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Drew G. Faust, Harvard’s new president, signed an autograph for Amelia Lo of Hong Kong on the Cambridge campus.
Drew G. Faust, Harvard’s new president, signed an autograph for Amelia Lo of Hong Kong on the Cambridge campus. (Justine Hunt/ Globe Staff)

Harvard president tackles first day at work

Harvard University president Drew G. Faust spent her first workday in power yesterday hosting an ice cream social and doing business in a new office that she described as "surrounded with flowers and kind wishes and interesting problems."

Faust, who officially took the reins Sunday, is laying the groundwork for a multibillion-dollar fund-raising campaign, planning for the new Allston campus, and launching an initiative to make the arts more central to Harvard's identity.

One of her toughest tasks is to corral a sprawling collection of 10 largely independent schools into a single university able to respond as one to competition in the sciences and other challenges.

A brief e-mail Faust sent yesterday greeting students, faculty, and staff seemed to reflect that concern. She wrote of "bridging our differences" and the "shared enterprise" of the community. Different schools within Harvard sometimes compete with each other for donations or preeminence in a field.

Sounding upbeat and enthusiastic in a phone interview yesterday, Faust said she would lead a dean's retreat next week to begin vigorous academic planning, not only within schools but between them.

That will help the development of the new Allston campus and lay the groundwork for the next capital campaign, she said.

Once the dean's retreat is over, she was asked, how would she unite the university's factions?

"You invite them for ice cream," she joked, referring to yesterday's reception in Harvard Yard.

Faust added that she would use the central administration's financial resources and her fund-raising prowess as carrots in exchange for collaboration. She said she would also try to convince them of their common interests. For example, making it easier for undergraduates to do research in Harvard hospital laboratories could be good for the college and the medical school.

She also said she wouldn't hesitate to use her authority and budget to make decisions for the university.

History professor Andrew Gordon said the faculty will be largely sympathetic to Faust's goals, especially since she's not likely to pursue them by "snapping her fingers and issuing orders," a tendency for which he faulted former president Lawrence H. Summers.

Besides attempting to unite the university, Faust said she plans to set up a committee to examine the role that the arts should play at Harvard, where she said analysis of art has typically trumped the creative process.

Ryan Petersen, a senior, said Faust has shown she will take students seriously by, for example, meeting with the student government, which he heads.

"I think president Faust is ready to have a more collaborative relationship with students," he said.

Faust took on many presidential duties months ago. Asked if she'd learned to handle the stress and long hours, she said she was still working on it.

For example, she likes relaxing with detective novels, but these days falls asleep after two paragraphs.

She also dotes on her dog, Clio, who has behavior problems.

"She reminds me that life is not perfect and life is not all about Harvard," Faust said.

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