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Bacow announces decision to step down as university president

Published: Monday, February 8, 2010

Updated: Monday, February 8, 2010 08:02

Bacow in front of piano and lamp

Annie Wermiel / Tufts Daily

Bacow Daily Interview

Annie Wermiel / Tufts Daily

Bacow discussed his decision to step down in an interview with the Daily.

University President Lawrence Bacow at this weekend's board of trustees meeting announced his decision to step down as university president effective June 2011 according to a press release forwarded to the Daily by Kim Thurler, director of university public relations.

Bacow, who took office as Tufts' 12th president in September 2001, explained that the decision was motivated by the length of his tenure.

"When I took the job, I told the [board of trustees] that I thought 10 years was about the right amount of time as president," Bacow told the Daily. "It's long enough for one person to have a substantial impact but not so long for either the institution or the president to get comfortable."

Bacow added that a lot of factors came together to make this the right time to leave.

"The timing was right for me and I'd like to think for Tufts," he said. "By June of 2011 we will finish the [Beyond Boundaries capital campaign]. I'll be just about to turn 60. It just feels right."

Both Bacow and Chair of the Board of Trustees James Stern indicated that this decision was not a surprise and to an extent had always been planned.

"It has always been my intention, it's the timeline I've always had," Bacow said.

Stern agreed that this announcement was not unexpected for the trustees. "He has always said that it would be a 10-year term and Larry is a man of his word," he told the Daily.

Stern indicated that the process of developing a search committee for Bacow's successor will be launched immediately, and every effort will be made to consult students, faculty and other relevant groups in the global search.

"The search committee will hear the views of all the constituencies … it will be the intention of the committee -- as we did in the last search -- to hold meetings on all campuses to make sure that everybody's thoughts are heard about the kind of things we're looking for," he said.

Bacow said that a process concerning leadership renewal is an important one for universities, and this reasoning has led to his belief about the sufficiency of a 10-year term.

"I think transitions are healthy for institutions like ours," he said. "It gives the university, the board and the community the opportunity to pause and reflect on the kind of leadership that is needed for the next 10 years. That almost only happens when you have a change in leadership."

Stern, in assessing Bacow's tenure, gave him high praise.

"I would say that the president has had an extraordinary run … he's a wonderful leader, accessible to all, very visible, very transparent," he said. "In academic terms, I am a tough grader and he's really done a great job."

Bacow, noting that his departure is still 16 months away, said he has no concrete plans yet for the future. One thing he is sure of, however, is that he does not want to run another institution.

"If I wanted to continue to be president of a university I would stay there," he said.

He added that he would like to continue teaching and be actively involved with "some organizations," though he said that he would take his own advice that he gives to seniors frequently, which is to "recognize opportunity when it comes and hits you in the face."

Bacow emphasized, however, that whatever he does in the future, it will not be at Tufts.

"I think that I should get out of my successor's hair," he said. "My successor ought to have the same freedom that I had to chart a course for the university, to decide what they want to do and not want to do. And I expect that would involve changing some things that I might have started."

Looking back on his tenure, Bacow said that he is proud of what the university has accomplished, although some of his goals have been temporarily set back by the economic recession.

"I think I made a lot of progress on a lot of things I set out to do," he said. "But if you achieve everything you set to do, you probably weren't trying to achieve a lot. The recession has forced us to slow down a few things."

Bacow cited the example of the construction of new laboratory facilities and the next phase of the project to expand athletic facilities which have both been put on hold.

Naming his proudest achievements, he listed making Tufts more financially accessible, improving the undergraduate experience and campus, strengthening the alumni network and navigating through the recent financial crisis.

Bacow highlighted the strength of the community at Tufts as one of the defining characteristics of the university.

"One of our real core strengths, one of our real core assets that doesn't appear on a balance sheet is the social capital that is represented by Tufts as a community," he said.

This sense of community, he said, was evident in employees' willingness to "sacrifice to put students first" and accept difficult measures like salary freezes during the recession.

Over the rest of his time at Tufts, Bacow will be focusing his efforts on completing the Beyond Boundaries capital campaign, which has just surpassed the $1.05 billion mark, and continuing to make progress on the university's core initiatives.

"Only two things matter in a great university -- great students and great faculty," he said. "We focus like a laser beam on trying to create a nutrient-rich environment for great students to collaborate with great faculty."

Stern echoed Bacow's emphasis on these initiatives.

"He really has accomplished an enormous amount for the reputation of the school in terms of pushing forward more strategic initiatives on what makes the school great -- great students and great faculty," Stern said. "The statistics about our entering classes speak for themselves, and we've attracted a number of great faculty members.

Stern expressed his high regard for Bacow. "He's just a wonderful human being, a great president, someone we're all very lucky to know and have him as part of our lives," he said.

Although Bacow says he will miss life at Tufts, especially interacting with the community, he added that he is "looking forward to what [he's] hoping will be a quieter simpler life."

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