TV & Radio
February 10, 2007
Harvard Plans to Name First Female President
By SARA RIMER and ALAN FINDER
The New York Times
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 9 — Harvard, the nation’s oldest university, plans to name Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian of the Civil War South, to be the first female president in its 371-year history, university officials said Friday.
Her selection by a search committee, if ratified as expected by the Board of Overseers on Sunday, would make Harvard the fourth Ivy League university to name a woman. It comes two years after Lawrence H. Summers, then president of the university, set off a storm by suggesting that a lack of intrinsic aptitude could help explain why fewer women than men reach the top ranks of science and math in universities.
Some Harvard professors, particularly women, greeted the decision with euphoria. “Harvard’s waited a long time — since 1636,” said Patricia Albjerg Graham, an emeritus professor of the history of education at Harvard, recalling that when she was a postdoctoral fellow in 1972, she was not allowed to enter the main door of the faculty club or eat in the main dining room.
Mary Waters, the acting chairwoman of the Harvard sociology department, said: “It’s been a lonely place for women, very lonely. There aren’t many of us.”
Dr. Faust, 59, the author of five books and a former professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is the dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, the smallest of Harvard’s schools. It is the remaining remnant of Radcliffe College, once the women’s college at Harvard. Much of the research sponsored by the institute emphasizes the study of women, gender and society.
Dr. Faust emerged in recent weeks as a finalist among the candidates being considered by the university’s search committee, particularly after Thomas R. Cech, a biochemist who is the president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a Nobel Prize winner, took the unusual step of announcing publicly that he had withdrawn from the competition.
His withdrawal prompted some professors to raise last-minute concerns about Dr. Faust. While declining to speak on the record, they said they thought she lacked the toughness and vision to be a strong leader of an unruly and factionalized university and noted that the Radcliffe Institute, with about 80 staff members, is a tiny part of Harvard. Others wondered why it had taken nearly a year to choose someone who was already a Harvard dean.
“The real import of this choice is that it is a cautious pick, which seems targeted at healing the wounds of the Summers years and restoring Harvard’s momentum as quickly as possible,” said Richard Bradley, who wrote “Harvard Rules: The Struggle for the Soul of the World’s Most Powerful University” (HarperCollins, 2005).
Mr. Bradley said there were legitimate questions about Dr. Faust’s qualifications, like her lack of experience running a large university. “The fact that Harvard could not find someone who filled all their bases suggests to me the difficulty that Harvard had to fill the position,” he said.
One of the nation’s premier universities, Harvard has 12 schools and colleges with an annual budget of $3 billion and an endowment of nearly $30 billion.
John Longbrake, a university spokesman, said he would not comment on the presidential search. Dr. Faust also declined to comment until Sunday’s official announcement. Her selection was first reported by The Harvard Crimson late Thursday night on its Web site.
Faculty members and officials familiar with the search said Dr. Faust’s leadership style — her collaborative approach and considerable people skills — would be vital for soothing a campus ripped apart by the battles over Dr. Summers, whom many accused of having an abrasive, confrontational style.
“She combines outstanding scholarship with an uncanny ability to administer both well and with a heart,” said Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Dr. Summers turned to Dr. Faust two years ago to help calm the furor over his remarks about women in math, engineering and science. He asked her to oversee two committees he created to come up with ways to recruit, retain and promote women in those fields at Harvard.
Dr. Summers, a former Treasury secretary, stepped down a year ago after a five-year tenure in the face of widespread faculty discontent.
Dr. Faust will take the helm at a time when the university faces a challenging agenda, which includes transforming the undergraduate curriculum, re-emphasizing teaching and building a new campus in the Allston section of Boston that, among other things, will support stem-cell research.
She is seen as likely to be able to restore trust with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the university’s largest and among its most prestigious divisions, which had led the charge against Dr. Summers.
Dr. Faust has run the Radcliffe Institute since 2001. Before that, she taught American history for more than two decades at Penn, where she had gone to graduate school. An expert in Southern history and a native of Virginia, she has written books on Southern women during the Civil War and on intellectuals and ideology in the Confederate South, as well as a biography of a plantation owner.
In the end, some Harvard professors said, Dr. Faust’s management style might have been more important to the nine members of the presidential search committee than any desire to name a woman.
“My own sense is that it’s a new template for leadership, and that probably is not unrelated to gender, but it ought not get eclipsed by it,” said Richard P. Chait, a professor of higher education at Harvard.
Dr. Chait, who studies university management, noted that in several recent changes of leadership of major American corporations, tough, even bullying leaders were replaced by more mild-mannered consensus builders.
The presidential search began not long after Dr. Summers resigned last February. Derek C. Bok, a former president of Harvard, stepped in to serve as interim president.
News of Dr. Faust’s selection was greeted warmly by Harvard students. “It’s about time,” said Elisa Olivieri, a junior. “Talent is no longer ‘single, male, childless.’ It’s an excellent acknowledgement that the face of talent has changed.”
George Thampy, a freshman, said of the selection: “I think it’s a great step forward — a bona fide scholar who’s a woman. In some ways you could say it’s a reaction to the last president and that fiasco.”
Sara Rimer reported from Cambridge, Mass., and Alan Finder from New York.