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Worth the Weight?

Harvard's first female president should take a bow. Then stock up on Advil.

Dear Drew Gilpin Faust:

First of all, welcome to your new job. Being president of Harvard seems to be a nice gig, all things considered. For one thing – and you may not realize this – ascending to that position also makes you empress of Allston, the way becoming queen of England used to mean simultaneously becoming queen of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, no matter what the unruly subjects in those lands thought about the matter. So you now hold sway over any number of fast-food emporia and undergraduate buckets o’ blood. It’s not the best perk of the job – I’d say that’d be the salary of about 600 G’s – but it might come in handy if things go badly and you find the need to flee across the river and establish a government-in-exile at The Kells.

Because it seems that this job is a perilous one. On the day of your appointment, this very newspaper was alive with the opinion that being president of Harvard was a less secure position than being either an Alaskan crab fisherman or the number-three man in Al Qaeda. One former president named Edward Holyoke, who apparently looked in his heyday very much like the elder Barbara Bush, said the job “humbled and mortified” him – and this from a guy who had to wear a wig the size of a throw rug to work. And Holyoke lodged his complaint some 240 years before your non-interim predecessor punched his own ticket by taking The Stupid out for a walk in front of the wrong audience. So things don’t change very much, it appears. You now assume control of the most public bag of egos this side of Crosby, Stills, Nash and The Guy With the Talent. But you’re familiar with the calm, reasoned dynamic of how a place like Harvard works, I’m sure, having spent your life studying the Civil War.