RI High school alumnus prepared to take charge at Harvard

QC friend not surprised by his selection

Alan Garber, a 1973 Rock Island High School graduate, is the interim president of Harvard University. CREDIT HARVARD UNIVERSITY

As Interim President Alan Garber takes the helm at a Harvard University still reeling from charges of campus antisemitism, a former fellow Rock Island High School student said his friend is the right choice to get the prestigious institution back on track.

Indeed, Michael Weindruch, RIHS Class of 1970, said he believes the highly accomplished Dr. Garber, RIHS class of 1973, could, if he wanted to, do more than just lead the Ivy League university out of the crisis that helped result in the Tuesday, Jan. 2, resignation of former President Claudine Gay. 

In fact, Mr. Weindruch said if Dr. Garber is ultimately “selected as the permanent president, he would be a tremendous asset to Harvard.”

“What else can’t he do?” Mr. Weindruch asked about an education leader and medical doctor he said has excelled at “cream of the crop” institutions including Stanford and Harvard.

Dr. Garber’s extensive experience and deep resume are among the reasons the Harvard Corporation – the university system’s top governing body – said it chose the Harvard provost and chief academic officer for the past 12 years for the task.

Leader’s experience lauded

 “An economist and a physician, he is a distinguished and wide-ranging scholar with appointments at Harvard Medical School, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,” the corporation said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have someone of Alan’s broad and deep experience, incisive judgment, collaborative style, and extraordinary institutional knowledge to carry forward key priorities and to guide the university through this interim period.”

Alan Garber Harvard

Dr. Garber and Mr. Weindruch, currently of Davenport, were three years apart in high school. But thanks to his friendship with Alan’s older brother David (RIHS Class of 1969) Mr. Weindruch became a regular fixture at the Garbers’ Rock Island home.

The pair met in Sunday school and found they shared similar interests. “I was over (at) their house quite a bit because we both played guitar and we did music together a little bit on the weekends,” Mr. Weindruch told the QCBJ in an interview this week.

As a result, young Mike also became well acquainted with the Garber family which also included Alan’s twin sister, mother Jean and father Harry.

Family smart, accomplished

“Here’s a guy that owned a liquor store in downtown Rock Island on one corner and Spector Liquors was across the street and those were two Jewish men who had become very successful …” Mr. Weindruch said of the elder Mr. Garber. “Those kinds of liquor stores were where people went.”

In addition to owning a thriving Liberty Liquors at 2309 Third Ave., Rock Island, Harry Garber also was a leading member of the Quad Cities Symphony

Thanks to a scheme cooked up by Mrs. Garber, who Mr. Weindruch said was a “real sweetheart,” and his own mother, the budding guitarists Mike and David were treated to a “little culture” during Sunday afternoon symphony performances that featured Harry Garber on strings.

The Garber kids, including the twins, also were both accomplished and smart and it showed when they were enrolled at Rock Island High School.

“He and his sister were like No. 1-A  and 1-B of their class,” Mr. Weindruch said. “They were both highly intelligent and took their studies very seriously.” 

He’s clearly proud of Dr. Garber’s accomplishments and of the chance to have gotten to know him, his twin, their late parents, and brother David, who lives and works in Jerusalem. But as pleased as Mr. Weindruch is by his friend’s recent success, he said it saddens him that news about Dr. Garber, especially in Quad Cities media outlets, failed to mention the Harvard leader’s Quad Cities and Rock Island ties.

Doctor and a scholar

Even as a young academic, Mr. Weindruch said his former Rock Island High School chum was impressive. Consider, for example, that Dr. Garber earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard College in three years and later earned a master’s degree while attending medical school. These days Dr. Garber is both a physician and the holder of multiple academic degrees.

Claudine Gay, former president of Harvard University, resigned her position amid complaints about campus antisemitism and plagiarism. CREDIT HARVARD UNIVERSITY

Mr. Weindruch said he always knew “the sky was the limit” for his younger friend. “He was a fun loving guy, but he took his studies very seriously.”

Still, he said, he did not anticipate that Dr. Garber would one day lead Harvard. Rather, Mr. Weindruch said he would not have been surprised to see him in a top post in the health sciences or at a medical school. The Davenport man has no doubt, however, about Dr. Garber’s ability to lead Harvard through its present challenges.

As the Rock Island native tackles those challenges, leaders of Harvard University said they will plan their second presidential search in three years. It will be conducted under the watchful eye of its detractors including the members of Congress whose pointed and heated questions helped lead to former President Gay’s departure.

Garber up to challenge

“The search for a new president of the university will begin in due course,” Harvard Corporation’s statement said. “We will be in further touch about the process, which will include broad engagement and consultation with the Harvard community in the time ahead.”

In the interim, as students return to campus later this month the Israeli-Hamas war that fueled the campus crisis shows no signs of abating. Mr. Weindruch, however, has confidence in his friend’s ability to address the challenge head on.

“I wish him the best of luck but I don’t think he needs luck,” Mr. Weindrich told the QCBJ. “He’s a very able, intelligent administrator among his other (admirable) qualities.”

Consider, for example, that when Mr. Weindruch reached out this week to wish him well in his new position, as busy as he was, Dr. Garber got back to him with his thanks in less than 24 hours.  “For him to respond so quickly when he’s busy as all get out … those kinds of people are hard to find.”

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