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A familiar figure takes over in interim

Derek Bok, the 75-year-old former Harvard president who will take over as interim leader of the university on July 1, once described his long career at Harvard as ''a 23-year digression" from his true vocations of writing and teaching.

Several Harvard professors expressed relief yesterday that Bok, a respected scholar who lives in Cambridge and serves as faculty chairman of Harvard's Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, had agreed to lead Harvard again, after the resignation of Lawrence H. Summers.

A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, Bok became a professor at the law school and rose to dean. He was named Harvard's president in 1971 and served until 1991, a tenure remembered for curriculum changes and debate over divestment in South Africa. Bok resisted calls to divest, saying the university should not play politics.

His position was controversial, but he stood by it, said James J. McCarthy, a professor of oceanography who agreed with Bok.

Bok is known for a down-to-earth style. While president, he would drive to work in an old red Volkswagen Beetle, park in an employee underground garage in Holyoke Center, and walk to Massachusetts Hall, picking up litter along the way.

''There is no institution I care about more deeply," Bok said in a press release yesterday.

Bok will be 76 when he takes the reins from Summers. The Harvard governing corporation said Bok would remain until a successor is chosen and that the search would start ''promptly."

Tracy Jan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.

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