“Crossing Boundaries”

From her very first messages about the new institute, Faust emphasized “Radcliffe’s potential to create interest and engagement across the University.” She realized that potential in a variety of ways, not all of them widely known...

Historian Drew Gilpin Faust, founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (RIAS), will become the twenty-eighth president of Harvard University on July 1. She was elected by the Corporation, Harvard’s senior governing board, with the consent of the Board of Overseers, during a joint meeting at Loeb House in Cambridge on Sunday, February 11.




Their decision concludes a search begun last March—with unprecedented involvement of faculty and student advisory committees, and search-committee meetings with alumni in seven cities in the United States and Europe—following the resignation of President Lawrence H. Summers. When Faust moves the two blocks down Garden Street from Fay House, in Radcliffe Yard, to the president’s office in Massachusetts Hall, she will succeed Derek Bok, who returned to service to lead the University on an interim basis, hoping to do so for no more than one year. The timely completion of the search means that his wish will be fulfilled.

James R. Houghton ’58, M.B.A. ’62, Senior Fellow of the Corporation and chair of the search committee, began a news conference at 4:10 in the Thompson Room of Barker Center, formerly the Freshman Union, by recalling it as “the place where I used to eat my meals as a freshman.” Tradition having been served, he hailed “a great and a historic day for Harvard.” He characterized Faust as “an inspiring and accomplished leader, a superb scholar, a dedicated teacher, and a wonderful human being.” Faust “combines a powerful, broad-ranging intellect with a demonstrated capacity for strong leadership and a talent for stimulating people to do their best work.” He stressed that “She knows Harvard. She knows higher education. She has interests that extend to the whole of the University, across the arts and sciences and the professions.”

This article appears (in condensed form) in our March-April issue.

As dean, Houghton continued, Faust proved capable of articulating a “creative, forward-looking agenda of institutional change—and then making it happen.” She is invested in education and in research equally, he said, consistent with the highest ideals of an academic community. Colleagues know her as “both collaborative and decisive, both open-minded and tough-minded, both eloquent and understated, both mindful of tradition and effective in leading innovation.”

Houghton closed by saluting Bok, the next speaker, for having “totally unselfishly” led Harvard during the transition period.

Bok in turn saluted the search committee for the “infinite amount of labor and care and love” its members had shown for the task they had undertaken. Returning to Massachusetts Hall after 15 years as president emeritus, he said, had reminded him of how special Harvard is, filled with intelligent and creative people. The president’s task, he asserted, is to create an environment for all members of the community to achieve up to the “fullness” of their capabilities. Faust, he said, approached that responsibility with a “very special array of qualities,” including her experience, her “understanding of academic life, her “intuitive” understanding of how to “inspirit” people indirectly in an institution where ordering people around is not productive, and—of essential importance—her values and moral fiber and character. The presidency had been the best 20 years of his life, Bok said, and would be of Faust’s, too—or “probably more like 30 or 40” years.

For additional background information, see "President Faust?"

The Overseers’ president, Susan L. Graham ’64, Chen Distinguished Professor of electrical engineering and computer science emerita at Berkeley, said that as a historian, Faust looks to the past, but “as a leader, she looks to the future.” At Radcliffe, she said, Faust had brought people together intellectually to pursue interdisciplinary work, no mean feat in academia; she had been particularly impressed by Faust’s role in building up science at the new institute. (Graham presented a Radcliffe Institute Dean's Lecture on her software research in November 2001.) From her perspective as an Overseer, Graham was “particularly in awe” of Faust’s leaderly ability to work with others to set shared goals and to achieve them. And as an alumna, she cited Faust’s success as “a true teacher as well as a true scholar.”

Faust began her remarks by adjusting the microphone upward; Harvard’s president-elect stands tall. She then recalled her acceptance of the Radcliffe deanship seven years ago as “the most exciting job in higher education,” little knowing she would have “all the more reason to say those same words” on this new occasion.

“I am deeply honored by the trust the Governing Boards have placed in me,” Faust said. “I will work with all my heart, together with colleagues across the University and the broader community, to reward that trust.”

As a historian, she said, “No university in the country, perhaps the world, has as remarkable a past as this one. And now our shared enterprise is to make Harvard’s future even more remarkable than its past.” Doing so means “recognizing and building on what we already do well. It will also mean recognizing what we don’t do as well as we should—and not being content until we find ways to do better.”

Without listing specific priorities or programs, Faust spoke about “affirming the idea, and the ideals, of a university, of its transformative purposes of teaching, learning, and research. American higher education is hailed as the best in the world, and attacked as falling short. Americans sacrifice and struggle to get their children into college or university, yet mock those same institutions as self-indulgent, hidebound, badly managed. American universities were throughout the twentieth century the sites of the nation’s most significant scientific enterprise—as well as critical engines of innovation and economic growth. Yet we find ourselves wondering in 2007 whether we—at Harvard or at any other university—have the resources, the organizational capacity, the relentlessness, and the leadership to generate continuing excellence and innovation in the sciences and across the spectrum of knowledge.

