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Woman Expected to Lead Harvard


Drew Gilpin Faust, whose appointment is likely on Feb. 11, would be the institution's first female president

Harvard is poised to name the first female president in the university's 370-year history: Drew Gilpin Faust, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, is to be ratified by the school's Board of Overseers on Feb. 11, The Harvard Crimson and The Boston Globe reported on Feb. 9. She would pick up from the tumultuous presidency of Lawrence Summers, who resigned in June. Faust was one of two women who were being considered for the job after a third contender, a man, withdrew.

University spokesman John Longbrake said on Feb. 9 that he could not comment on the process while it is still officially under way, but the prospect that a woman would get the top job was already winning praise in some parts of the venerable Cambridge campus.

"It's about time, I should think," says Peter Gomes, a university preacher who teaches a course called the History of Harvard & Its Presidents. "Harvard is a little behind the times."

Daunting Task Includes Healing

Faust's strengths, Gomes says, lie in her scholarly background. An expert in American history, in 2001 she was appointed dean of the Radcliffe Institute, a research powerhouse that focuses on women, gender, and society. In 2005, she spearheaded the initiative for diversity on campus—she was described by the Crimson as "Summers' trouble-shooter"—by helping develop task forces on the advancement of women at Harvard. "She understands how faculty think, or don't think as the case may be," Gomes says. "She will be both progressive and steady at the same time."

Managing Harvard's gargantuan endowment of $30 billion will be the new president's greatest challenge, John Isaacson, founder of Isaacson, Miller, an executive search firm that conducts large academic searches, said before Faust emerged as the school's choice. The president's task, says Isaacson, will be to "use these resources to invent something we have not seen before at this scale at Harvard."

The task ahead of Faust is daunting on many levels, including an undergraduate curriculum overhaul, a decentralized faculty, and campus expansion. After Summers' stormy presidency—involving a turbulent relationship with Arts & Sciences faculty, his controversial assertion that women have an innate inferiority in the sciences, and his pretentious people skills—just navigating the muck of tension left behind is challenge enough for Faust. Efforts "to try to heal some of the wounds in the faculty," says Gomes, may be the biggest task ahead of her.

New Campus Development

Another of her projects will be the development of a new campus in Allston, what Richard Bradley, author of Harvard Rules: The Struggle for the Soul of the World's Most Powerful University, says is "the biggest transformation of Harvard in history." The campus, sprawling across 91 acres, has the potential to expand research and academic facilities in the sciences, according to Harry Lewis, former dean of Harvard College and professor of computer science. "As wonderful a place as Harvard is…we don't really get the best out of what we have," Lewis says. Plans for the Allston campus are currently in the works and would help mobilize such talent.

Elena Kagan, dean of the Harvard Law School, was the other finalist for the presidency. Until last week, Thomas Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was also a final contender. Cech withdrew his name from consideration during the committee's final days of deliberation, leaving the two female leaders as finalists.

The selection committee took a decidedly different approach to the presidency this time around, forgoing celebrity standing for academic experience. "A celebrity won't make Harvard," says Gomes. "Harvard will make someone a celebrity." Overnight, it seems, Faust could leap to stardom.

Porter is a reporter with BusinessWeek in New York. Prior to this position, she worked for The Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, D.C. Porter has a bachelor's degree in English from Brown University.

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