For the first time in its 371-year history, Harvard University will be led by a female president, the university announced Sunday.
Following Lawrence Summers’s resignation in February 2006 and the subsequent year-long search process, the university named Civil War historian and former Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Dean Drew Gilpin Faust as its 28th president. Faust, who will be the first Harvard president without a Harvard degree since the seventeenth century, will be charged with leading the university as it embarks on an ambitious plan to expand into the Allston neighborhood and increase its commitment to the sciences.
When she assumes her new post, Faust will join three other female presidents of Ivy League universities — Ruth Simmons at Brown University, Shirley Tilghman at Princeton University and Amy Gutmann at the University of Pennsylvania. Yale has never had a woman serve as permanent president, although a woman, Hanna Gray, served as interim president of the University in 1977 and later became the first woman to serve as president of the University of Chicago in 1978.
After the Harvard Corporation endorsed Faust earlier this week, her candidacy was put before the 30-member Board of Overseers, which approved her as president unanimously Sunday afternoon. As head of the Radcliffe Institute, the smallest of Harvard’s 10 academic units, she managed a faculty of 15 and a budget of $16 million. As president of the entire university, she will oversee 25,000 employees and an annual budget of around $3 billion.
During her speech to the Overseers yesterday, Faust emphasized that she is a consensus builder, said Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh, who serves on Harvard’s Board of Overseers. Koh said after the vote the Overseers toasted Faust with champagne.
“She’s got a lot of good will,” Koh said. “I think she’s off to a terrific start.”
The Harvard search committee might have picked Faust because she is uncontroversial and has a markedly different personality from that of Summers, Harvard sophomore Katelyn Foley said. Despite The Harvard Crimson’s zealous coverage of the events leading up to the announcement, Foley said, hardly anyone on campus was talking about the next president.
“Nobody has said a word,” she said. “No one is excited; no one is sad. I think that’s what they wanted.”
Most of the hits on the Crimson’s Web site, which broke the news that Faust was the search committee’s choice on its Web site last Friday, were from links on Drudge and Gawker and not from Harvard students, Crimson president Kristina Moore said. Faust’s leadership style will depart significantly from that of Summers, who had “pseudo-celebrity” status in the national media, she said.
“It’s clearly people from the outside that are much more interested than students themselves,” Moore said. “She is a very low-profile professor and dean.”
Faust is a highly regarded scholar in her field, said Yale history lecturer Robert Forbes, also a Civil War historian. She is very well-liked among her peers and is a strong consensus builder, he said.
“She is considered very, very bright, very collegial, very responsible, and I am surprised that Harvard made such an outstanding choice,” he said. “She’s a calm, collected, soothing kind of person, which I guess is something of a contrast to her predecessor.”
Summers’s resignation followed his controversial remarks in January 2005 suggesting that women’s innate aptitude for science may be lower than men’s. He had a historically tense relationship with Harvard’s powerful Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which passed one vote of no confidence in his presidency in March 2005 and threatened to pass another shortly before he resigned.
Faust received her undergraduate degree from Bryn Mawr College in 1968 and her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvannia in 1975.