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Faust fills Harvard's top spot

The Civil War expert is the first female president in all its 371 years. She notes the precedent but says she's not defined by it.

Forward-thinking Scholar

February 12, 2007|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

Drew Gilpin Faust, a Civil War historian and dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, on Sunday was named the 28th president of Harvard University, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

After a yearlong search, the seven-member Harvard Corp. agreed behind closed doors to select Faust, as had been expected.

As a scholar, Faust focused on the history of the Civil War and the South, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania for more than two decades before becoming dean of the Radcliffe Institute.

"I am a historian," Faust said Sunday. "I've spent a lot of time thinking about the past, and about how it shapes the future.... Our shared enterprise is to make Harvard's future even more remarkable than its past. That will mean 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."

Faust succeeds Lawrence H. Summers, the former U.S. Treasury secretary who aroused controversy two years ago by suggesting that the paucity of female science and engineering professors at Harvard stemmed from women's lack of "intrinsic aptitude" for science. Summers announced his resignation nearly a year ago.

"I hope my appointment can be one symbol of an opportunity that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago," Faust said at a news conference at Harvard after her appointment was announced at the Cambridge, Mass., campus. "I'm not the woman president of Harvard. I'm the president of Harvard."

With her selection at Harvard, founded in 1636, four of the eight Ivy League universities are now headed by women.

Faust became dean of the Radcliffe Institute in 2001 and oversaw the final transformation of the former women's college into an academic center with 50 research fellows.

After Summers drew criticism for his remarks on women, he asked Faust to lead two task forces on increasing the presence of women in the sciences and on the Harvard faculty.

Some academics questioned whether the selection of a historian would minimize the importance of science at Harvard as it embarks on a major expansion of its science programs.

But Susan L. Graham, professor emerita of science and engineering at UC Berkeley and president of the Harvard Board of Overseers, praised Faust's success in ensuring a significant role for science as dean of the Radcliffe Institute.

"Drew Faust is a historian with her eyes on the future," said Graham, who served on the presidential search committee, in a statement. "I've admired her remarkable talent for creating a sense of common enterprise, for setting ambitious goals, for fostering multidisciplinary collaboration, and for advancing the institute's agenda."

Faust, who was born Catherine Gilpin, grew up in a wealthy family in Virginia. She rebelled at an early age against the widespread racial discrimination of the time and the secondary role she was expected to play as a female. When she was 9, she wrote President Eisenhower urging him to end segregation.

"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 in an essay in the book "Shapers of Southern History: Autobiographical Reflections."

After her appointment, Faust, who also had headed the women's studies program at the University of Pennsylvania, told reporters, "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."

"It's not about me Drew Faust. It's about a particular moment at an unparalleled institution and we need to acknowledge that."

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richard.paddock@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Drew Gilpin Faust

Age: 59

Home: Cambridge, Mass.

Family: Husband, Charles Rosenberg; two daughters.

Occupation: Dean of the Radcliffe

Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University since 2001; Lincoln professor of history.

Experience: Annenberg professor of history and director of the Women's

Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania; Trustee, Bryn Mawr College, the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the National Humanities Center; Civil War and American South historian; author of five books, including "Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War."

Education: Bryn Mawr College, bachelor's degree, 1968; University of Pennsylvania, master's degree, 1971, and doctorate, 1975.

Source: Associated Press

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