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Drew Gilpin Faust was unanimously confirmed as Harvard’s first female president yesterday by the alumni Board of Overseers, setting the stage for her to become the 28th leader of the University when she takes office on July 1.
A veteran academic and Civil War historian who has led the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study since 2001, Faust was offered the presidency earlier this week by the six fellows of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s executive governing body. She has been widely praised for her strong interpersonal skills and familiarity with Harvard’s schools, and for skillfully transforming Radcliffe from a beloved women’s college into a sought-after hub of academic fellowships.
At her first press conference yesterday afternoon, Faust appeared excited and energetic, saying that her appointment would have been unthinkable a generation ago.
“I’m not the woman president of Harvard. I’m the president of Harvard,” she said during a press conference at the Barker Center with a bust of John Harvard looming over her.
Yesterday’s official confirmation, coming three days after The Crimson first reported that the committee had selected Faust, wraps up a presidential search that lasted nearly one year. Her predecessor, Lawrence H. Summers, announced his resignation from the presidency on Feb. 21, 2006, amid clashes with faculty.
Faust did not limit her comments to Harvard as she highlighted the need to value higher education across the country.
“Americans sacrifice and struggle to get their children into college or university, yet mock those same institutions as self-indulgent, hidebound, badly managed,” she said.
In a contrast to the leadership style of Summers, who often spoke freely on political topics of the day, Faust said that she would use the presidency as a pulpit to influence higher education. The path Harvard sets “helps to define the character and meaning of the universities of the 21st century,” she said.
At the end of her remarks, tears glazed Faust’s eyes and her voice faltered as she accepted a standing ovation from the crowd.
“I love universities and I love this one in particular,” she said. “I can imagine no higher calling, no more exciting adventure than to serve as the president of Harvard.”
James R. Houghton ’58, the senior fellow of the Corporation, said it was a “great and historic day for Harvard.”
“The fact that she is a woman is great,” Houghton told The Crimson before the press conference. “But I think we have the best candidate.”
He kissed Faust on the cheek before she opened the floor to reporters’ questions.
When asked how she would manage the transition from overseeing a budget of $16 million at Radcliffe to nearly $3 billion for the University, Faust replied, “thoughtfully,” before adding that she had discussed the issue at length with the search committee and acknowledged that she had a lot to learn.
Faust said that though the presidency will likely prevent her from doing scholarly work, she hopes to continue to teach her conference course this spring on the Civil War. She said she will focus the next few months on filling soon-to-be vacant deanships at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Medical School, Design School, and with her departure, the Radcliffe Institute.
Faust was set to meet with the faculty and student advisory committees to the presidential search last night, and she scheduled a meeting this morning with her Radcliffe staff and fellows.
A SCRUTINIZED SEARCH
Members of Harvard’s two governing boards said that they thought Faust would pursue largely the same priorities as Summers—most notably the review of the undergraduate curriculum, the Allston expansion, and the emphasis on scientific research.
Corporation fellow Nannerl O. Keohane said in an interview that the governing boards “were not looking for an anti-Larry” candidate and that they wanted to find somebody who “shared Summers’ commitment to positive change.”
“Most of us, certainly on the governing boards, feel that the priorities that Larry Summers articulated are still the ones that we should focus on,” Keohane said. “We wanted the same sort of vision, and we would have been really worried if we had a candidate who had come in and said that their priorities were 180 degrees in the opposite direction.”
William F. Lee ’72, an overseer who served on the search committee, said that one of Faust’s strengths—both as a candidate and in terms of governing the University—is her “ability to build relationships” and her “ability to decide while listening and being able to laugh.”
“Every time we see her speak,” Lee said, “I feel better and better.”
Corporation fellow Robert D. Reischauer ’63 also shed some light on the notoriously secretive search process, saying that performing the search would be much easier without consistent leaks to the media because such leaks force candidates to distance themselves publicly.
He added that public denials often belied private expressions of interest, and that there were “definitely some people who denied interest publicly who went through backchannels to communicate with the search committee.”
Houghton said that Thomas R. Cech, the president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and one of the final candidates for the presidency, took himself out of the running very late into the search.
He would not say whether Cech had been offered the job, though he winked when asked. Reischauer added that Cech “was a serious candidate,” but would not comment further.
Interim President Derek C. Bok praised Faust’s abilities, but also took a moment to reassure Faust herself about the nature of leading the nation’s oldest university.
“Drew, you have a wonderful job,” Bok said. “Don’t let anybody tell you this is an onerous job, that this is a difficult job.” He added that he hoped she would serve 30 or 40 years.
Former Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine said in an interview from Puerto Rico Friday evening that he “couldn’t be happier” about Faust’s selection.
“I think she is a person who can bring other people together, and at the same time she has tremendous clarity of vision, and she’s able to be very, very decisive in her very tactful and very strong way,” said the former president, who first appointed Faust to be dean of Radcliffe in 2000.
Faust said in an interview with The Crimson that Harvard has been reinvigorated during the tenure of Bok, who took office last summer.
Summers, who tapped Faust to lead two gender diversity task forces after his comments on women in science two years ago, called her an “outstanding scholar” and “extraordinary academic leader.”
“I look forward to the great things that the Harvard community will accomplish in the years ahead with Drew’s leadership,” he wrote in an e-mail.
On the subject of her predecessor, Faust said that of all of former University President Lawrence H. Summers’ qualities, the one she wished she could emulate most were his “sharp analytic skills.”
“Larry has always been very good at identifying problems and analyzing problems,” she said. “He made me think harder and think better.”
In her speech she acknowledged Summers’ “powerful thinking and impatience for results.” And in the interview, she offered her on thoughts on innate differences.
“I think women have the aptitude to do anything, and that includes being president of Harvard,” she said.
—Lois E. Beckett, Stephanie S. Garlow, Javier C. Hernandez, Laurence H. M. Holland, Clifford M. Marks, Brittney L. Moraski, and Lulu Zhou contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Claire M. Guehenno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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