News / USA

Harvard's First Woman President Settles into Role

Drew Gilpin Faust is prestigious university's 28th president

Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust stands beneath a bust of the founder of the university, John Harvard
Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust stands beneath a bust of the founder of the university, John Harvard

Multimedia

Audio
Susan Logue

Harvard University is arguably one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1636, it is among the oldest in the United States.

In 2007, Harvard named historian and scholar Drew Gilpin Faust its 28th president. She is the first woman to hold that position.

Role model

Other American universities have had women presidents. But when Harvard named Drew Gilpin Faust as its first woman president, the world took note.

“At a press conference right after the announcement of my appointment, I was asked something about what it was like to be the first woman president of Harvard,” Faust recalls. “My response, which I had not predetermined, was to answer that I wasn’t the woman president of Harvard, I was the president of Harvard.”

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust pauses during applause after being inaugurated as the first woman to lead Harvard. ( Friday, Oct. 12, 2007)
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust pauses during applause after being inaugurated as the first woman to lead Harvard. ( Friday, Oct. 12, 2007)

But Faust soon realized that being the first woman to hold that position did matter to a lot of people.

“The response to my appointment from young girls and women all over the world, from the parents of young girls, was so moving,” she says. “They found in my appointment an indication of hope and aspiration that they or their children could embrace."

That, she says, made her recognize "that being the first woman president of Harvard has a lot of significance and that it is meaningful, and I ought not to forget that.”

Breaking barriers

While Faust serves as a role model for young girls today, she had no one to look to as she was growing up. She never dreamed of a life in academia, let alone becoming president of an Ivy League university.

“I grew up at a time where very little was expected of women,” she says. “It was anticipated that probably I would marry and be a wife and mother. There was little discussion what I’d be when I grew up beyond that.”

President of Harvard University Drew Gilpin Faust
President of Harvard University Drew Gilpin Faust

Her mother, who never worked outside of the home, was not one to encourage Faust to higher ambitions. “My mother was very much a part of traditional views of women,” Faust says, adding that her mother seemed quite angry to have limited options for herself.  

“Something she said to me quite often when I was being rebellious or imagining something was possible for myself that she didn’t think was possible, she would say, ‘It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you figure it out the happier you will be.’”

But Faust was able to take advantage of the growing wave of new opportunities for women in the 1960s. Sadly, Faust's mother didn't live to witness her daughter’s success. She died when Faust was 19.

Early influences

Faust grew up surrounded by history in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

She lived on Lee Jackson Highway, named for two Civil War generals who fought for the south, in an area where many battles had been fought between the Union and Confederate armies.

She recalls playing Civil War endlessly with her brothers. "I always had to be Grant, because my older brother got to be Lee, and it was a long time before I discovered that actually Lee had lost and Grant had won.”

But the War Between the States became more than a game to Faust. She is a noted scholar of the American South and the Civil War.

Her most recent book, "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War," was named one of the “10 best books of 2008” by the New York Times.

Cost of learning

Since becoming president of Harvard, Faust has made it a priority to ensure that the cost of an education at the elite private university does not prohibit talented applicants from attending.

The annual tuition, room and board for a Harvard undergraduate is more than $50,000, but the majority of students pay much less.

Faust says 60 percent of the students receive financial aid from the university. “And, of those students, the cost of education is just about $11,000 a year. And for students from families with incomes under $60,000 a year, there is no parental contribution expected at all.”

Model education

Faust’s responsibilities as president of Harvard have taken her to many corners of the globe. She says American higher education is seen as a model in many other countries.

She recalls meeting with a group of university presidents in China last year.

“What they wanted to talk with me about was the liberal arts and humanities and how they could introduce some of those perspectives into their higher education system, in order to bring the kind of imaginativeness, curiosity and creativity that they saw as characteristic of American higher education.”

It is, Faust says, a lesson for Americans to keep in mind. In this troubled economy, many are searching for immediate economic return when they graduate. But education, she says, should prepare people for a lifetime, not just a single career.  

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More