Harvard University inaugurated Lawrence H. Summers as its 27th president Friday (Oct. 12) in a Tercentenary Theatre ceremony that celebrated the University’s centuries of tradition and set a tone for the institution’s future.
Summers, a former U.S. treasury secretary and Harvard economics professor, was officially installed by Senior Fellow Robert G. Stone Jr. and Board of Overseers President Richard E. Oldenburg before a crowd of about 5,000 students, faculty, and staff assembled in Tercentenary Theatre.
Oldenburg and Stone enacted the part of the ceremony that has its roots in Harvard’s 17th century beginnings, charging the new president to fulfill his responsibilities and presenting him with the ancient symbols of office – two silver keys, two seals of the University, the earliest college record book, and the Harvard Charter of 1650.
Oldenburg urged Summers to “take responsibility for nurturing and extending Harvard’s strengths as well as acknowledging its shortcomings wherever they exist and working to repair them.”
Stone said: “You inherit a mantle of leadership that has been carried with distinction through many generations. We ask you to dedicate yourself to the University’s paramount purpose – giving a true account of the gift of reason.”
After being presented with the historic items and then escorted by Stone and Oldenburg to the Holyoke Chair, the official seat of Harvard presidents since 1769, Summers was officially installed.
Though Summers was ceremonially installed Friday, he has been serving as Harvard’s president since July 1, when he took over for Neil L. Rudenstine, Harvard’s president since 1991. Unlike an elected government official, who may serve in an “acting” capacity before the swearing in, Summers had the full powers of his office even before the Installation.
In addition to members of the University community, Summers was inaugurated before representatives of 175 universities, learned societies, and professional associations, including the master of John Harvard’s alma mater, Cambridge University’s Emmanuel College.
Though tradition played an important role in the day’s events, the spotlight was reserved for the future. In an address lasting about half an hour, Summers outlined a vision of the University in the 21st century that included a commitment to the quality of undergraduate education, wise expansion of the University’s physical boundaries and financial resources, and enhanced scientific literacy.
Summers opened with some nods to the past, expressing his gratitude to Rudenstine’s leadership and quoting former Harvard President Edward Holyoke: “If any man wishes to be humbled and mortified, let him become President of Harvard.” Acknowledging that Harvard’s intellectual, physical, and financial resources are at their peak, Summers cautioned that “we will – and we should – be judged not by what we have, but by what we do; not by what we accumulate, but by what we contribute.” Looking forward, he spoke of increasing the contact between students and teachers, boosting the financial aid of the graduate schools, harnessing new technology, and contributing to increased globalization.
Hinting at breaking down the barriers between Harvard’s “tubs,” Summers called for uniting the University and its resources behind common values and objectives. “We will not sacrifice the flexibility and innovation that autonomy promotes,” he said. “But we will assure that Harvard, as one university, exceeds – by ever more – the sum of its parts.”
Speakers representing Harvard’s students and alumni, as well as those from other institutions of higher education, welcomed Summers to his new duties and pledged to support him as he charts Harvard’s course.
Senior Paul Gusmorino became the first undergraduate to speak at a presidential inauguration. He urged Summers to seize the opportunities offered by rapid technological advances and the University’s prosperity to improve undergraduate education and the pursuit of knowledge.
“President Summers, at this defining moment in our community, when all that lies before you is opportunity, we students have the greatest faith in your wisdom and your leadership,” Gusmorino said. “Today begins your own time of opportunity, President Summers – seize it!”
Yale President Richard Levin got the afternoon’s biggest laugh as he explained how difficult it is for him, given the long tradition of competition between the two schools, to deliver the compliments that Harvard deserves.
“Harvard is blessed with the broadest and deepest assembly of intellectual talent and academic resources in the world, and it is to Harvard that the whole world looks for leadership. These are mere facts, but believe me, these are not easy things for a Yale president to say,” Levin said.
Several speeches referred to changes in the world since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., and to Harvard’s critical role in helping people understand those changes.
“The events of the last month have made the task of leadership both different and more important,” Levin said. “We look to the faculty of this great university to help us comprehend new threats to liberty and world order. We look also to President Summers to uphold Harvard’s ancient commitment to free inquiry, free expression, and reasoned debate as the quest for understanding proceeds.”
The good wishes extended to Summers came from beyond the installation ceremony itself. About 100 members of the Harvard Living Wage Campaign staged a noon rally outside Harvard Yard to welcome Summers. Waving signs with slogans like “Do the right thing, Larry!”, students said they hoped that Summers would agree with their three-year effort to get the University to raise wages for its lowest-paid workers.
“We decided to have a rally on the day of the Installation to welcome Larry Summers to the community and emphasize that the community is not just students, it’s workers, too,” said Claudia Sitgraves, a senior and member of the Harvard Living Wage Campaign. “This is a welcoming rally as he’s continuing his period of education [on the living wage issue].”
In his Tercentenary Theatre remarks, Summers said, “I will do my best to hear Harvard’s many voices and to respond,” later adding that “Harvard’s distinction, and its promise flow from … all those who read books, who write books, who shelve books.”
Lending an academic air to the day were six symposia set up to explore a broad range of academic areas and address complex issues facing the world today. The symposia covered topics ranging from brain science to international development to art and mass culture. They featured Harvard faculty members as well as experts from outside the University.
Summers, 46, was named to succeed Rudenstine last March after a nine-month search that saw a field of 500 candidates winnowed to just one. His appointment brought him back to Harvard after an academic career that spanned much of the 1980s. Summers received his doctorate in economics from Harvard in 1982 and became one of the youngest ever to be named a professor here in 1983 when he became professor of economics. He was named the Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy in 1987.
Summers took leave from Harvard in 1991 to serve as vice president of development economics and chief economist of the World Bank. He subsequently was named undersecretary of the treasury for international affairs, deputy secretary of the treasury and, then, in 1999, he was named secretary of the treasury.
Ken Gewertz and Beth Potier also contributed to this report.