Campus & Community

A letter to the Harvard community from President-elect Lawrence H. Summers

3 min read

Harvard University
April 2001

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

Let me first thank the many of you who have offered your good wishes as I prepare to take up my new responsibilities. I feel honored and excited by the opportunity to return to Harvard, and I look forward to working with all of you to affirm our shared commitment to education and scholarship of the highest quality.

With that in mind, I write now to ask for your advice. As you know, Harvey Fineberg recently announced his intention to conclude his service as provost at the end of June. Harvey has served Harvard with extraordinary devotion and effectiveness, and in these past four years he has done much to shape and strengthen the role of the provost. As I educate myself in the time ahead, I hope to learn all I can from him and others about a great many matters important to Harvard – including how the provost’s role has evolved since President Rudenstine launched it nearly a decade ago, and how it can best advance the University’s interests in the future.

Under the current model, as described to me, the provost serves as the president’s close partner and adviser on major academic and administrative matters, with an emphasis on planning and policy matters that extend across several Faculties and Schools. The provost’s areas of special responsibility include such domains as interfaculty academic collaboration, academic computing, tenure appointments in several of the professional schools, and efforts to achieve a more coordinated approach to academic, physical, and financial planning across the University. (More on the Office of the Provost can be found at I would welcome your observations and advice about the nature of the provost’s role, present and future. I also invite your thoughts on the qualities and experience best suited to the role, as well as suggestions about individuals, within Harvard or beyond, who merit serious consideration. In this, as in other appointment matters, I hope you will give special attention to individuals who would, among other things, contribute to the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds brought to bear on the challenges facing the University.

Of course, your thinking about the provost’s role may prompt you to reflect more broadly on other matters. You may have ideas, for instance, about how the center of the University in general, and the president in particular, can best advance the academic mission of Harvard’s Faculties and Schools, and contribute to enhancing the experience of our students, faculty, and staff. I will be grateful for whatever counsel you are willing to provide, and I encourage you to send your thoughts to me, in confidence, c/o Loeb House, 17 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, or by e-mail to

With many thanks, and warm wishes.


Lawrence H. Summers