Gibson Grills Drew Faust, Gets Few Details

University President Drew G. Faust declined to offer details on the future of Harvard’s expansion in Allston or its long-delayed capital campaign in a sweeping, sometimes tense interview with Charles Gibson in Sanders Theatre yesterday.

Faust revealed that the University would accept a controversial donation in the name of former professor Martin Peretz, defending the decision by separating his legacy as a teacher from his recent, heavily criticized remarks about Islam. She also defended the decision not to fire Psychology Professor Marc D. Hauser, contending that a thorough faculty investigation had settled the matter.

Gibson, the veteran ABC journalist and a current fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, pressed Faust on how she planned to recalibrate the University’s Allston expansion, but few details were in the offing.

Faust floated several ideas for how the University would proceed on the issue—including potentially co-developing the real-estate—but provided no specifics on the billion dollar construction project’s future.

“[Those properties] are going to be Harvard’s future, but it’s a future that is going to come much more slowly,” Faust said.

Gibson seemed frustrated at times with Faust’s lack of specifics, but in interviews this year, University administrators have been consistently deferring questions regarding the future of the expansion to a series of committees that have been set up to examine potential next steps.

During yesterday’s interview, which alternated between a rather amicable exchange and more terse questioning, Faust also touched on two recent controversies—the scandal surrounding Hauser’s research and a donation in honor of Peretz, a public intellectual who has come under fire for remarks deriding the value of Muslim life.

Faust said that the University would go ahead and accept a $650,000 gift raised in honor of Peretz by a group of his former students.

“These individuals wished to recognize the ways in which he contributed as a teacher to their lives,” Faust said. “So it was their wish to contribute to undergraduate research and to recognize the importance of undergraduate research. That wish seems to us an entirely appropriate basis for a gift.”

Faust also publicly defended the University’s actions regarding the revelation that Hauser had been found solely responsible for several counts of scientific misconduct.

Gibson challenged whether the case demanded more transparency from the University, but Faust contended that a confidential, faculty-led investigation represented standard practice for universities like Harvard.

While recent controversies occupied the lion’s share of the interview, student issues also made an appearance. Hot breakfast, Faust said, is unlikely to make a return this year.

But she also entertained the idea of a student center in Holyoke Center, an idea lauded by Undergraduate Council President Johnny F. Bowman ’11.

“That’s something people have clamored for for years—decades actually,” he said.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: September 22, 2010

An earlier version of the Sept. 22 news article "Gibson Grills Drew Faust, Gets Few Details" incorrectly stated that University President Drew G. Faust spoke publicly about Marc D. Hauser during the interview for the first time since news of the scandal broke. In fact, Faust first publicly discussed the issue in an interview published in Harvard Magazine on Sept. 10.

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