It was December of 2009, and University President Drew G. Faust was nervous.
Katie N. Lapp, Harvard’s executive vice president, was behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius heading for Boston’s Hyde Park. An ongoing snowstorm made the usual 40-minute trip take over an hour.
In the backseat, Faust prepared to deliver what then-Vice President for Harvard Public Affairs and Communications Christine M. Heenan, riding shotgun, called “tricky news.” Faust had decided to pause construction on Harvard’s much-anticipated Allston development—one that would provide construction jobs and create an important new structure in the city—because of the financial crisis then enveloping the globe. So the trio trekked to the home of then-Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who had recently injured his knee, to tell him in person.
“People thought ‘why is she so scared,’ ‘why isn’t she being bolder?’” Faust said in a recent interview with The Crimson. “In retrospect, it was so much the right thing to do. But it sure was hard to take this much-trumpeted, glorious plan and say, no, we’re not going to move forward with that.”
The decision to pause construction was an early test for Faust. Only two years earlier, Faust had taken the helm of Harvard, transitioning from leading an 81-person staff and fewer than 15 faculty members at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard’s smallest school, to overseeing more than 25,000 employees across the University. She went from handling a $16 million budget to one of about $3 billion.
As if the enormous expansion in responsibilities had not been enough, Faust also faced the burgeoning financial crisis and a precipitous decline in Harvard’s endowment. It would not be her last obstacle as the leader of one of the most famous higher education institutions in the world. Over the course of her term at the University, Faust has navigated a series of internal and external challenges—from turmoil in Washington to strife on campus—as she’s tried to implement a long-term vision for Harvard.
Ten years after she first moved into Massachusetts Hall, here’s a look at the events that have defined and delineated her tenure so far.
When Drew Faust became the first female president of Harvard in July 2007, she took the reins of a University still recovering from controversy. Her predecessor, former Secretary of the Treasury and University President Lawrence H. Summers, had resigned after just five years—the shortest tenure of a Harvard President since the Civil War.
Summers’s time in Massachusetts Hall had been an acrimonious one, and it was Faust’s task to steady the ship. Where Summers had repeatedly clashed with members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—prompting one vote of no confidence in his leadership, with another planned—Faust, an esteemed Civil War historian, was set to chart a more collaborative course.
But even as Faust aimed to heal some of the wounds with the Faculty, she never intended to significantly change the University’s playbook. Summers had emphasized expanding into Allston, reinvigorating the undergraduate curriculum, better integrating Harvard’s 12 schools, and bolstering financial aid.
During the months-long search to replace Summers, his agenda—if not his style—remained the standard for members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body that selected Faust.
On the same day that Faust was officially selected as the 28th President of the oldest university in the United States, Nannerl O. Keohane, now the longest-serving member of the Corporation, said that the governing boards “were not looking for an anti-Larry” candidate. Instead, the Corporation members 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, the former president of Duke University and Wellesley College, said at the time. “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.”
As President, Faust would build on Summers’s initiatives. She also gained the power to reshape many of Harvard’s core institutions, from its twelve schools to its governing boards. Faust has now appointed the dean of every single one of Harvard’s schools, and she has ushered in historic reforms to the Corporation—nearly doubling its size, imposing term limits, and eventually helping to select all but one of its current members.
According to Lisa M. Coleman, Harvard’s first Chief Diversity Officer and Special Assistant to the President, these changes meant “adding more people from different backgrounds, from the West Coast, people who are people of color, women, [and people] representing different kinds of organizations.”
For Faust, working with these colleagues is a key part of her leadership style.
“Listening is always an essential part of what I try to do. So I say that’s a key part of it,” she said. “I also think that you can be very tough and very gentle at the same time, that being tough doesn’t mean being noisy or cruel or aggressive, it just means standing your ground and pursuing your goals, and being equitable and decent to people.”
As Faust was still settling into her Massachusetts Hall office, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression struck the nation. She watched as Harvard’s $37 billion endowment plummeted $11 billion in value after a negative 27.3 percent return. The University entered crisis mode.
“It was so scary because just in a matter of hours you watched the markets crash, and you felt this urgent emergency was going on before your eyes, and you didn't know if by the end of the next day the endowment would have fallen another 10 percent or 15—when was it going to stop? Was there going to be no endowment left at all?” Faust said.
Faust went to the drawing board, consulting with the Corporation as well as deans and administrators from across Harvard’s 12 schools to work out a solution.
“What that environment does, when you find all of a sudden you wake up and you don’t have the money that you thought you had, it really forces you into the corner of having to make choices,” former Executive Vice President Ed C. Forst ’82 said. “And Drew made choices.”
