Harvard pick set to be a first

Campus paper says board to OK school's first female president

February 10, 2007|By Richard C. Paddock and Rebecca Trounson | Richard C. Paddock and Rebecca Trounson,Los Angeles Times

Harvard University is set to name the first woman president in its 371-year history to succeed Lawrence Summers, who left his post after questioning the ability of women to master science, the campus newspaper reported yesterday.

The appointment process is highly secretive, and Alan Stone, Harvard's vice president for public affairs, said he could not confirm the choice of Drew Gilpin Faust. But The Harvard Crimson reported that the university's 30-member Board of Overseers would meet tomorrow to affirm her selection as the university's 28th president.

Faust, a Civil War historian and dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, was praised yesterday by friends and associates as a dynamic yet soft-spoken leader with a personal management style that is highly effective.

"I think she has all the makings of a great president," said University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, who has known Faust for more than a decade. "She is an eminent scholar who appreciates the importance of great teaching and scholarship, she's got a strong backbone and she knows how to lead, by articulating a vision and inspiring people to collaborate."

Faust's appointment would be a breakthrough for an institution that did not have a single female faculty member in 1970 and did not abolish quotas restricting the number of female students until 1975.

"I think it's a great moment in Harvard's history," said Maria Tatar, Harvard dean for the humanities. "She has a quiet charisma, and she is very likely to lead the place in bold new directions. She is not a self-promoting type. She does not seek the limelight but works for the good of the institution."

The university has been searching for a new president for nearly a year since Summers' announcement that he would step down.

The former Treasury secretary, considered by some as abrasive, lost the support of the faculty after questioning whether there were fewer women in science because they do not have an "intrinsic aptitude" for the subject.

To ease the controversy caused by his remarks, Summers appointed two task forces on the role of women in science and on the faculty. Summers asked Faust to help lead both committees, giving her an even more prominent role.

"The task force issued a very impressive report that sets forth a strategy for increasing the number of women and minorities on the faculty," said one administrator who asked not to be identified. "She was a very powerful presence behind the scenes."

E. Ann Matter, a former colleague at the University of Pennsylvania who is now an associate dean there, described Faust as calm, reflective and deliberate, a woman whose style contrasts markedly with that of her predecessor.

"It's quite interesting that after the kind of trouble, the kind of controversies Dr. Summers was in, that they choose someone who is really the anti-Summers. He's bombastic, and she's very diplomatic," Matter said. "It will be quite a change."

Faust, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, went on to earn a master's and a doctorate in history at the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Penn for 25 years and was director of the women's studies program there.

Faust's appointment also sends a message about how Harvard wishes to be seen after the Summers controversies, Matter said.

"They got a lot of heat over the things Larry Summers said and did - and was reputed to say and do," Matter said. "This makes a very different kind of statement. She's a humanist, a historian and a historian who's written about women. And that's a very interesting choice for the president of Harvard."

A native of Virginia, she has specialized in the history of the Civil War and the South and has published five books, including Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War.

Richard C. Paddock and Rebecca Trounson write for the Los Angeles Times.

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