University President Drew G. Faust will trade the Harvard presidency for a quieter existence on Cape Cod after July 1, she said—but her successor could begin calling the shots months before that.
After the Board of Overseers—Harvard’s second highest governing body—confirmed Faust as president in February 2007, she began running dean searches and making other significant decisions almost immediately, she recalled in an interview Friday.
Faust’s transition into the role was a somewhat unusual; she took the reins from former president Derek C. Bok, who was serving as interim president at the time after Lawrence H. Summers resigned amid controversy.
Ten years later, recalling the specifics of her transition is difficult, she said, but she remembers receiving a detailed letter from Bok and “many notebooks” full of briefings and tips. The irregular nature of her transition, however, required her to learn about the duties of the presidency on the go.
"I kind of got thrown into the middle of things right away because Derek, he was doing the president as a gesture of generosity to Harvard, and so he just said, ‘Alright these searches are going, you run them now,’” she said.
“Starting in March or late February, I started running searches for deans and attending Corporation meetings, and so my memory of the transition is that I learned much more by sitting in on things and having responsibilities rather than being officially briefed,” she added.
This time around, she will still be in office and available to answer her successor’s queries. It will be up to the person slated to become Harvard’s 29th president to set the parameters of her involvement in the transition, Faust said.
"I think I’ll wait and see what is on the mind of the new president, and then how I can be most helpful. I don’t want to impose on the new president an agenda or a set of materials uninvited, I should say,” she said.
Faust also said that the president-elect’s geographic proximity to Harvard may influence how quickly that person will begin playing an active role in decision-making. By the time her end date rolls around, though, her successor will need to be ready to take the reins of Harvard completely.
"Would I expect the person to start making decisions right away on July 1st? They better!" she said.
After a comfortable transition, Faust said she hopes to retreat to Cape Cod, where she has owned a house since the 1980s. Ensconced among the beaches and gabled roofs of the Cape, she’ll return to the discipline that originally launched her academic career: history.
“I have always wanted to spend a fall on Cape Cod, and so I hope that this will be the one,” she said. “And I have a plan of how to get back into history, and been thinking about how to get out and catch up in my field, and try to learn to be a historian again."
—Staff writer Luke W. Xu can be reached at email@example.com.—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.