Harvard names a female president for the first time

February 16, 2007

Only a year after its combative president stirred worldwide controversy with remarks about the academic qualifications of women, Harvard University has replaced him with the first female chief executive in its nearly 400-year history.

The university named Drew Gilpin Faust its 28th president. She was selected by the governing Harvard Corporation and Board of Overseers to lead the university through a long-planned multibillion-dollar expansion that will vastly enlarge its campus.

Dr Faust, who is aged 59, will also face the challenge of encouraging further interdisciplinary research - something that Harvard's notoriously independent schools and departments have done with notably less success than rivals elsewhere in the US and abroad.

For its future to live up to its past, said Dr Faust, a historian, Harvard would have to build on what it already did well.

This "will also mean recognising what we don't do as well as we should, and not being content until we find ways to do better," she said.

"We need to break down barriers that inhibit collaboration among schools or among disciplines."

Attempts by the university's previous two presidents to centralise control over Harvard's separate schools have ended in failure. Dr Faust's immediate predecessor, Lawrence Summers, left in June last year after a faculty vote of no confidence in response to the remarks in which he questioned the innate ability of women to succeed in science and maths.

Dr Faust is an expert on the American South who served for 25 years on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, including as chair of the department of American civilisation and director of the women's studies programme. She came to Harvard seven years ago as founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Dr Faust's appointment will be effective from July 1.

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