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Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Published: Monday, 2/19/2007

History at Harvard

AFTER the gender flap involving Lawrence Summers, Harvard University undoubtedly sought a leader who would attract positive, not negative, attention. In selecting Drew Gilpin Faust as its new president, ending the tumultuous five-year presidency of Mr. Summers, the school's governing body did not disappoint.

To almost immediate acclaim, Ms. Faust was named the first woman to lead the oldest university in the United States. The Civil War scholar and respected university insider did something no woman has been able to do in the 371-year history of Harvard - become its president.

The announcement generated a ripple of excitement throughout academia and beyond.

But as the news spread about the 59-year-old Ms. Faust, it appeared clear she came to her extraordinary success the old fashioned way - she earned it.

Before coming to Harvard six years ago, the noted historian spent 25 years teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. Since 2001, two years after Radcliffe College merged into Harvard as a research center with a mission to study gender issues, Ms. Faust has been dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Ironically, that background proved invaluable under the previous president. Few will forget the uproar Mr. Summers caused by suggesting that genetic gender differences may explain why few women rise to top science jobs.

As the controversy raged, Ms. Faust oversaw two panels studying gender diversity on campus. During the exhaustive search to find a suitable successor to the volatile Mr. Summers, the Radcliffe dean emerged as a candidate with both exceptional academic and diplomatic skills.

The new president will need them in abundance to facilitate cooperation between the many distinguished and disparate factions at Harvard. But for now, the university's first woman boss can join the many celebrating her remarkable promotion to what may be the most prestigious job in higher education.

"I hope that my own appointment can be one symbol of an opening of opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago," she said. Yet Drew Gilpin Faust put the historic distinction in proper perspective by emphasizing "I'm not the woman president of Harvard, I'm the president of Harvard."

The 28th, to be exact.



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