Alan M. Garber ’76 has the resumé of a Harvard president: More than a decade as the University's top academic officer, the founder of two medical research centers at Stanford, and a trio of graduate degrees.
But with the search for Harvard’s 30th leader underway, he says he’s “very happy” where he is — as the school’s No. 2.
“I am very happy serving as Harvard’s Provost,” Garber said in an interview Friday. “I am very much focused on doing my work as provost to the best of my abilities, and ensuring a smooth transition to the next president.”
Garber’s pedigree naturally invites speculation about his presidential prospects. His response to questions about the top job mirror remarks from another potential internal candidate — Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay, who told The Crimson last month she has “a great job” that she is “singularly focused on.”
As Harvard’s chief academic officer, Garber works closely with departments and offices across the school to advance research and University-wide initiatives. He also directly oversees more than a dozen administrative units, including Harvard University Health Services, the Office for Gender Equity, and the Office for Climate and Sustainability.
In 2017, during the presidential search that ultimately selected Lawrence S. Bacow, several prominent donors and professors at Harvard identified Garber as a likely internal candidate for the University’s top job.
Trained as both an economist and a physician, Garber taught at Stanford before becoming Harvard’s provost in 2011. In the decade since, he has reported to former Harvard president Drew G. Faust and her successor, Bacow, who announced in June that he plans to step down next summer.
Asked what skills or experiences would be most critical for Bacow’s successor, Garber listed an understanding of Harvard’s values, openness to free debate, and an ability to foster public trust in research produced across the University.
Despite their eclectic academic and personal backgrounds, one qualification for the Harvard presidency has remained nearly constant over the past century: having a Ph.D. Since James B. Conant, Class of 1914, took over Massachusetts Hall’s corner office in 1933, Harvard has been led by just one president without a Ph.D. — Derek C. Bok, who holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
But Garber, who said he has “a lot of confidence” in the search committee’s selection process, said the Ph.D. is not a line in the sand for presidential contenders.
“If they decide on a candidate that does not have a Ph.D. it will be because they had many other strong qualities that made up for the lack of the Ph.D,” Garber said of the 15-member search panel.
Garber said one of the incoming president’s first priorities will be addressing the Supreme Court’s ruling on an anti-affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard that it heard last month.
He said the lawsuit is “on the minds of nearly everyone in the Harvard community” and will likely be top of mind for the 30th president.
“We’re obviously hopeful that the decision will go our way, but we have to be prepared for the possibility that it won’t,” Garber said.
The court’s opinion is expected to come down next summer, but conservative justices — who outnumber their liberal counterparts, 6-3 — appeared skeptical of race-conscious admissions during oral arguments last week.
Garber declined to comment on how long he envisions staying in the provost role after a new president takes office, offering only that he is “committed to making sure that the next president can get off to a good start.”