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February 11, 2007

   

Drew Gilpin Faust ’68 to Lead Harvard

Drew Gilpin Faust
Related: Read Drew Gilpin Faust's 2001 Bryn Mawr Commencement Convocation Address

Historian Drew Gilpin Faust '68 will shatter one of America's oldest glass ceilings when she becomes the first woman to lead Harvard University in the school's 371-year history. Her appointment as president was unanimously approved by Harvard's Board of Overseers on Sunday, Feb. 11, after a highly publicized, yearlong search.

Faust is currently the dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, which was created in 1999 when Radcliffe College and Harvard University officially merged. She is also the Lincoln Professor of History in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and she serves on several boards of trustees, including Bryn Mawr's. She will assume the presidency of Harvard July 1.

Two years ago, after former president Lawrence Summers sparked a nationwide controversy by suggesting that innate differences between men and women might account for women's underrepresentation in math, science and engineering fields, he appointed Faust to lead task forces charged with finding ways to reduce impediments to women's achievement at Harvard.

At a press conference after her appointment, Faust spoke of the need to collaborate across disciplinary and other boundaries. "Collaboration means more energy, more ideas, more wisdom; it also means investing beyond one's own particular interest or bailiwick. It means learning to live and to think within the context of the whole university.

"I'm not the woman president of Harvard," she said. "I'm the president of Harvard ... but young women have come up to me and said, 'This is really an inspiration.' So I think it would be wrong not to acknowledge that this has tremendous symbolic importance."

As a girl, Faust rebelled against the restrictive conventions of femininity and the racial injustice that prevailed in her native Virginia. At age 9, she sent a letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower decrying segregation; this early awareness of inequality in race relations presaged her later scholarly interest in the history of the American South.

At Bryn Mawr, Faust was a student activist who skipped her spring midterms in 1965 to travel to Selma, Ala., and join a march led by Martin Luther King Jr. after she saw television broadcasts of Alabama state troopers attacking marchers with tear gas and billy clubs. She participated in several demonstrations opposing the Vietnam War. She was also active in Bryn Mawr's student government and, she told Bryn Mawr seniors in her 2001 Commencement Convocation address, participated in a successful campaign to abolish campus rules that required students to return to their dorm rooms by 2 a.m. and restricted visits from men to very limited hours.

Her extracurricular activism did not, however, prevent her from graduating from Bryn Mawr with high honors. After graduation, she turned from activism to scholarship, seeking an understanding of history that would contribute to change. “Perhaps history,” she has written, “can help us understand that it could have been, we could have been, we could still be otherwise. In history we might find a sense of possibility.”

After earning an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, Faust embarked on an illustrious academic career. She has published five books, including Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. At Penn, where she won two awards for distinguished teaching, she eventually became the Annenberg Professor of History and the director of the women's studies program.

In January 2001, Faust became the first dean of the Radcliffe Institute. She has been widely applauded for her transformation of the former women's college into an interdisciplinary community of scholars, winning over many Radcliffe alumnae who had bristled at the decision to eliminate the college's teaching function.

Sally Hoover Zeckhauser '64, who chairs Bryn Mawr's Board of Trustees and is also Harvard's vice president for administration, had nothing but praise for Faust. “Drew has done a fantastic job with the Radcliffe Institute,” Zeckhauser said. “Scholars from around the world flock to it; she has created the best institution of its kind.

“Her skills and quiet determination will be invaluable in a president of Harvard,” Zeckhauser continued. “She is an effective administrator, a consensus builder and an enormously talented scholar. And she's funny, unassuming and gracious – I feel privileged to have been able to work with her.”

Says Bryn Mawr President Nancy J. Vickers, “This is wonderful for Harvard, wonderful for Drew and wonderful for Bryn Mawr. Drew is now very much in the public eye. She was chosen to lead one of the world's most prestigious institutions of higher education because she is a brilliant scholar, an extraordinary leader and a person of enormous integrity. All of that speaks volumes about Bryn Mawr.”

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