Harvard Names New President, Bloggers Skeptical

Many bloggers are wondering if the hiring of Drew Gilpin Faust is more than just a coincidence.

Harvard announced yesterday the hiring of Drew Gilpin Faust, 59, the first female president in the university’s 371-year history.

“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 Sunday, adding, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard. I’m the president of Harvard.”

The selection of Faust, a leading Civil War historian who has been dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study since 2001, brings to an end a presidential search that began nearly a year ago following the resignation of Lawrence H. Summers in February 2006. (The Harvard Crimson, which prides itself on all-out coverage of each secretive presidential search, again got the scoop this time around, declaring “IT’S FAUST” on Friday’s front page.)

In a January 2005 speech Summers questioned whether women have less aptitude than men in math and science, sparking a firestorm of criticism and faculty discontent that eventually forced his resignation. In that light, many bloggers are now wondering if the hiring of Faust — who led an effort to recruit, retain and promote women at Harvard in the wake of Summers’ faux pas — is more than just coincidence.

“Does this leave one wondering if this has *anything* (*everything*) to do with Summers’ comments?” asked krlacey. “Am I reading into this too much? Shouldn’t I be ecstatic? Somehow, I feel this is a mercy hire, and I don’t like it.”

“It was only a matter of time before Harvard sucked it up and decided to do something about its image,” echoed the Wanderer, “and what better way to go against the anti-female comments of its former president than hire a woman to be the school’s next leader.”

The skepticism of bloggers takes a bit of the luster off what many consider a historic event for women and for Harvard. “Does anyone else find it slightly ironic that shortly after the Harvard president was vehemently criticized for his degrading statements involving women and science, the university decided to hire its first female president?” asked K-Dizzle.

But not all bloggers were as cynical; many, in fact, enthusiastically celebrated Harvard’s milestone. “It seems these prestigious institutions of higher learning and knowledge have discovered something from which the rest of the country could benefit,” wrote Charles Warner, aka Media Curmudgeon. “It’s time for women to take over the leadership of our important institutions.”

And, while the new president will oversee the creation of Harvard’s 21st-century campus in Allston, she will also face the tremendous task of uniting a divided faculty, something that Faust — whom colleagues say always engages those who disagree with her — has shown a talent for.

“Faust is viewed as a consensus-builder, something Summers definitely was not,” blogged Zuzu at Feministe. “Congratulations, Dr. Faust. And congratulations to Harvard.”

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Dan Goldberg is a CJR intern.