Lives | Brookline, Massachusetts
Profession | President Emeritus, Tufts University; President-in-residence, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Passions | Running marathons, skiing, and sailing the coast of Maine with my family
Current work | Exploring the relationship between technology and productivity in higher education
When Lawrence Bacow MPP 1976, PHD 1978 arrived at the Kennedy School in 1972, he expected to pursue a career in the public sector. What he didn’t anticipate, however, was that he would never work directly in government. “I’ve spent my life in the academy,” says the Tufts University president emeritus. “But I’ve also had the opportunity to address important policy issues.”
Bacow, who also has a JD from Harvard Law School, is an expert on environmental economics. Lately, though, he thinks a lot about the economics of higher education.
According to Bacow, three challenges confronting higher education must be addressed, first among them access. “We must ensure that the most talented students in our society have access to an outstanding higher education,” he says. The second, related issue is cost reduction. Third — and perhaps most crucial to the nation’s economic growth — is the idea that an investment in higher education is a contribution to our collective future. “We’re at a point in our society where people are starting to question public support for higher education — particularly at research universities — and long-term this is something to be very concerned about,” Bacow says.
He should know. One of the most admired university presidents in the United States, Bacow has been considering education policy for many years, first at his undergraduate alma mater, MIT, where he served as chancellor, and lately as a member of the Harvard Corporation and the visiting committee at HKS. He says HKS taught him many of the skills he uses every day: “I learned not only to be a good analyst but also how to bring data to bear on important problems. I learned how to get things done, how to form coalitions that could bring about meaningful change, and how to move an organization.”
Bacow feels he has led a charmed life. “I’ve been able to play a leadership role at three spectacular institutions — MIT, Tufts, and Harvard — and have had plenty of opportunities to put my theories to the test and help three great institutions become even better.”