“What Harvard does in this next decade will serve as an important part of the answer to these contradictions and challenges. What we do will determine not only whether Harvard retains its preeminence. It will help to define the character and meaning of universities for the twenty-first century—whether they can be supple enough, enterprising enough, ambitious enough to accomplish all that is expected of them—and no less important, whether they can do so while preserving their unique culture of inquiry and debate in a world that seems increasingly polarized into unassailable certainties.”

Then, her voice breaking, Faust concluded, “I love universities and I love this one in particular. I can imagine no higher calling, no more exciting adventure than to serve as the president of Harvard.”

Though it was not a day for detailed agendas, some hints of the University’s priorities came through. The news release announcing Faust’s appointment highlighted Radcliffe’s distinctive focus on multidisciplinary research; its success in convening academicians to address new issues in science; and the involvement of undergraduates with Radcliffe Fellows’ work as “research partners.” The release also underscored Faust’s involvement in faculty development as director of the 2005 task forces on women faculty and on women in science and engineering; and her engagement with students as a member of a 2004 Allston task force on undergraduate life, and earlier, as chair of a committee on university life at the University of Pennsylvania, her academic home as a graduate student and then as a faculty member from 1975 to 2000. Finally, the announcement pointed out that she is teaching History 1643, “Civil War and Reconstruction,” an undergraduate seminar.

President Bok cited as current opportunities significant improvements in education and learning (notably, the undergraduate curriculum now under review and recent recommendations to enhance teaching and encourage pedagogical innovation in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; see the March-April Harvard Magazine for detailed reports). He also cited discoveries and new ideas that can “improve all our lives,” perhaps particularly a nod to the sciences and biomedical research.

In her remarks, Faust, too, chose to highlight teaching and learning as first orders of business, among others: “We face extraordinary opportunities,” she said. “We are on the verge of a new College curriculum that has already deeply engaged the faculty and that promises more coherence, more choice, and more excitement in undergraduate education. We have just received a faculty report calling for renewed and enhanced dedication to teaching. A new advising system has been launched. We have just created a cross-University structure to assure Harvard’s place at the forefront of scientific discovery. We are beginning an expansion into Allston that will provide the space in which to make new connections—among scientific disciplines, between teaching and scientific research, among professional schools, between the community and the University. At the same time, it offers us the ability to improve significantly the facilities for graduate and undergraduate students, for the arts and for athletics. We have dedicated ourselves as well to a dramatic expansion of access to Harvard’s academic community—at every level: with the undergraduate low-income initiative, with the commitment to bring women and minorities into science and into the professoriate more broadly, and with our efforts to make the professional schools more affordable. I hope that my own appointment can be one symbol of an opening of opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago.”

But, she cautioned, “[I]f we at Harvard are to accomplish all we intend, we need to find new ways of working together, of engaging the creativity of one of the most talented communities in the world. We need to break down barriers that inhibit collaboration among schools or among disciplines, barriers that divide the sciences and the humanities…barriers that separate the practice of the arts from the interpretation of the arts, barriers that lead us to identify ourselves as from one or the other ‘side of the river.’ 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.”

As she begins learning more about the priorities and needs of the faculties and Harvard overall, Faust said in response to a reporter’s query, she wants to move promptly to fill the “three deanships that are empty—four now, with me.” Those are the deanships of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, held on an interim basis by Jeremy R. Knowles; of Harvard Medical School and the Graduate School of Design, whose leaders step down at the end of the academic year; and now of the Radcliffe Institute. Bok has set in motion processes to identify candidates for Faust’s consideration. She hopes to have her team in place by July 1.

Faust grew up, by her account, “in a privileged family in the rural Shenandoah Valley” of Virginia. In “Living History,” an essay published in this magazine in 2003, she described coming to awareness of segregation in the 1950s in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education. She wrote, “I was the only daughter in a family of four children,” a rebel who went by “Drew” instead of “Catharine.” “Did my sense of the privileges allotted my brothers—who did not have to wear scratchy organdy dresses or lace underwear, sit decorously, curtsy, or accept innumerable other constraints on freedom—make me attuned to other sorts of injustice?” Probably so, because later she marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.

Faust attended Concord Academy in Massachusetts. She earned a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude with honors in history, from Bryn Mawr in 1968, and was awarded master’s and doctoral degrees in American civilization from the University of Pennsylvania, concluding her graduate studies in 1975, and then serving on the faculty until her Radcliffe appointment.

