President of Harvard University

The president of Harvard University is the chief administrator of Harvard University and the ex officio chairman of the Harvard Corporation.[1] Each is appointed by and is responsible to the other members of that body, who delegate to the president the day-to-day running of the university.

President of Harvard University
Harvard University shield.svg
Lawrence Bacow

since July 1, 2018 (2018-07-01)
AppointerHarvard Corporation
Formation1640 (1640)
First holderHenry Dunster
WebsiteOffice of the President

Harvard is a famously decentralized university, noted for the "every tub on its own bottom" independence of its various constituent faculties. They set their own academic standards and manage their own budgets. The president, however, plays an important part in university-wide planning and strategy. Each names a faculty's dean (and, since the foundation of the office in 1994, the university's provost), and grants tenure to recommended professors; however, he or she is expected to make such decisions after extensive consultation with faculty members.

Harvard presidents have traditionally influenced educational practices nationwide. Charles W. Eliot, for example, originated America's familiar system of a smorgasbord of elective courses available to each student;[2] James B. Conant worked to introduce standardized testing; Derek Bok and Neil L. Rudenstine argued for the continued importance of diversity in higher education.

Recently, however, the job has become increasingly administrative, especially as fund-raising campaigns have taken on central importance in large institutions such as Harvard. Some have criticized this trend to the extent it has prevented the president from focusing on substantive issues in higher education.[3]

Each president is professor in some department of the university and teaches from time to time.

Harvard's current president is Lawrence Bacow, formerly the president of Tufts University.[4]


At Harvard's founding it was headed by a "schoolmaster," Nathaniel Eaton. In 1640, when Henry Dunster was brought in, he adopted the title "president." The origins of this title have been grounds for a certain amount of speculation.

Harvard was founded for the training of Puritan clergy, and even though its mission was soon broadened, nearly all presidents through the end of the 18th century were in holy orders.

All presidents from Leonard Hoar through Nathan Pusey were graduates of Harvard College. Of the presidents since Pusey, Bok earned his undergraduate degree at Stanford, Rudenstine at Princeton, and Summers and Bacow at MIT, but each earned a graduate degree at Harvard. Drew Gilpin Faust is the first president since the seventeenth century with no earned Harvard degree.

Presidents of HarvardEdit

Presidents of Harvard Term of office Notes
- Nathaniel Eaton 1637–1639 Referred to as "schoolmaster" of Harvard College
1 Henry Dunster 1640–1654
2 Charles Chauncy 1654–1672
3 Leonard Hoar 1672–1675
4 Urian Oakes 1675–1680 (acting); 1680–1681
5 John Rogers 1682–1684
6 Increase Mather 1685–1686 (acting); 1686–1692 (rector); 1692–1701
- Samuel Willard 1701–1707 (acting)
7 John Leverett 1708–1724
8 Benjamin Wadsworth 1725–1737
9 Edward Holyoke 1737–1769
10 Samuel Locke 1770–1773
11 Samuel Langdon 1774–1780
12 Joseph Willard 1781–1804
- Eliphalet Pearson 1804–1806 (acting)
13 Samuel Webber 1806–1810
14 John Thornton Kirkland 1810–1828
15 Josiah Quincy 1829–1845
16 Edward Everett 1846–1849
17 Jared Sparks 1849–1853
18 James Walker 1853–1860
19 Cornelius Conway Felton 1860–1862
20 Thomas Hill 1862–1868
21 Charles William Eliot 1869–1909
22 A. Lawrence Lowell 1909–1933
23 James B. Conant 1933–1953
24 Nathan Pusey 1953–1971
25 Derek Bok 1971–1991; 2006–2007 (acting)
26 Neil Rudenstine 1991–2001
27 Lawrence Summers 2001–2006
28 Drew Gilpin Faust 2007–2018 First female President at Harvard[5]
29 Lawrence Bacow 2018–present [6]

John Winthrop served as acting president in 1769 and again in 1773; but both times he declined the offer of the full presidency on grounds of old age.

Other minor acting presidents have included William Brattle, Edward Wigglesworth (1780–1781), Henry Ware (1810, 1828–1829), Andrew Preston Peabody (1862, 1868–1869), and Henry Pickering Walcott. Henry Rosovsky, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, served as acting president for three months in 1987 when Bok traveled abroad. Provost Albert Carnesale served as acting president November 1994 – February 1995, during Rudenstine's leave of absence. Bok served as interim president July 1, 2006 – June 30, 2007, until the appointment of Faust.


  1. ^ Central Administration Archived November 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Governance of the University, from Office of the Provost
  2. ^ "Eliot, Charles W. (Brief biography)". "Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 2001".
  3. ^ Lee, Richard S. (March 10, 2001). "An Empty Chair at Harvard (Op-Ed)". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
  4. ^ Biography Archived October 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "First Female Harvard President Discusses Priorities and Goals". February 12, 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2020.
  6. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (February 11, 2018). "Harvard Chooses Lawrence Bacow as Its Next President". The New York Times. Retrieved February 13, 2018.

External linksEdit