News your connection to The Boston Globe

Faust points Harvard forward

Congratulations to Drew Gilpin Faust. In July she will become Harvard's new president. A historian and dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Faust has made history. She is the first woman to run the university.

It is a demanding job that has become controversial since the departure of past president Lawrence Summers. In office from 2001 to 2006, Summers was a smart leader with a compelling vision, but he was also blunt and offensive. His dispute with African-American studies professor Cornel West made headlines. And the twilight of his presidency began when he speculated that women might have less intrinsic ability in science than men. The more damning criticism spoken around campus: He doesn't listen.

That's a place for Faust to start -- to lead, in part, by listening; to acknowledge past wounds and then move quickly forward.

Promising to "work with all my heart," and "together with colleagues" in the university and the community, Faust hit the right notes in accepting the presidency.

She pointed to Harvard's plans to build a new campus in Allston. Now Faust must turn what has been a rocky courtship into a happy marriage. Early sketches show a campus that could be Parisian in its elegance. But it should also fit in with the scale and soul of Allston.

Faust has an eye on changing the undergraduate curriculum and on a new report from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that says a Harvard education should be more relevant, enabling students "to put all the learning they are doing at Harvard. . . in the context of the people they will be and the lives they will lead after college."

Goals that Summers set should be pursued. What's the difference between a gene and a genome? Summers argued that college graduates should know. (A gene is the basic unit of hereditary material. A genome is the complete genetic makeup of an organism.) This push to increase scientific literacy should be continued.

On financial aid, meanwhile, the university must expand its already generous commitment. A year of Harvard College costs $46,450. That's more than half the nation's households earned in 2005, according to the Census Bureau, which put median earnings at $46,326. Families earning less than $60,000 are not asked to pay anything toward this hefty school bill. Harvard should push that income limit up as high as it can, and increase outreach to students from low-income families.

On its own and in partnership with other universities, Harvard must increasingly be a thoughtful local and global citizen, engaged with this region's, and the world's, worst problems and great opportunities.

To manage all this, Faust must mobilize Harvard's community, leading by inspiring others to contribute their best.