In welcoming her to the newly formed institute of advanced study in 2000 (Faust and her husband, historian of science Charles Rosenberg, had previously decided against accepting tenure offers from Harvard in 1989), President Neil L. Rudenstine cited her “interdisciplinary instincts” and her “open, candid, and winning style.” Faust said then that bringing young and more established scholars and artists together held particular promise: “Intersections between fields and across boundaries are important ways of refashioning knowledge in the new century. Scholarship is creativity.”

If those characteristics and that vision brought Faust to the Radcliffe Institute, her performance there brought her to the Harvard presidency.

From her very first messages about the new institute, Faust emphasized “Radcliffe’s potential to create interest and engagement across the University.” She realized that potential in a variety of ways, not all of them widely known:

  • Radcliffe Fellowships, the core one-year appointments for advanced study, have proven a way for junior faculty, from Harvard and elsewhere, to complete research essential to qualify them for tenure. Moreover, clusters of fellows concentrating in fields such as astrophysics or immigration have brought professors from separate departments together to work on problems of common interest. Fellows reported rediscovering “the intellectual camaraderie they had missed in their home departments.”
  • Common projects have reached out for expertise. A conference on women and enterprise was produced by a faculty committee drawn from five Harvard schools. Radcliffe’s conference on computational biology was the first such gathering on campus; it drew 150 participants for three days of workshops and lectures, seeding a now robust field of research.
  • Exploratory and Advanced Seminars, initiated by ladder faculty, bring together scholars from throughout Harvard and beyond to address a new problem, ranging from malaria to debt relief in Africa. A dozen or more such Radcliffe-funded seminars annually have spawned new intellectual relationships involving departments across the University, and virtually every school, examining problems in science, the humanities, public policy, and the professions.
  • Advisers including Jennifer Leaning, professor of the practice of international health (Harvard School of Public Health); Homi Bhabha, Rothenberg professor of the humanities and director of the Humanities Center; and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences dean Theda Skocpol all serve as substantive participants in shaping the institute’s programs (in international affairs and policy, humanities, and social sciences, respectively), building strong bridges to the rest of the University. Higgins professor of natural sciences Barbara J. Grosz, of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has provided powerful links to that entire realm of research as Radcliffe's dean of science since early in Faust’s institute tenure.
  • And Faust extended Radcliffe’s reach, with 38 men and 25 international fellows among the 260 who were in the first five classes of fellows resident at the institute.

In this basic intellectual sense, Faust wrote early in her decanal tenure, “Crossing boundaries is fundamental to the Radcliffe experience.”

Effective administration has been fundamental, too. As dean, Faust has:

  • transferred former Radcliffe College training programs (in publishing and landscape architecture) to other institutional homes, made the Murray Center for social-science research a part of the Harvard-MIT Data Center, closed other programs that no longer fit the new Radcliffe Institute mission, and reduced staffing and operating expenses significantly, with the help of University financial administrators, outside advisers, and consultants;
  • directed a comprehensive campus plan for the institute, and completed renovation or reconstruction of the Schlesinger Library, the former Radcliffe Gym, and, now in planning, Byerly Hall; and
  • undertaken significant and increasingly robust fundraising for the institute’s fellowships and programs, drawing on revived relationships with Radcliffe alumnae and advised by a Dean’s Council whose members include several leading supporters of the University.

In early 2005, President Summers appointed Faust to direct two University task forces, on women faculty, and on women in science and engineering. (See “Gender Gap,” March-April 2005, page 62; “Tenure Task Forces,” May-June 2005, page 67; and, for a review of the task forces’ sweeping recommendations on faculty development, diversity, and changes in Harvard policy, “Engineering Equity,” July-August 2005, page 55.)

That experience—and the Radcliffe Institute’s role in assessing the intellectual work of scholars in the humanities, social sciences, life and physical sciences, the arts, and public policy—have given Faust a much broader overview of faculty members’ work across a research university than would be typical for most professors with an arts-and-sciences background. Moreover, the 2005 task forces and the Radcliffe Institute’s role in nurturing the work of younger faculty members both involve extensive exposure to what may be the University’s central challenge (even beyond such ambitious projects as building the Allston campus and the fundraising to pay for it): identifying, supporting, and creating the conditions for the next generation of scholars to advance as professors in the modern academy.

Faust gave explicit hints of her leadership style and of her academic vision in 2001, when she unveiled an advisory group’s initial recommendations for the reconstituted Radcliffe Institute. Of the suggestion that she create a permanent advisory board or boards for matters intellectual and administrative, she said, “I’d want to choose people who will give me some trouble.” As for the conduct of the fellows program at the center of Radcliffe’s advanced-study mission, she said, “We are trying hard to bring the fellows together physically….Why not just send the fellows a check and let them stay home and do their work? One answer: we feel certain that human interactions yield intellectual activities.” A smaller community, she felt, could “get to know itself better,” forestalling problems of having physicists talking only with other physicists.

