CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Harvard University named historian Drew Gilpin Faust as its first female president on Sunday, ending a lengthy and secretive search to find a successor to Lawrence Summers and his tumultuous five-year tenure.
The board of overseers 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. She was chosen after a search in which a number of potential candidates said they were not interested in the job.
With a naming of Faust, half of the eight Ivy League schools will have a woman as president. Her selection is noteworthy given the uproar over Summers' comments that genetic differences between the sexes might help explain the dearth of women in top science jobs, comments which 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.
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 the fields of classics, law, literature and economics.
Faust would be 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 professor of 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 who worked closely with Faust. "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."
Former President Derek Bok has been leading the university this academic year on an interim basis.