First woman president of Harvard to step down in 2018 after 11 years at the helm

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 3:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 3:46am

Drew Gilpin Faust, the first woman to lead Harvard University, will step down next June after an 11-year tenure marked by record-fundraising and an effort to bounce back from the financial impact of the credit crisis, especially on its lagging endowment.

Faust, an author and Civil War historian, succeeded Larry Summers, an economist and former US Treasury Secretary who resigned in 2006 following a series of controversies including comments about women’s aptitude for science and engineering.

“It has been a privilege beyond words to work with all of you to lead Harvard,” Faust said in a statement Wednesday. “I am deeply grateful to every member of this community.”

Faust presided over a capital campaign that has raised more than US$8 billion for Harvard, the nation’s wealthiest and oldest university, which was founded in 1636.

Her tenure was also marked by financial difficulties, with the university’s endowment losing almost 30 per cent of its value in 2009 following the global credit crisis. Harvard has struggled to right the US$36 billion fund since then, trailing peers such as Yale University in investment returns.

Faust inherited an ambitious expansion of its main Cambridge, Massachusetts campus across the Charles River into Boston. She then downsized and delayed construction after the credit crisis. A new master plan from 2013 includes innovation labs, residences and a science and engineering complex scheduled to open in 2020.

She sought to expand undergraduate financial aid, extending more support to middle-income families. The university said it spent US$539 million on student aid in 2016, up from US$339 million in 2007 when Faust took the helm.

Faust also waded into some contentious campus debates. She brought Navy ROTC back to campus in 2011, re-establishing a military training unit that had been banned for decades in a legacy of the Vietnam War.

Citing a history of gender discrimination and risk of sexual assault, she also led a controversial effort to ban members of Harvard’s elite all-male final clubs from holding school leadership roles and gaining endorsements for coveted fellowships.

“Drew made the toughest job in higher education look easy,” Lawrence Bacow, the former president of Tufts University who joined the Harvard Corporation during Faust’s tenure, said in an email.

“She made substantial progress in making a notoriously fractious university function as one institution. She also instituted changes in governance that will have profound and positive effects for generations to come.”