July 2, Lawrence H. Summers’ first full day on the job, greeted Harvard’s 27th president with a mix of ordinary tasks, celebratory events, and plenty of hard work. Summers spent the day settling into his Massachusetts Hall office the way most new employees would: setting up his phone and computer, meeting with his staff, and reviewing his employee benefits (they are, he says, the same as any Harvard employee’s). He was “pleasantly surprised” that his personal photos – ranging from the classic family-on-vacation shots to autographed candids of the former secretary of the treasury with political luminaries like Bill Clinton and Al Gore – had arrived from Washington and were displayed around the office.
Neil L. Rudenstine left his successor a set of juggling balls on an otherwise clear desk, “because I’m going to have a lot of balls in the air,” said Summers. He wasted no time sending those balls aloft: by lunchtime, he had already spoken with several deans and members of the Harvard Corporation and was preparing for a meeting with vice presidents and senior staff. All day, Massachusetts Hall’s reception area and switchboard were abuzz with well wishers and those vying for Summers’ early attention.
Summers finished his first day on the job with a reception. “Do we do this every afternoon at four?” he asked, admiring the spread of champagne, fruit, and an elaborate chocolate cake – and bemoaning the fate of his diet. It’s unclear whether he partook of the bounty, as he devoted himself to meeting and speaking with everyone in the room. He quickly countered each respectful “Dr. Summers” and “Mr. President” with “Call me Larry.”
Summers admitted that during his previous stays at Harvard – first as a doctoral student, then as a member of the economics faculty from 1983 to 1993 – he never imagined that he would return to lead the University. Although he’s been working behind the scenes since his appointment to president in March, he is still getting used to his new position. “I said to someone yesterday, ‘When I’m president of Harvard,’ ” he said. “They looked at their watch and said ‘you are.’ ”