Harvard University on Sunday named historian Drew Gilpin Faust as its first female president, ending a lengthy and secretive search. The seven-member Harvard Corporation elected Faust, a noted scholar of the American South and dean of Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, as the university's 28th president.
Faust, 59, recognized the significance of her appointment.
"I hope that my own appointment can be one symbol of an opening of opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago," Faust said at a news conference on campus. But she also added, "I'm not the woman president of Harvard, I'm the president of Harvard."
With Faust's appointment, half of the eight Ivy League schools will have a woman as president. The others are: Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania, Shirley M. Tilghman of Princeton University, and Ruth J. Simmons of Brown University.
The Ivy League schools had only male students until the early 1970s. The Harvard class of 2008 was the first where women outnumbered men in gaining admission under the Early Action program.
"This is a great day, and a historic day, for Harvard," said James R. Houghton, chairman of the presidential search committee.
Faust is the first Harvard president who did not receive an undergraduate or graduate degree from the university since Charles Chauncy, an alumnus of Cambridge University in England, who died in office in 1672. She attended Bryn Mawr College and the University of Pennsylvania, where she was also a professor of history.
The Harvard presidency is perhaps the most prestigious job in higher education, offering a pulpit where remarks resonate throughout academic circles; and unparalleled resources, including a university endowment valued at nearly $30 billion.
Born to a privileged family in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Faust wrote that a conversation at age nine with the family's black handyman and driver inspired her to send a letter to President Eisenhower pleading for desegregation. She then began to question the rigid Southern conventions where girls wore "scratchy organdy dresses" and white children addressed black adults by their first names.
"I was the rebel who did not just march for civil rights and against the Vietnam War but who fought endlessly with my mother, refusing to accept her insistence that 'this is a man's world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you'll be,'" she writes. (info from WJLA.com and Harvard University Gazette)