A Woman President for Harvard. Wow.

February 9, 2007, 9:10 pm

If you are an academic reading this blog, you probably already know that Drew Faust, a southern historian (and a really fine human being) has just been made the first female President of Harvard. I am not in awe of Harvard (although anyone who tells you they don’t think Harvard is the Final Club is either lying, lying, lying, or occupies a distinguished chair at the University of Chicago), but I have to tell you I am very impressed by this.

Next thing you know Harvard will be competing with Yale for who can be the first to establish a real tenure-track for junior faculty (see previous post.) And if Drew is in charge, Harvard will win. Watch out, Big Blue.

Although, as the New York Times notes, there are unnamed sources who are concerned that Drew isn’t “tough enough” for the job, be assured that there hasn’t been a cane riot at Harvard for about 125 years, so she will not be required to wade into a scrum of freshmen and sophomores to preserve the dignity of the university. And believe me, for those of us who know her, she *is* tough enough.

I say “us,” since I have known Drew for close to twenty years: in fact, she was instrumental to hiring this Radical for her first actual academic job, one that inexorably led to Better Things (although that job was, in itself, a better thing than the Radical had, which was adjunct work in the CUNY system.) And I am not surprised that this happened. In fact, I am sorry that there isn’t a betting pool for who will get college president jobs, since I would have won this one, although the odds would have been rotten. Practically everyone who knows Drew thought she would get this job, and the rumor mill has been grinding away for about a year and spitting out the same name every time. So, yay.

That said, here are a few random thoughts:

1. This is a victory for feminism, even if it did occur at Harvard. They will say it was about Drew’s qualifications, not her gender, and I believe that, but it is still a victory for feminism.

2. There is now an opening as Dean of the Radcliffe Institute. Ladies, start your engines.

3. I am going out on a limb here but — this will probably also signal a shift in hiring at Harvard, to wit: when minority, queer and female scholars apply for jobs there, it has a better chance of being a fair fight. I believe this, not because I believe Harvard is ripe for change, but because Drew will make it so. And she may even do it in such a way that Harvard believes diversifying its faculty was Harvard’s own idea in the first place.

4. Um…what am I doing with my life? I don’t think I work hard enough. Really.

I might conclude by saying that, on her way to the top, Drew has made a lot of friends. Since this is not always the case with people who are very, very successful, it is worth emphasizing. The other statement I want to make about this is: there are a lot of tenured people in my age bracket, left and feminist though they may be, who now have no excuse not to view themselves as members of the establishment because of this appointment. Even your queer Dr. Radical (who is vowing, even as she writes, to Work Harder.) As I wrote this afternoon to a friend who is also an old friend, colleague and ally of Drew’s, “You know you are settling into middle age respectability when one of your friends becomes President of Harvard. Please advise.”

She wrote back: “Absolutely…amazing.” And I think she was referring to all of the above.

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