Harvard taps first woman as president
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Drew Gilpin Faust, a Civil War historian and dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, yesterday was named the 28th president of Harvard University, becoming the first woman to hold the post.
After a yearlong search, the seven-member Harvard Corp. agreed behind closed doors to select Dr. Faust, 59, who has spent most of her career teaching history at the University of Pennsylvania.
"This is a great day, and a historic day, for Harvard," James R. Houghton, the senior member of the Harvard Corp. and chairman of the presidential search committee, said in a statement. "Drew Faust is an inspiring and accomplished leader, a superb scholar, a dedicated teacher and a wonderful human being."
Dr. Faust's appointment was announced at Harvard's campus in Cambridge, Mass.
Dr. Faust succeeds Lawrence H. Summers, the former U.S. Treasury secretary who aroused controversy two years ago by suggesting that the paucity of female science and engineering professors at Harvard stemmed from women's lack of "intrinsic aptitude" for science. Dr. Summers announced his resignation nearly a year ago.
"I hope my appointment can be one symbol of an opportunity that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago," Dr. Faust said at a news conference at Harvard after her appointment was announced. "I'm not the woman president of Harvard. I'm the president of Harvard."
With her selection, four of the eight Ivy League universities are headed by women.
Although Dr. Faust never has run an institution approaching the size of Harvard, friends and associates said she was an excellent listener and decision-maker who would take a collaborative approach in running the university.
Dr. Faust became dean of the Radcliffe Institute in 2001 and oversaw the final transformation of the former women's college into an academic center with 50 research fellows.
After Dr. Summers drew criticism for his remarks on women, he asked Dr. Faust to help lead two task forces to come up with a plan to increase the presence of women in the sciences and on the Harvard faculty. The assignment gave her an even more prominent role at the university, which was founded in 1636.
Some academics had questioned whether the selection of a historian would minimize the importance of science at Harvard as it embarks on a major expansion of its science programs.
But Susan L. Graham, professor emerita of science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, who is this year's president of the Harvard Board of Overseers, praised Dr. Faust's success in ensuring a significant role for science as dean of the Radcliffe Institute.
"Drew Faust is a historian with her eyes on the future," said Dr. Graham, who served on the presidential search committee, in a statement. "As an overseer, I've admired her remarkable talent for creating a sense of common enterprise, for setting ambitious goals, for fostering multidisciplinary collaboration, and for advancing the institute's agenda."
Dr. Faust, who was born Catherine Gilpin, grew up in a wealthy family in Virginia but rebelled at an early age against the widespread racial discrimination of the time and the secondary role she was expected to play as a woman. When she was 9, she wrote President Dwight Eisenhower urging him to end segregation.
"I was the rebel who did not just march for civil rights and against the Vietnam War but who fought endlessly with my mother, refusing to accept her insistence that 'this is a man's world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you'll be,' " she writes in an essay in the book "Shapers of Southern History: Autobiographical Reflections."
As a scholar, Dr. Faust focused on the history of Civil War and the South, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania for more than two decades before becoming dean of the Radcliffe Institute.
"I've spent a lot of time thinking about the past and about how it shapes the future," Dr. Faust said yesterday. "Our shared enterprise is to make Harvard's future even more remarkable than its past. That will mean recognizing and building on what we already do well. It will also mean recognizing what we don't do as well as we should and not being content until we find ways to do better."
First Published February 12, 2007 12:00 am