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When Radcliffe President Matina S. Horner first became head of that organization years ago, she thought it would be a part-time job. "I will not have a full-time presidency in the Harvard administration," she once said, and for several years she continued teaching courses in Harvard's Psychology Department.
Horner now holds a full-time, $82,000-a-year post as the head of Radcliffe and can look back on a host of achievements that, if not academic, have changed the history of the 109-year-old institution. And today she says that her erstwhile job description for the office of Radcliffe president was "a naive assumption."
This spring, after 16 years as Radcliffe president, Horner announced that she is resigning. Although she will continue her duties in the coming academic year, a new president will take over her post in July. Many are saying that her resignation marks the end of an era--a time of rapid change that saw the nearly entire integration of Harvard and Radcliffe's student body along with the expansion of the college's many resesarch programs.
During her tenure as president of Radcliffe College, Horner created the Murray Research Center, the Bunting Institute to support female scholars, and she expanded the Schlesinger Library for women's studies. Many credit her with turning Radcliffe into the foremost research institute for the study of women's issues and for making these inquiries accepted by the Harvard community.
But those actions pale before Horner's negotiation of the "non-merger merger" agreement in 1977 that united the housing and admissions policy of Harvard and Radcliffe. Horner herself believes that this agreement is her first and foremost achievement. "Our success in having an equal access admissions policy has really changed the nature and quality of education here," she said, adding those reforms have made "coeducation really viable."
Some students and scholars have criticized Horner for stressing Radcliffe's graduate programs since the 1977 merger, saying she has done so at the expense of undergraduates. They say that Radcliffe is a largely forgotten part of women's undergraduate life and that its few services--like the alumni externships the college sponsors--only serve to separate women from their male peers.
But the Radcliffe president said her efforts to expand the school's graduate research facilities and programs for visiting professors have been a way for Radcliffe to continue to be a significant but independent part of the University.
When Horner, the daughter of Greek immigrants, first arrived at Harvard, she was one of only three women on the Harvard's faculty. She said that after her first lecture several male students approached her, saying they had come to her class not because they were interested in psychology but because they had never heard a woman professor speak before and wanted to find out if she could be articulate.
Horner proved she could, and the students stayed in her class, but for Horner the students' questions were just more examples of how important it was to place more women on the faculty.
In fact, helping Harvard recruit women has been a major goal of her administration, and she has watched the number of female faculty members rise to 7 percent of all senior faculty members and about 26 percent of junior faculty members.
"The importance of getting women on the Harvard faculty became more than an issue of equality for women but as an important part of the education of men who were going to have to deal with women in the 1970s and 1980s," said Horner. And she said she helped change the role of women on the faculty, as well, making them a more integral part of the University.
Before becoming the youngest president of the one of the country's foremost women's institutions, Horner was a scholar in the Psychology Department, at that time the largest concentration at Harvard. When she was appointed president--after several other candidates had turned down the position--Horner had just completed a study on the fear of success among women and would have been up for tenure in a few years.
Her study concluded that many women fear success because they believed that it might make them less popular or seem too masculine. Even as president, Horner has continued her study of how women cope in a male-dominated society.
Horner is not yet sure whether she will return to the academic world she left when she took over the full-time job of Radcliffe president. She said she will not be around Harvard at least for the first year of her successor's term to give that person a chance to settle in, but she plans to retain her ties to the community.
In the mean time, Radcliffe is in the process of searching for a new president. Horner's successor will take over in June of next year, and the Radcliffe Board of Trustees hopes to name the new president next winter, said Nancy-Beth Sheerr '71, who heads the search committee. But the trustees have not yet decided what kind of candidate they are seeking.
"We've all been talking about the ideal person, and we conclude that it could only be someone who at least walks on water," said Dean of Radcliffe College Phillipa A. Bovet. Bovet said she hopes the new president will be a fine fundraiser and "someone who will be excited by the uniqueness of Radcliffe."
Sheerr said the trustees have agreed that the next Radcliffe president should have a strong background either in academics or administration. Many constituents have told the search committee that they would also like the next president to be a women, although Sheerr said the trustees will consider strong male candidates.
"The President of Radcliffe is a leadership position, what needs to emerge is leadership towards what it is," said Menzel Professor of Astrophysics David Layzer, who is the faculty representative on the Board of Trustees. He said the Board is now in the process of "trying to form a clearer idea of what Radcliffe's future should be." By this winter the trustees are expected to match that image of the future Radcliffe with one of the candidates.
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