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Harvard names Faust first woman president

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. --Harvard University named Drew Gilpin Faust on Sunday as the 28th president and first woman to hold the office in the school's 371-year history.

Faust, a Civil War scholar and respected university insider, emerged as a candidate the school's governing body thought suited to cool tensions within the faculty after the tumultuous five-year presidency of Lawrence Summers.

"I hope that my own appointment can be one symbol of an opening of opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago," Faust said at a news conference on campus. But she also added, "I'm not the woman president of Harvard, I'm the president of Harvard."

Two years ago, Summers created an uproar when he said that genetic gender differences may explain why few women rise to top science jobs. At the height of the controversy, Faust oversaw two panels that examined gender diversity on the red-brick and white-columned campus.

She has been dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study since 2001, two years after the former women's college merged into the university as a research center with a mission to study gender issues.

Faust, 59, was elected by the seven-member Harvard Corporation, the school's governing body, and ratified by the 30-member Board of Overseers.

"All the reports have been 'gender, gender, gender,' and I'm thinking to myself 'isn't that funny? That has not been something we've talked about at all,'" said Robert Reischauer, a Corporation member.

With Faust's appointment, half of the eight Ivy League schools have woman presidents. Still, some professors have quietly groused that -- despite the growing centrality of scientific research to Harvard's budget -- the university selected a fifth consecutive president who is not a scientist.

Masha Godina, a 20-year-old junior, said she's optimistic.

"I personally hope she wasn't chosen because the school was feeling political pressure to select a candidate just based on gender," Godina said. "But I don't think the sense of the students is that is what has happened at all."

As Faust emerged from a private champagne toast with Corporation members and overseers, she greeted reporters, grinning as she said, "Tell my students I will be prepared for class tomorrow." She teaches a Civil War and Reconstruction seminar at 3 p.m.

Soon after, Faust pivots from managing Radcliffe, a think-tank with 87 employees and a $17 million budget, to presiding over Harvard's 11 schools and colleges, 24,000 employees and a budget of $3 billion.

"She will need to scale up and she's shown all the qualities that suggest she'll do that superbly," said Amy Gutman, president of the University of Pennsylvania.

In Faust, Harvard not only has it's 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.

Faust joins an exclusive roster of former Harvard presidents that have included colonial clergymen, Bay State patricians and a cabinet secretary. Faust will live in Elmwood, a three-story 18th century mansion with a carriage house and caretaker's quarters.

Interim President Derek Bok will serve until July 1 when Faust takes over.

Faust becomes the first president without a Harvard degree since Charles Chauncy, an alumnus of Cambridge University, died in office in 1672. She attended Bryn Mawr College and the University of Pennsylvania, where she was also a professor of Southern history.

"Faculty turned to her constantly as someone whose opinion is to be trusted," said Shelton Hackney, a former president of the University of Pennsylvania and Southern historian. "She's very clear, well-organized. She has a sense of humor, but she's very even-keeled. You come to trust in her because she's so solid."

The Harvard presidency is perhaps the most prestigious job in higher education, offering a pulpit where remarks resonate throughout academic circles and unparalleled resources, namely a university endowment valued at nearly $30 billion.

But the job also comes with sharp scrutiny from a distinguished faculty, constant national exposure and relentless pressure to meet fundraising benchmarks.

Summers often stumbled in maintaining a diplomatic balance with the school's disparate factions. Displeasure with what many professors called a brusque management style ultimately led to a no confidence vote from faculty last February.

"I believe Faust will bring dignity and honor back to Harvard," said Harry R. Lewis, a former Harvard dean who wrote a book that criticized the school for coddling students. "She's a person who knows what a liberal education is and that bodes well."

While the presidential search was marked by disciplined secrecy -- committee members met behind closed doors in a Georgian mansion and were quietly ushered away in idling Lincoln Town Cars -- it also revealed an embarrassing trend: several top-tier candidates said they weren't interested.

In January, Thomas R. Cech, head of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a Nobel prize winner, asked the search committee to remove him from consideration. The presidents of Columbia, Brown and Princeton all said they did not want the job.


AP Education Writer Justin Pope contributed to this report.