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Stanford’s Garber assumes role of Harvard provost

Professor of Medicine Alan Garber M.D. ‘83 will sport crimson rather than cardinal this fall as he takes on the role of provost at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

In his 25 years at Stanford, Garber has distinguished himself beyond the medical field, serving as a professor (by courtesy) of economics, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) and professor of economics at the Graduate School of Business (GSB). At FSI, he works as the director of the Center for Health Policy/Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research.

But come Sept. 1, Garber will leave the sunny pastures of the Farm for Harvard Yard—a move that will require “an entirely new wardrobe,” Garber said.

“This is an incredible opportunity, but it’s also a bittersweet one,” he added. “My years at Stanford have been very satisfying…but I do feel good about this move mainly because I’m going to see other friends at an institution I’ve long had a connection with. The role will be challenging and satisfying.”

Garber graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude in 1976 and received his Ph.D. in economics there in 1982. His appointment, announced last week, arose naturally from collaborations with top administrators in Cambridge.

“It started with a conversation that I had with Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, about how the provost position should be configured,” Garber said.

In their discussions, Garber and Faust also broached the general challenges that Harvard faces, notably issues faced by the university’s medical and dental schools and obstacles accompanying its efforts to establish multidisciplinary institutes.

“We had these conversations in part, because I serve as the chair of the Committee to Visit Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of General Medicine,” Garber said. “That is one of several visiting committees which serve, essentially, as external advisory committees to various units within the university.”

At the same time, Garber’s work at Stanford—notably his service on the University Advisory Board, which reviews all faculty appointments and promotions—has prepared him for the position of provost.

Looking to the future, Garber foresees two major issues that will require his immediate attention as Harvard’s provost: the implementation of a set of changes in Harvard’s library system and construction at the university’s Allston campus. He is also set to tackle various ongoing projects and new initiatives during the challenging transition process.

“I’ll be in the learning phase in the beginning—learning the people, learning the issues, learning the institution,” Garber said. “Fortunately, this will be made somewhat easier by the fact that I’m very familiar with the institution from having been a student and a resident at Harvard. I’ve kept close connections with the university over the years in various capacities.”

Garber said his return to Harvard is similar to “going back home after an absence of many years.” As he prepares to leave Stanford, Garber commended the University for its “stellar leadership” and its excellence in research.

“It was and remains extremely difficult to leave Stanford, because I’ve been as happy as I could imagine during my 25 years on the faculty here,” he said.