Harvard University’s next president will be Lawrence S. Bacow, a former president of Tufts University and a top academic officer at M.I.T., who was chosen for his diplomatic and leadership skills at a time when higher education is under fire, the university announced on Sunday.
The departure of Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s first female president, who is stepping down after 11 years, created an opportunity for Harvard to choose a leader who would reflect the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements that have shaped campus dialogue in recent years.
Instead, it chose Mr. Bacow, 66, who is better known as a manager and institutional leader than as a scholar. His selection reflects Harvard’s need for a steady hand at a time when the university must navigate the difficulties of dealing with the Trump administration’s antagonism toward elite universities that have large endowments.
That was clear at the news conference on Sunday to announce the appointment. William F. Lee, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and the chairman of the search committee, described Mr. Bacow as the right leader “at a moment when the value of higher education is being questioned, at a moment when the fundamental truth of fact-based inquiry is being questioned and called into doubt.”
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Bacow described growing up in Pontiac, Mich., as the son of immigrants. His mother was 19 when she reached the United States on the second Liberty ship carrying refugees from Europe after the war, and was the only member of her family to survive Auschwitz, he said. His father, born in Minsk, was brought to America as a child to escape pogroms.
“Where else can one go in one generation from off the boat, with literally nothing, to enjoy the kind of life and opportunity that I and my family have been fortunate to enjoy?” Mr. Bacow said. “It was higher education that made this all possible.”
Now, for the first time in his life, he said, people are questioning the value of going to college, and some of the criticism is fair.
“I think academic institutions, including Harvard, need to pay more attention to those in this country who’ve been left behind in this economy,” he said.
The university is facing a number of immediate challenges. Like others in its league, it is facing a new 1.4 percent excise tax on the investment returns of endowments for schools with at least 500 students that amount to more than $500,000 per student. Harvard administrators have said the tax could cost the university around $43 million a year, and would weaken Harvard’s ability to support students and research.
Harvard is also facing an investigation by the Justice Department into its affirmative action policies and whether they discriminate against Asian-American applicants, as well as a lawsuit making the same claims in federal court in Boston.
Mr. Bacow will take over on July 1, becoming the 29th president of Harvard. He is now the Hauser leader in residence at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership.
He was president of Tufts University for 10 years, until July 2011. The Harvard announcement said he was known there for increasing collaboration across schools and disciplines. Before that, he was on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 24 years, where he served as chancellor, chairman of the faculty and a professor of environmental studies.
Although his undergraduate degree is from M.I.T., he has three Harvard postgraduate degrees: a law degree, and a master’s and a doctorate in public policy.
Mr. Bacow was originally part of the university’s presidential search committee, which considered more than 700 candidates, Mr. Lee said, before deciding that the right leader was in plain sight.
Annette Gordon-Reed, a Harvard professor of legal history who is known for her scholarship on Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave, said Mr. Bacow was a good choice. “Larry has impressive credentials, numerous ties to Harvard, and from what I know of him, he has great values, including a commitment to diversity,” she said.
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