BY MEREDITH MCKEE
Harvard’s future is anchored both in maintaining the University’s intellectual traditions and becoming a “global university” by adjusting to changing demands, Larry Summers said during his installation ceremony last Friday.
Summers was installed as the 27th president of Harvard University under sunny skies in front of a crowd of thousands, including faculty, students and delegates from academic institutions.
Praising outgoing president Neil Rudenstine for nurturing the school’s financial and intellectual prosperity, Summers gave attendees a glimpse at his vision for the future.
The school must make teaching and learning “all that they can be,” Summers said, especially at Harvard College, “the heart of this institution.” Increasing the amount of direct contact between teacher and student is “most crucial,” he said.
Summers also hinted that one or more of the University’s schools might soon be moving out of Cambridge.
“We must take full advantage of the physical opportunity across the river in Allston,” he said, where there is room “to build a campus several times larger than this one.”
Citing the College’s diverse student body and faculty, Summers told the audience that some of the graduate school’s systems of financial aid need an overhaul.
“[A]s proud as we all are that any student who wants to come to the College will not be turned away because of financial need, I say to you that we should not rest until the same is true of all of this great University,” he said over cheers from students.
Finally, Summers emphasized his goal to “assure that all who graduate from this place are equipped to comprehend, to work with, the scientific developments that are transforming the world in which we live in.” All Harvard graduates should be able to tell the difference between genes and chromosomes, and to explain exponential growth, he said.
The ceremony, a mixture of centuries-old traditions and modern twists, was held in the grassy clearing between Memorial Church and Widener Library. Crimson banners with the shields of all of the College’s houses and the University’s schools hung from the trees above the audience.
After an academic processional accompanied by an “Inaugural Choir” of Harvard’s singing groups, representatives from the Undergraduate Council and the Harvard Alumni Association, as well as the president of Yale University, Richard Levin, welcomed Summers.
Levin acknowledged that the world looks to Harvard for leadership and joked: “These are mere facts, but believe me — they’re not easy things for a Yale president to say.”
As leaves fell from the trees overhead, the President of the Board of Overseers, Richard Oldenburg, presented Summers with three of the traditional “Badges of Authority” of the University presidency. First, Summers was given two silver keys “to open the doors of knowledge and truth.” The keys are ceremonial and fit no lock, and each measures more than a foot long.
Next, Summers received two seals: the University’s original corporation seal from 1650, depicting three open books, and the Great Seal of the University, adopted in 1885, which represents the University’s shield in its current form. Finally, Summers was given the oldest volume of Harvard’s records, dating from 1639.
Presenting the fourth and final insignia of the Harvard presidency, the Senior Fellow of Harvard College, Robert Stone, Jr., gave Summers a copy of Harvard’s original charter, granted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Stone then escorted Summers to sit in the President’s Chair, which, while not one of the “Badges of Office,” has been a part of every presidential installation since 1770.
The installation complete, Summers drew laughter with a succinct “I accept.”
Summers summarized his feelings by quoting Edward Holyoke’s, Harvard’s president from 1737 to 1769, reaction upon assuming the office.
“‘If any man wishes to be humbled and mortified, let him become president of Harvard University,'” Summers recited.
He continued: “Humbled? Yes. Mortified? I hope not. Excited and exhilarated? Absolutely.”
Still, Summers said, twisting a line from the movie “Love Story”: “I do not believe being president means never having to say I’m sorry.”
After Summers’ address, the audience and the Inaugural Choir sang “Fair Harvard” and “America the Beautiful.”
At the ceremony’s conclusion, bells throughout Cambridge rang for 15 minutes in celebration.
Many who spoke during the hour-and-a-half ceremony referenced the importance of scholarship since the September 11th attacks.
In his welcome, Yale’s president said: “The events of the last month have made the tasks of leadership both more difficult and more important.”
The world, he said, looks to Harvard University to make sense of the new global situation. That, Levin added, makes the University’s “noble cause” to “uphold free expression” and “free intellectual inquiry” vital.
Summers similarly emphasized the importance of facilitating learning and education at Harvard in an effort to “recommit to the service of society through scholarship of the highest order and in faith in the future.”
Universities like Harvard, he said, “are communities in which truth — veritas — is pursued first and last as an end in itself, not for any worldly reward.”
Summers received a bachelor of science degree from M.I.T. in 1975 and was awarded a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard in 1982. After a year working in Washington on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Summers returned to Harvard to teach economics as one of the youngest tenured professors in the University’s recent history. In 1991, Summers took a leave from Harvard to work at the World Bank. From 1993 until 2001, Summers worked in various positions in the Department of the Treasury, eventually rising to the post of Secretary of the Treasury.
Summers’ installation was celebrated with a week of events, including a performance celebrating students and the arts, six faculty symposia and numerous museum exhibits.