The 46-year-old Summers, who served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton Administration, cited the importance and challenge of being at "the forefront of increasingly expensive scientific research" at a press conference announcing his appointment. He is well steeped in the R&D culture: He earned a bachelors degree in economics from nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology before moving to Harvard, where he became the school's youngest professor in recent times. As an economic adviser to 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, Summers played up the importance of the high-tech industry and research in supercharging the Massachusetts economy.
During the Clinton Administration, "he was an early and constant supporter of the need to keep the engine of intellectual capital going," says John Podesta, former White House chief of staff and now a professor at Georgetown University law school in Washington, D.C. Podesta adds that Summers pushed a number of research-related initiatives, from climate change to K-12 education during his tenure as Treasury secretary.
In winning the Harvard job, Summers beat out University of Michigan chief Lee Bollinger and Harvard Provost Harvey Fineberg.