery Fund, allowing scholars and students to bring Harvard’s connections to slavery to light for generations to come.
The university has committed $100 million to the effort, with some of the money earmarked to trace descendants of enslaved people at Harvard and also to create exchange programs between students and faculty members at Harvard with those at historically Black colleges and universities.
Dr. Bacow’s tenure at Harvard has not been without controversy.
Last year, Cornel West, considered one of the country’s most prominent Black philosophers and progressive activists, announced he had resigned from Harvard Divinity School as a result of a tenure dispute. At the time, Dr. West attacked Harvard, calling it an institution in “decline and decay.” Dr. Bacow, who had declined to comment on the specifics of the case citing the confidentiality of the process, nevertheless defended the university’s handling of it.
In another highly publicized controversy, three female graduate students filed a lawsuit against Harvard this year, accusing the university of ignoring allegations that John Comaroff, a professor of African and African American studies and anthropology, had sexually harassed students.
By the time the case was filed, Dr. Comaroff, who denied the allegations, had been placed on leave after the university found he engaged in inappropriate verbal conduct — but he was found not responsible for unwanted sexual contact.