Meet Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard's New President

By Christine Cupaiuolo — February 12, 2007

The New York Times today has a profile of Drew Gilpin Faust, who on Sunday was selected as Harvard’s new president — the first woman to lead the school in its 371-year history. Sara Rimer writes:

“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.”

Sunday morning, she said, she found herself lying in bed thinking in near disbelief, “Today I think they’re going to vote for you for the president of Harvard.”

Looking at coverage in other papers, the Christian Science Monitor discusses gender imbalance across academia. Ben Arnoldy writes:

A current Harvard dean, she will not only sit at the pinnacle of higher education, but will oversee a budget on a par with top corporations. Of the 20 female CEOs in the Fortune 1000, only one runs a firm with assets greater than Harvard’s.

Despite the 50-50 leadership split at the Ivies, only 20 percent of US colleges and universities are run by women. Dr. Faust’s appointment could have a lasting impact on the gender imbalance among faculty at Harvard, and in the leadership ranks across academia, experts say.

“This is a crack in the glass ceiling, in the sense that to have as prestigious an institution as Harvard expand their notion of suitability for the presidency, sets an example for the rest of academia that’s hard to ignore,” says Margaret Miller, professor of higher education at the University of Virginia.

AP writer Jesse Harlan Alderman writes (via the Boston Globe) that in Faust, “Harvard not only has its first woman leader, but a president who has candidly discussed her feminist ideals in a memoir, ‘Shapers of Southern History: Autobiographical Reflections.'”

Born Catherine Gilpin in the Jim Crow era, to a privileged family in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Faust writes that a conversation at age 9 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.

The Globe also ran a story on the highlights of Faust’s career that discusses more of her writings and research.

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