Monday, February 12, 2007

Harvard's new president: Drew Gilpin Faust

Sara Rimer of the NYTimes reports:

... Her mother, Catharine, she [Dr. Faust] has said, told her repeatedly, “It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be.”

Instead, Dr. Faust left home at an early age, to be educated at Concord Academy, then a girls’ prep school in Massachusetts, and at Bryn Mawr College, a women’s college known for creating future leaders, and to become a leading Civil War scholar. And Sunday, through the convergence of grand changes in higher education, her own achievements and the resignation of Harvard’s previous president under pressure, she became the first woman appointed to lead the Ivy League university founded in 1636.

“One of the things that I think characterizes my generation — that characterizes me, anyway, and others of my generation — is that I’ve always been surprised by how my life turned out,” Dr. Faust said in an interview Sunday at Loeb House just after the university announced that she would become its 28th president, effective July 1. “I’ve always done more than I ever thought I would. Becoming a professor — I never would have imagined that. Writing books — I never would have imagined that. Getting a Ph.D. — I’m not sure I would even have imagined that. I’ve lived my life a step at a time. Things sort of happened.”

Here's Scott Jaschik on what Harvard's choice means:

“Harvard is incredibly significant symbolically,” said Carol S. Hollenshead, director of the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan. “This is a very important step.”

Hollenshead said that her only worry was one of perception. “People may see this as evidence that there is no longer a gap in gender equity in higher education,” she said. However much Faust’s appointment is “worth celebrating,” she said, “it is still true that at every level of the academy, the higher you get, the fewer women there are.”

Here's Jaschik's summary of the chronology of women's progress in reaching the very top of America's research universities:

Several women at the meeting — while delighting in Harvard’s choice — said it bothered them that Harvard was getting attention for doing something other institutions did years ago (decades ago actually). In 1978, Hanna Holborn Gray became president of the University of Chicago, the first woman to be permanent president of a top research university. Prior to being named, she was acting president of Yale University, where she was also provost. It was 10 years before another woman became head of a major research university: Donna E. Shalala at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (currently the president of the University of Miami). In the Ivy League, Judith Rodin was the first woman to be named president when she was selected at the University of Pennsylvania in 1994. Rodin is now president of the Rockefeller Foundation and when she left Penn, she was succeeded by Amy Gutmann.

Six of the Big 10 universities either have or have had female presidents; women have led huge state university systems (Molly Broad at the University of North Carolina; W. Ann Reynolds at California State University and the City University of New York). Susan Hockfield was named president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004. And abroad, Alison Richard is vice chancellor (the top position) at the University of Cambridge. (Richard, Hockfield, Rodin and Gray all served as provost at Yale before getting the top job elsewhere.)


  1. Anonymous said...

    I worked at Harvard for many years and I never thought I would never live to see the day a woman was named president of Harvard. Rather than be overjoyed I am somehow suspicious.

  2. Anonymous said...

    I agree that thre's too much positive attention being drawn to Harvards appointment of a woman as the President considering so many Universities have women presidents. If anything my respect for Harvard has gone down a teensy-weensy bit knowing that they appointed their first Woman president in 2007!!! I thought their middle name was leadership.

    Further, its hard to see how they could've appointed anyone else OTHER than a woman as President, all the protests (that they selected the President gender blind) notwithstanding.

    But I love it all the same. Now if only the US would vote a female President, life would be just super!