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Economist Lawrence Summers, MIT '75, named Harvard president

Future Harvard president Lawrence Summers in his 1975 Technique yearbook photo, and today.
Future Harvard president Lawrence Summers in his 1975 Technique yearbook photo, and today.

Lawrence H. Summers, noted economist, former Secretary of the Treasury, and an alumnus and former professor at MIT, was elected the 27th president of Harvard University Sunday. Dr. Summers, 46, succeeds Neil L. Rudenstine, who steps down June 30 after 10 years in office.

MIT President Charles M. Vest commented, "This is a terrific appointment for Harvard, and, of course, we at MIT feel a special bit of institutional pride in Larry Summers as an undergraduate alumnus of our economics department. Dr. Summers is a first-rate intellect, has a wide range of relevant experience and will be an outstanding university president.

"In my view, he is an excellent fit for Havard in 2001. He has a broad view of education and the world scene, including keen appreciation for the role of science and technology. The basic agenda that Larry announced holds great similarity to the current thrusts at MIT. This will create both healthy competition and opportunities for common cause," Dr. Vest said.

"I value my personal and professional relationship with Neil Rudenstine. It has been our habit to meet informally a few times each term to discuss matters of common interest and concern in higher education. Institutional relationships between MIT and Harvard are very good right now, and I would certainly anticipate that they will continue to be with Larry at Harvard's helm," Dr. Vest said.

Dr. Summers received the SB in economics at MIT in 1975 and the PhD at Harvard in 1982. He served three years on the MIT economics faculty, where he was named assistant professor in 1979 and associate professor in 1982. He subsequently served as a domestic policy economist for President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors for a year before returning to Harvard at age 28 as one of the youngest persons ever to be named a tenured professor there.

He served eight years on the Harvard faculty and in 1991 was named vice president and chief economist for the World Bank. He became Undersecretary of the Treasury in 1993, deputy secretary in 1995 and secretary in July 1999, presiding over an agency with nearly 150,000 employees.

Dr. Summers was born in New Haven, CT on Nov. 30, 1954 into a family of economics professors -- mother, father and two Nobel Prize-winning uncles, Paul Samuelson of MIT and Kenneth Arrow of Stanford.

"He definitely was not a late bloomer. He was probably born in full bloom," recalled Institute Professor Emeritus Robert M. Solow 44 years later when Dr. Summers was named treasury secretary. Dr. Solow taught Dr. Summers as an undergraduate.

Small talk at Thanksgiving dinners in the suburban Philadelphia home of the Summerses revolved around economic theory and currentevents, with children encouraged to join in. The teenage Lawrence, who attended public schools and excelled in science and mathematics, was an active participant.

At MIT, Dr. Summers lived in Senior House. "He was unusually bright and he had a serious interest in economics," said his undergraduate advisor, Professor of Economics Paul Joskow, in a 1999 interview. "He was a very good student, but definitely not a grind. He had outside interests, particularly the debate club."

Professor Rudiger W. Dornbusch, the Ford International Professor of Economics, remembered Dr. Summers in 1999 as an engaging young colleague. "He was incredibly bright and clearly a star in his profession already in a wide range of areas," he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 14, 2001.

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