President moves: Harvard’s Bacow retiring, Sonoma’s Sakaki may shift to faculty in 2023

The five-year president at Harvard, lauded as a ‘great captain’ by colleagues, will remain on until next summer.

Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow said he will be stepping down from his post in July of 2023 to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Bacow, the 70-year-old economist who has spent a half-century in higher education—at MIT, Tufts and Harvard—has been instrumental in prioritizing international students and inclusion on campus while driving forward conversations on climate change. He has also led the university through one of its most challenging periods, maintaining Harvard’s academic prowess as one of the most elite institutions in the world.

“There is never a good time to leave a job like this one, but now seems right to me,” Bacow wrote in a letter to the Harvard community. “Through our collective efforts, we have found our way through the pandemic. We have worked together to sustain Harvard through change and through storms, and collectively we have made Harvard better and stronger in countless ways. Serving in these capacities has been the privilege of a lifetime.”

After a 10-year stint at Tufts (2001-2011) where he championed diversity and access to education for all while strengthening its financial position after the recession, Bacow became Leader-in-Residence for the Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership and a member of Harvard’s governing board. He took over the presidency from Drew Gilpin Faust in July of 2018. Since then, his impact has been profound, especially his efforts to break down silos in academia and research throughout the university, addressing new technology through its Quantum Institute and Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence, as well as major issues facing the nation.

He helped develop the new Bloomberg Center for Cities on campus to help regional leaders develop transformative ways to operate more efficiently. Most recently, Bacow announced Harvard would spend $100 million to address its past history of slavery. “Our recent progress must not obscure the reality of our past—or the continuing effects of the past on the present,” Bacow wrote. “The legacy of slavery, including the persistence of both overt and subtle discrimination against people of color, continues to influence the world in the form of disparities in education, health, wealth, income, social mobility, and almost any other metric we might use to measure equality.”

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His leadership, especially during the pandemic, was lauded by current Harvard Senior Fellow William Lee and incoming Senior Fellow Penny Pritzker, who noted his innovative approaches to expanding education and collaboration and to problem-solving through barriers and across borders. They highlighted his keen ability to navigate through “turbulent times”—something a sailor like Bacow might be able to do deftly while exuding humility.

“Having watched him lead Harvard these past years—with great inner strength, a steadfast moral compass, and a deep devotion to serving others, we have come to admire him all the more,” they said. “When people speak highly of him, Larry can be counted on to deflect the compliment by saying that leadership is a team sport and that he is blessed with a great team. Great teams rely on great captains. And—through the tone he sets, through the values he affirms, through the common purpose he cultivates, through the trust he builds, through the initiatives he launches and sustains—Larry Bacow is just that.”

Bacow has one year left in the post and promised to “advance our mission of teaching, research, and service.” He nonetheless offered a reflection on his time in higher ed and gratitude to those who helped him over the past five years.

“Like just about everyone who comes here, I was in awe of the place—its history, its reputation, and its impact on all of American higher education,” he wrote. “Fifty years later, I am still in awe but for different reasons. It is you that I hold in awe—our students who inspire me with their passion to make the world a better place; our faculty and researchers who push the boundaries of knowledge in just about every field of human endeavor imaginable; our staff who over the past few years have demonstrated resilience, commitment; and our alumni who shape the world in ways too numerous to mention.”

Bacow is on a huge list of college presidents to have announced they are leaving their positions now or in the next two years. That includes two from the Boston area familiar to Bacow: MIT, where Leo Rafael Reif is exiting at the end of the year and Tufts, where Anthony Monaco is leaving next summer, too.

Sakaki may shift into faculty role at Sonoma State: Embattled Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki, who announced last week she will resign at the end of July amid allegations employees were victims of sexual harassment and retaliation, will be paid more than $254,000 over the next year in a settlement agreement she signed with the Board of Trustees at California State University. Sakaki will have the option to transition into a faculty role in the Department of Educational Leadership and Special Education if she chooses. However, Sakaki has lost both her car payment and housing allowances and must pay for her own moving expenses as she transitions out of the president’s home.

Though she will remain at the university and keep the title of President Emeritus, the transition period will be difficult. Her dramatic freefall from the top position has included an April separation from husband Patrick McCallum, who was accused by former provost Lisa Vollendorf of unwanted advances, as well as reports from others that they were harassed by McCallum and another senior leader. Vollendorf, now the president at SUNY-Empire State College, claimed she was retaliated against for coming forward and received a reported $600,000 settlement. With enrollment numbers dropping, a budget deficit of more than $15 million and other high-profile scandals forcing the ouster of two other Cal State leaders–Chancellor Joseph Castro and San Jose State President Mary Papazian–the pressure on Sakaki became too great.

During the next year, Sakaki will be “reassigned into the Management Personnel Plan,” and she will be paid by the chancellor’s office over the next 12 months but at a salary somewhere between what she earns as president now and what a salaried professor would earn, plus the 4% boost in pay that was agreed upon for faculty.

She will be reporting to both the new president and to Interim CSU Chancellor Jolene Koester while prepping for the shift to being a faculty member. In a letter to Sakaki included in the transition agreement, Koester noted: “As we have discussed from time to time in the Chancellor’s Senior Leadership Council, there is an art to making the transition to become a successful past president. The number and depth of professional relationships on and off campus need not go away, but in-person and virtual interactions with such individuals need to be carefully executed.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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