Questioning Authority: Creighton on Harvard's New President

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 - 12:00pm

Harvard University has named its first woman president. Drew Gilpin Faust, a Bryn Mawr alumna, an eminent historian, and an outstanding academic leader who has served since 2001 as the founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, will become the twenty-eighth president of Harvard University, effective July 1. We asked Mount Holyoke President Joanne V. Creighton for her thoughts on the announcement.

QA: What is the significance of Harvard choosing its first woman president?

JVC: Harvard's selection of a woman president is a giant step for womankind, I think, because of the symbolic import of the decision. If Harvard can do it, so can others. It will help lower the resistance to other highly qualified women candidates not only for university presidencies, but for leadership in a variety of fields. It is an especially sweet validation of women's potential given President Summers's unfortunate musing about women's lesser aptitude in science.

QA: What advice do you have for the new president?

JVC: From what I know of her, she doesn't need my advice. She already has all the right instincts and aptitudes. She is open, collegial, and collaborative. She is smart and tough. That she is a highly regarded scholar/teacher, as well as administrator, is a huge asset, I think, in helping her both to understand the institution and its culture in all its complexity and to build connections to its multiple constituencies, especially the faculty, which will be critical to success. A president of a college or university, like that of a country, needs the respect and consent of the governed to get things done. That, I predict, she will get--after patiently and adroitly earning it.

QA: Has Harvard made a Faustian bargain for itself?

JVC: Very droll. Actually, I think they've made a Faustian bargain in reverse: Harvard may find its soul and true greatness in stripping away centuries-long presumptions of white, male privilege. It has a ways to go on this agenda, but selecting this president is a step in that direction.

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