Harvard#039;s break through glass ceiling a big plus

by Beacon Staff • February 14, 2007

Years ago, it was unimaginable to believe that women could fill the shoes of men in the workplace. Now, in the 21st century, gender equality has become commonplace in this country, and women are no longer confined to work jobs formerly deemed "too low" for men.

Monday's appointment of Drew Gilpin Faust as the first female president of Harvard University helps bridge the gap between men and women in the workplace. With her selection, four of the eight Ivy League schools are now led by women.

Numerous other academic institutions have female presidents as well, including Emerson. However, this decision shows that Harvard used excellent judgment in picking an incredibly qualified candidate.

This breakthrough extends beyond the realm of university administration. The number of female students in higher education has surpassed the male population in recent years, and females regularly score on par with males on standardized tests.

The appointment came under speculation as Faust replaced Lawrence Summers, whose five-year tenure was plagued with controversy. Summers suggested in a speech that "innate difference" between men and women might explain the lack of women in top science jobs. This caused a national uproar and many called for his resignation.

Some suggest Faust was appointed to counterbalance Summers' sexist statements and to dispel ideas of sexism in the Harvard system, but Faust's qualifications speak for themselves.

These qualifications go way beyond the fact that she is a woman, which was the sole focus of most media outlets following the story. This is not to say Faust's appointment as the first female president is unimportant or insignificant, but the focus should not be only on her gender.

She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and was the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, which fully merged with Harvard in 1999. She is experienced, dedicated and will have a positive influence on the Harvard infrastructure.

More notable than Faust's gender should be her background in history rather than science. As a historian, Faust will be the fifth consecutive president selected to lead Harvard who is not a scientist. Faust also has written many books and is hailed as a Civil War scholar.

While many insiders argue the nation's top university should not be headed by a historian and writer, but rather a leader in the scientific community, Faust's liberal arts background will bring a new, modern face to Harvard's administration. The school, which has a reputation as a cold and pretentious institution, needs a new leader to help create a more amiable image.

Faust has discussed plans to launch an extensive academic overhaul, including an expansion of Harvard's undergraduate curriculum and the offering of a greater variety of courses.

This reform in Harvard's system is necessary as the nations's oldest higher education institution continues to enter the new millenium.

Faust will fulfill the expectations of the presidency impeccably, not because of her gender, but because she is a skilled professional. The university truly has picked the most qualified candidate for the position.

With any luck, Faust will help fuel gender equity at Harvard when she takes control July 1, as well as at other institutions.

She should be known as a great president of Harvard, not just the first female one.