Faust addressed the characteristics of Harvard leadership at length when she was one of the speakers at the unveiling of the official portrait of Neil L. Rudenstine, president emeritus, last May 1 (see “Presidential Portrait,” July-August 2006, page 60). On that occasion, as the magazine reported,

Faust extracted [from Rudenstine’s speeches] recurring phrases that she felt expressed his values—among them “mutuality in conversation and human relations,” and “engagement balanced by…wise skepticism.” In closing, Faust applied to Rudenstine words by Nelson Mandela—“A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind”—language that Rudenstine himself had cited during the 1998 honorary-degree ceremony for Mandela.

In her remarks at the February 11 news conference, Faust expressed her thanks to “my predecessors—Neil Rudenstine, who brought me here as dean of the Radcliffe Institute, Larry Summers, whose powerful thinking and impatience for results cleared the way for important new initiatives, and Derek Bok, whose steady hand has kept us on course during this past year.” When asked if she worried about “rifts” in the faculty, Faust said the separate faculties and the University as a whole “need to think of collaborative ways of working together,” regardless of their formal homes at Harvard, and that doing so would be productive. President Bok, she said, had imparted “tremendous positive energy,” and she sensed that members of the University community were in an “upbeat frame of mind.”


At the inaugural presidential news conference, a reporter from the Crimson asked how the leader of an institute with $17 million in annual expenses and 80 staff members could run a $3-billion enterprise with many thousands of employees. “Thoughtfully,” Faust replied, and then amplified that no one had served as president of Harvard until he became president of Harvard. [Derek Bok would be the exception who proves the rule.] Her Radcliffe Institute experience, she continued, had gotten her involved with schools across Harvard, so she knew people throughout the University. And Radcliffe’s intimate scale required her to have a “granular engagement with a number of aspects of how organizations are run,” including the management of human resources and facilities. But, she observed, she had a lot to learn, and many people available to help her do so.

Referring to Faust’s comment about the opening of opportunities, a USA Today reporter wondered whether the president-elect had been thinking of her gender or of her status as the first Harvard president since 1672 to serve without attending the University. (Both Faust and her husband received the customary honorary A.M. conferred on faculty members who do not otherwise have a Harvard degree. Their daughter Jessica, a summa cum laude member of the College class of 2004, perhaps provides some cover.) Faust responded simply, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard. I’m the president of Harvard,” winning robust applause from the University staffers who were in the room. (She made the same point in 2005, when the task forces on women faculty reported. “This is not a set-aside for women,” Faust said then. “This is about building the best community because we have the broadest scope of exploration for talent, and the best support of it.”)

She continued, “But I also want to say—and this has been made abundantly clear to me in the last four days of limbo [since the Crimson’s unofficial scoop on her appointment], when I had to keep saying ‘Nothing’s confirmed,’ ‘Those are all unconfirmed rumors’—I’ve been inundated with e-mails and comments, people commenting on the street, on an airplane [returning from a Bryn Mawr board of trustees meeting in Pennsylvania], everybody on the airplane started cheering—well, not everybody—and 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. And it’s not about me, Drew Faust, it’s about a particular moment and an unparalleled institution, and we need to acknowledge that.”

As Faust wrote in the bracing preface to her most-acclaimed book, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (1996):

When I was growing up in Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s, my mother taught me that the term “woman” was disrespectful, if not insulting. Adult females—at least white ones—should be considered and addressed as “ladies.” I responded to this instruction by refusing to wear dresses and by joining the 4-H club, not to sew and can like all the other girls, but to raise sheep and cattle with the boys. My mother still insisted on the occasional dress but, to her credit, said not a negative word about my enthusiasm for animal husbandry.

Looking back, I am sure that the origins of this book lie somewhere in that youthful experience and in the continued confrontations with my mother—until the very eve of her death when I was 19—about the requirements of what she usually called “femininity.” “It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be,” she warned. I have been luckier than she in that I have lived in a time when my society and culture have supported me in proving that statement wrong.

As Drew Gilpin Faust told the Harvard College class of 2005, just months after she arrived in Cambridge, “When you hear—in this most wonderfully tradition-bound place—that something is because it has always been that way, take a moment to ask which of the past’s assumptions are embedded in this particular tradition. If men and women are to be truly equal at Harvard, not all traditions can be.” She was speaking then about the College, and the remaking of Radcliffe College. Neither she nor any member of her audience could then look forward to February 2007. And so it is, in Harvard University’s 371st year, and in the four-hundredth year since John Harvard’s birth, that another boundary has been crossed.


Press Conference Audio

Audio removed temporarily.


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