Apart from halting construction in Allston, the drop forced University administrators to make significant budget cuts across the schools, including a $77 million cut to FAS. The cuts resulted in reducing Harvard’s staffed food services, laying off and offering buyouts to hundreds of University employees, and freezing Faculty hiring.
"You didn't know if by the end of the next day the endowment would have fallen another 10 percent or 15—when was it going to stop? Was there going to be no endowment left at all?" University President Drew G. Faust said.
The financial crisis would also further delay the University’s capital campaign, which had originally been set to kick off in 2006 or 2007 during Summers’s presidency. Harvard fundraisers determined that it would not be wise to launch a fully-fledged campaign in the midst of economic turmoil.
Heenan characterized the atmosphere as a “challenging time.”
“We worked hand in glove through that period of time on managing those challenges and I learned a lot from her about sort of picking your spots, about the importance of building relationships in step-wise ways,” she said.
Former Dean of the School of Public Health Julio Frenk, who now serves as the president of the University of Miami, said Faust held regular meetings with Harvard’s deans to work out an effective “short term vision” and restore financial stability.
But it would be some time before Harvard got back on entirely secure financial footing. While the returns at Harvard Management Company were largely positive in the years after the financial crisis, Harvard’s endowment grew more slowly than its peers. In fiscal year 2016, the value of Harvard’s endowment dropped almost $2 billion to $35.7 billion—still below the endowment’s value in 2008.
As Harvard and the world’s fiscal outlook improved in the years after the recession, Faust and her fundraising team decided it was time to launch Harvard’s capital campaign. While the campaign would not publicly begin until September 21, 2013, fundraisers had been soliciting donors in a “quiet phase” since several years prior.
The campaign was historic. Not only did Harvard set out on the most ambitious fundraising drive in higher education history, but Faust launched the first University-wide campaign. It would be Faust’s chance to fund many of the University’s most pressing priorities—from the Allston campus to House renewal, common spaces to financial aid—and leave a lasting mark at Harvard.
Dubbed “The Harvard Campaign,” the campaign had a clear theme: bringing each of Harvard’s school together and plugging some of the gaps in a historically decentralized institution. The concept of “One Harvard” was not Faust’s original idea, but the capital campaign was its most visible manifestation.
Heenan said Faust’s emphasis on unifying Harvard’s schools—not only with the campaign, but with other priorities like consolidating Harvard’s libraries—stemmed from her time as the dean of Radcliffe.
“She had all these years as dean of Radcliffe to stitch together parts of the University, so as president she had a different perch to think about the possibilities of that, and part of what she did was modernize the place,” Heenan said.
With the campaign, Faust also oversaw the beginning of a new fundraising practice: renaming schools in exchange for historically large gifts. In September 2014, Harvard renamed the School of Public Health in honor of Gerald Chan’s late father after Chan gave $350 million to the school; likewise, the University renamed the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences after hedge fund magnate John A. Paulson donated $400 million to the school.
The campaign, set to end in June 2018, has raised money at a breakneck pace, surpassing its $6.5 billion goal about two years ahead of schedule and shattering higher education fundraising records.
Faust has had the opportunity to pour more resources into the arts and humanities with the fundraising boon. According to Mahindra Humanities Center Director Homi K. Bhabha and American Repertory Theater Artistic Director Diane M. Paulus ’88, Faust was instrumental in launching the Theater, Dance, and Media concentration in 2015, which brings together members of the University and the A.R.T.
“She is always talking about the arts and always bringing the arts into the conversation,” Paulus said. “I think Drew understands the significance of the arts to our lives, to the mission of the University to train citizens.”
Between trips around the world to meeting with alumni and donors for the capital campaign, Faust has had to repeatedly travel to Washington, D.C. to make the case for higher education to federal lawmakers.
In 2013, as the federal government neared shut-down, Congress proposed a number of historic cuts to federal research funding as its sequestration package slashed spending across the federal government.
The threat of sequestration drove Faust down to the nation’s capital to meet with lawmakers from both parties. Among these lawmakers, Faust met with then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts, and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.
“She was someone who really enjoyed the rough and tumble of Washington, enjoyed making the case for higher education,” Heenan said. “She viewed her role as not making the case for Harvard alone, but making the case for young researchers at every university—public and private—for the importance of the humanities across the country.”
