Faust’s ascent signals change

Historian Drew Gilpin Faust will be inaugurated today as the first female president of Harvard University.

Faust, 60, succeeds economist and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, whose five-year stint in Harvard’s top job was marred by controversial comments about women in science and a no-confidence vote by the university’s faculty in 2005.

Although Faust has not outlined specific plans for her presidency, she has set forth her priorities: interdisciplinary science projects, expansion into Allston, financial aid for graduate students and undergraduate curricular review.

At her speech today, Faust is expected to stick to espousing a broad vision rather than detail a list of initiatives.

Yale President Richard Levin, who spoke at Summers’ inauguration, said he plans to attend Faust’s ceremony today.

“It’s an important moment,” he said. “Harvard is an amazing institution, and Drew Faust is really a great person.”

The event provides the Harvard community with an opportunity to embrace Faust and allows the new president to introduce her vision for Harvard in the coming years, said Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow James R. Houghton and Board of Overseers President Frances D. Fergusson in a recent letter to Harvard students and faculty.

“These festivities will provide us the opportunity to welcome to the presidency a superb scholar, teacher and academic leader and to hear her thoughts as she and Harvard look forward,” they said. “They will also give all of us the occasion to join together in affirming our collective commitment to the ideals of learning and Harvard’s high aspirations for the time ahead.”

The inauguration will thrust into the spotlight a formerly low-profile civil war historian who, while respected in her field, did not have anywhere near Summers’ celebrity, who served in President Bill Clinton’s LAW ’73 cabinet for two years.

Faust said she was nervous about today’s festivities.

“I’m slightly terrified,” Faust told The Harvard Crimson on Monday.

Just as Faust’s installation appears to put an end to an unpleasant chapter in Harvard’s storied history, Levin’s 1993 inauguration also came after the departure of a president who sparked controversy — and complaints — on campus. Former President Benno C. Schmidt Jr. ’63 LAW ’66 resigned under pressure in 1992 amid his growing unpopularity on campus. With the University facing tight fiscal constraints, Schmidt had proposed slashing upwards of 10 percent of the faculty and completely eliminating several academic departments.

Schmidt is now the chairman of the board of trustees at the City University of New York. Summers remains on the faculty at Harvard and is a managing director of D.E. Shaw & Co., a New York-based investment firm. Bok served as acing president of the university from the time of Summers’ resignation in June 2006 until Faust — the former dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study — took power in July.

Although the president’s inauguration will be an extravagant affair, the events planned for today appear slightly less festive than those at Yale’s last inauguration — 14 years ago this month — when Levin threw a public reception for 5,000 guests on Old Campus after being installed in his new position.

Harvard students will be in class when Faust takes office at 2:30 p.m., but what the festivities may lack in joviality, they will likely make up for in formality and academic gravity.

Speakers at the ceremonies will include University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann — herself believed to have been a top candidate for the Harvard presidency — and Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick. Afterward, Faust will lay out her vision for the university during her inaugural address.

At Faust’s request, former Harvard presidents Summers, Neil L. Rudenstine and Derek C. Bok, acting president after Summers’ resignation, will join Faust on stage at the installation.

“I wanted to show that there is a kind of solidarity … a notion of their investment in my success,” Faust told The Crimson.

The event will also be replete with tradition. Faculty will process into the event in academic regalia, and several treasured pieces of Harvard memorabilia — including antique silver, ceremonial keys, the University’s original charter and the book containing the first sketches of the Veritas seal — will be incorporated into the ceremony.

Faust, who was elected by the Harvard Corporation in February, will be the 28th president of Harvard. She is the first since the 17th century who has not held a Harvard degree.

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