Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University on Sunday named historian Drew Gilpin Faust as its first female president, ending a lengthy and secretive search to find a successor to Lawrence Summers and his tumultuous five-year tenure.
The seven-member Harvard Corp. elected Faust, a noted scholar of the American South and dean of Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, as the university's 28th president. The 30-member board of overseers ratified the selection.
Faust, 59, recognized the significance of her appointment.
"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."
With Faust's appointment, half of the eight Ivy League schools will have a woman as president. Her selection is noteworthy given the uproar about Summers' comments that genetic differences between the sexes might help explain the dearth of women in top science jobs, comments that sparked debates about equality at Harvard and nationwide.
Faust oversaw the creation of two faculty task forces, formed in the aftermath of Summers' remarks, to examine gender diversity at Harvard. She has been dean of Radcliffe since 2001, two years after the former women's college was merged into the university as a research center with a mission to study gender issues.
"This is a great day, and a historic day, for Harvard," said James R. Houghton, chairman of the presidential search committee.
Some professors have quietly groused that - despite the growing centrality of scientific research to Harvard's budget - the 371-year-old university is appointing a fifth consecutive president who is not a scientist. No scientist has had the top job since James Bryant Conant retired in 1953; its last four have come from the fields of classics, law, literature and economics.
Faust is the first Harvard president who did not receive an undergraduate or graduate degree from the university since Charles Chauncy, an alumnus of Cambridge University in England, who died in office in 1672. She attended Bryn Mawr College and the University of Pennsylvania, where she was also a professor of history.
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.