Historian Drew Gilpin Faust became the first female president in Harvard University’ s 371-year old history. Faust, an alumna of Bryn Mawr College and dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, was elected by the 7-member Harvard Corporation, the name for the university’s governing board. Her appointment was ratified by the 30-member Board of Overseers, a panel of Harvard alumni. Faust will also be the first president who did not graduate from Harvard since 1672.
The old-boy network is fast becoming an old-girl network, with half of the Ivies (Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown and Princeton) plus the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, now headed by women.
Faust was the politically correct choice to replace the combative Larry Summers, who created an uproar in 2005 when he infamously speculated publicly that women may be innately inferior to men in math and science. The ensuing outcry eventually led to his resignation.
The Harvard presidency is probably the most prestigious job in U.S. higher education. Harvard wields considerable influence not only because of its academic tradition but also by reason of its economic clout. It has an endowment valued at around US$ 30 billion, with an annual budget of about US$ 3 billion, about twice the annual GDP of a small Central American country like Belize.
But despite the wide acclaim, all will not be smooth sailing for Faust. She has to prove her worth to the people in the professional schools — the business, medical and law schools — the traditional bastions of the Harvard establishment. Her background in the humanities has also failed to impress faculty who believe that that the university’s growing focus on scientific research requires a scientist at the helm.
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