Journal Archive > 2002 > May

Inaugural vision

Lawrence S. Bacow takes office as Tufts' 12th president

Some years ago, in an elementary school classroom in Pontiac, Mich., a fourth-grade boy learned an important lesson.

The lesson: it's important to listen, because other people have really interesting things to say.

Lawrence S. Bacow took that lesson to heart and on April 19, shared that wisdom along with his vision for the future of Tufts University as he was inaugurated as the university's 12th president.

Lawrence S. Bacow acknowledges the crowd moments after being installed as Tufts' 12th president. To his left is Nathan Gantcher, chairman of the Board of Trustees. Seated behind Gantcher is Provost Sol Gittleman. © Ed Malitsky

Bacow, who began his tenure as president on September 1, 2001, received the official symbols of the office from Nathan Gantcher, chairman of the Tufts Board of Trustees, at a two-hour ceremony that drew close to 2,000 guests under a tent in the Ellis Oval on the Medford/Somerville campus.

Two days later, on Tuftonia's Day, the university marked the 150th anniversary of its founding. Together, the two events launched Tufts into its next era, that of "educating the first generation of leaders for a truly global world," in Bacow's words.

"How do we educate leaders for a truly global world?" the new president asked. "By teaching collaboration as a way of life—and a source of answers. By bringing together research and education in ways that could not be accomplished anywhere else," he said.

"By helping our students become active, engaged, effective citizens—in the best tradition of Tufts, and in the great tradition of a liberal education."

Bacow began his inaugural address by thanking his family, teachers and mentors. Then, he surprised—and delighted—the Tufts community by introducing one of his "most important teachers," Shirley Chandler Bitterman, the former fourth-grade teacher who passed on the valuable lesson about the importance of listening to others back in that Michigan classroom.

"For a university president, there is no more important lesson," Bacow said.

Four critical issues
Bacow's address also looked forward, outlining the four critical issues of growth and challenge that lie ahead for Tufts:

• Ensuring that the school remains "accessible to all and not just the wealthy few."

"Attending an elite university in this country has become a tremendous financial burden for families," Bacow said. "If we want to keep a Tufts education accessible to more than the affluent few, if we want to preserve the intimacy that we value so much at Tufts, if we want to admit students on at truly need-blind basis, if we want our graduate students to be able to choose their careers based on something other than the need to pay off huge student loans, if we want to attract and retain the very best faculty and staff, we must develop an endowment in keeping with our stature as a university—and we will," he continued.

• Being attentive to the "entire realm of the undergraduate experience."

"We need to continually raise the bar of intellectual excitement and challenge while finding new ways to educate the whole person, as well," Bacow said.

• Strengthening support for graduate programs and investing in the intellectual infrastructure that supports great scholarship.

• Drawing together Tufts' eight schools.

"I'm convinced there is no better way to enhance our rare position as the home of an elite liberal arts college in the heart of a great university," said Bacow.

Barbara Grossman, chair of drama and dance, reads an original poem in tribute to President Bacow. Seated behind her, from left, are former Tufts presidents John DiBiaggio and Burton C. Hallowell, Bacow and trustee chairman Nathan Gantcher. © Ed Malitsky

Featured speakers
Bacow, an environmental economist, holds a bachelor of science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and holds a master's degree and Ph.D. from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He was appointed to the faculty of MIT in 1977; in 1998 he was named chancellor.

Bacow's colleague, Charles Vest, president of MIT, and Dartmouth University President emeritus James O. Freedman also spoke at the inauguration.

Describing Bacow as a man of "outstanding diplomatic and organizational skills," Vest said Tufts' new leader is "masterful" at encouraging people to work toward a common vision. "He has a fine sense of time and place, and this will serve him well, and it will serve you well," he told the audience.

Vest mentioned two prominent Tufts alumni who enjoyed distinguished careers at MIT, Vannevar Bush, E13, G13, a pioneer in the development of computer technology, and Norbert Weiner, A09, H46, the founder of the science of cybernetics and a brilliant mathematician.

"Your inauguration [of Bacow] gives us the opportunity to return those favors," Vest said.

Bacow's inauguration is "an act for which American higher education can be thankful," Freedman said. Bacow will bring "bright wit and intellectual vivacity…to the university and the entire academic enterprise," he said.

Traditions of Tuftonia
The inauguration ceremony, rich in tradition, featured musical accompaniment by the Tufts University Wind Ensemble, under the direction of John McCann, and a cappella performances by the Amalgamates, Beelzebubs and Jackson Jills.

In addition to deans, senior administrators and faculty from Tufts, the procession also included 150 delegates from other universities and colleges, led by Eberhard Schaich, rector of Eberhard-Karls Universität in Tübingen, Germany, established in 1477.

Bacow was welcomed by representatives from the many communities of the university: undergraduates, graduate and professional students, administrators, faculty, staff and alumni. The undergraduate representative, Eric Greenberg, A02, was unable to appear because of illness; his remarks were read by Peter L.D. Reid, professor of classics. Other greeters included Colleen O'Connor, M02; Barbara Grossman, chair of the department of drama and dance; Dr. Lonnie H. Norris, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, and William O'Reilly, A77, president of the Tufts University Alumni Association.

Grossman took an unconventional approach and greeted the new president with an original poem, "Ode to a Visionary Leader."

"I come today to sing the praises/of someone who might give us raises," she recited, as a ripple of gentle laughter spread across the audience. "A man of vision, passion, skill/who's pure of heart and strong of will/forceful and bold, yet humane and just/a leader we can surely trust/a brilliant scholar, whose inquiring mind/has won him plaudits of ev'ry kind."

"President Bacow, our aspirations for you are great," said O'Reilly. "We know that you will be a worthy steward of the history and the traditions which we celebrate.

"But we also look to your vision and to your leadership to inspire the entire university community, including its alumni, to achieve in the future even greater levels of excellence than we have already realized."

Bacow and his fourth-grade teacher, Shirley Chandler Bitterman. © Ed Malitsky

"President Bacow, to us you embody what Tufts can become," said O'Connor, who represented the diverse group of students enrolled in the graduate, medical, dental, nutrition, veterinary, biomedical science and Fletcher schools.

"Through your vision, Tufts will stretch itself across traditional boundaries, establishing Tufts even more so as an innovative cultivator of future leaders in health care, biomedical research, public policy and global relations.

"But perhaps even more importantly, we look to you for your energy, your freshness of spirit, your gifts as a teacher and mentor and your ability to bring us together in community," she said.

Symbols of office
Bacow was invested as president by Gantcher, who presented him with the charter of Tufts College, granted by the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1852.

Gantcher also presented the keys to Ballou Hall, the oldest building on campus, named for Tufts' first president, Hosea Ballou 2nd, and the location of the current president's office. And, he presented a medallion inscribed with the names of each of the past presidents on the links of the chain.

"We, the Tufts trustees, are convinced you will lead this institution to greater and greater heights," Gantcher said.

Before and after
The inaugural ceremonies began on Thursday, April 18, with the "Tufts Presidential Inauguration Concert: A Musical Showcase" and concluded on Saturday, April 20, with a community celebration at the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center.

Highlights of the three-day celebration of Bacow's inauguration, including video clips and other photographs, are featured on the web site