Federal research funding is not the only issue at stake for Harvard: Faust has also advocated for relaxing certain immigration standards and maintaining university endowments’ tax exempt status. In 2010, when Eric Balderas ’13 faced deportation after trying to fly to Boston from San Antonio, Faust personally lobbied legislators on his behalf and voiced strong support for the DREAM Act.
"She was someone who really enjoyed the rough and tumble of Washington, enjoyed making the case for higher education," Former Vice President for Harvard Public Affairs and Communications Christine M. Heenan said.
Faust is again traveling regularly to Capitol Hill after President Donald Trump’s unexpected rise to the presidency, requiring what Faust called a “careful and strategic response.” In just the last few months, Faust has been to Washington three times, meeting with several key legislators including Senate Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck E. Schumer ’71.
“She develops unbelievable relationships with people regardless of their politics, regardless of their view on issues, she relates directly with them,” Lapp said. “Whether it be with Congress, with the former administration, with this administration, she can relate to people in a way and point out why it’s in their best interest that higher ed is as accessible as possible.”
Faust has also had to grapple with the fallout from Trump’s executive orders banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries this past fall.
According to Faust, there is now again a pressing need to advocate for these causes in Washington.
“We find that we need to defend them by making the case for science, making the case for undocumented students, making the case for bringing talent from all over the world, and opening our doors as a university to that talent,” she said. “It's important now to articulate things we didn't think we had to say.”
Back on campus, Faust has turned her attention to the University’s traditions and vestiges as Harvard grapples with its storied—and sometimes troubling—past.
In 2011, Faust officially welcomed the Reserve Officer Training Corps program back to campus after the military repealed its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy barring openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the armed forces. Harvard had not had an official ROTC program since 1969, when Vietnam War protests pushed it off campus. Faust’s efforts were a culmination of a rapprochement several years in the making.
Then-Secretary of the Navy Ray E. Mabus said Faust was “very clear, very straightforward, and outlined exactly the steps it would take and what each of our responsibilities were.”
“I could not ask for a better leader or a better partner in bringing ROTC back to campus,” he said.
Former Army General David Petraeus said her role in bringing the program back shows why she is a “strategic leader.”
“She proved good to her word,” Petraeus said in an interview.
Faust’s background studying the history of the Civil War became increasingly relevant in 2015 and 2016, when Harvard—like universities across the country—began to confront the legacy of slavery on campus. Students at Harvard Law School demanded that the school abandon its seal, which bore the crest of a slaveholding family. The Corporation ultimately voted to remove the seal after a Law School committee recommended the change, though Faust has repeatedly warned against forgetting Harvard’s past.
In April 2016, Faust joined Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights leader John R. Lewis to dedicate a plaque to four enslaved persons who lived and worked on Harvard’s campus in the 18th century. She also created a committee to research Harvard’s ties to slavery and convened a conference in March to unveil its findings to date.
“Because she’s a historian, she will reflect on how the history will influence contemporary situations,” Coleman said. “That’s very, very useful to provide context and of course to not make the same mistakes one may have made in the past—to reflect on it and learn.”
Also in 2016, Faust sought to take on another part of University history and begin to draft her own chapter in it. With Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, Faust announced penalties on members of final clubs, sororities, and fraternities—placing unprecedented regulations on groups that generations of Harvard administrators had held at arms-length.
Faust argued that the groups were inherently discriminatory and exclusive. To her, the policy was an opportunity to make “Harvard a campus for all of its students.” Professors, coaches of athletics teams, and some alumni have supported the new policy.
Some Faculty members, including former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, have been highly critical of the sanctions, and a new committee could “revise or replace” the current policy.
Peter L. Malkin ’55, a prominent donor who is the namesake of the Malkin Athletic Center, said Faust should be given credit for her successes with the capital campaign and the Allston project, but thought the sanctions were the “wrong solution.”
“I think that it’s very unfortunate that an issue that has been plaguing the administration for the past year is the single gender kerfuffle,” Malkin said. “I think that this is a very unfortunate coda to the president’s term.”
Still, Faust remains steadfast in her commitment to curbing the influence of single-gender social groups, and she continues to move forward with the capital campaign, lobbying legislators in Washington, and building Harvard’s new campus in Allston.
With 10 years under her belt, Faust won’t say when she plans to resign, but if history is any indication, she could be moving on soon—Summers served five years, former University President Neil L. Rudenstine served 10 years, though Derek C. Bok was the president of Harvard for 20 years. When Faust was named President in 2007, Bok predicted she could serve as many as 30 or 40 years.
“I can’t say at this point how long I’m going to serve. I’ll just say I expect to have a long and successful term,” Faust said in 2007.