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Harvard Gets a Woman President, but Progress Slows at Other Colleges

  • Brianna Blake

Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian of the American South, is named to lead the country's oldest university. Also, findings from a new study of presidents in US higher education.

On July first, America's oldest university will get its 28th. president but, most notably, its first female president. Historian Drew Gilpin Faust was named this week to lead Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard is 3,071 years old.

Professor Faust has written several books on her specialty, the history of the American South and the Civil War. She is 59 and attended Bryn Mawr College and the University of Pennsylvania. She arrived at Harvard six years ago as the founding dean of its Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

She will replace Lawrence Summers who resigned last June after five years as president. His aggressive leadership style was unpopular with professors.

He was widely denounced for comments he made in a speech in two thousand five. He was discussing possible reasons for the small number of women in top jobs in science and mathematics. He suggested that one area that should be considered
was the possibility of biological differences between men and women.

He later apologized for his comments. He also asked Professor Faust to help lead committees that were set up to increase the number of female science professors at Harvard.

She will be the first president of Harvard since 1672 who did not earn a degree there.

Professor Faust was born Catherine Drew Gilpin. She says her mother told her "this is a man's world" and that the sooner she learned it, the better.

She grew up in a wealthy white family in Virginia. But she rebelled against the way blacks were being treated in the South. As a nine-year-old girl she even wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower urging him to end racial discrimination.

With Professor Faust, women now head four of the eight highly competitive private universities in the Northeast known as the Ivy League.

More women and members of ethnic or racial minority groups hold top positions in American colleges and universities than in the past. In 1986, 90% of presidents were male and 92% were white.

But a new report this week says growth in the percentage of women and minority presidents has been slow, especially in the last ten years. The American Council on Education says 86% of presidents last year were white; 77% were male.

The group says women were most likely to head two-year colleges.

But the study also found that on average, presidents have been getting older and staying in their jobs longer. Researchers say the findings suggest that many will soon retire. They say that might, or might not, mean more women and minorities taking
their place.

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