Members of the Harvard community and beyond reacted Thursday to Harvard President Drew Faust’s announcement that she will step down next year by recalling her decade of accomplishments, which they said included unifying Harvard, guiding it through the financial crisis, increasing its diversity and inclusivity, and being a forceful champion for higher education.
In citing her accomplishments, most speakers also mentioned the characteristics she brought to every challenge: integrity, honesty, and compassion.
“President Faust has excelled as a leader across all domains, from the intellectual and the organizational to the ethical and the human. … Most importantly, she is a model of integrity who exemplifies and stewards organizational values of honesty, responsibility, empathy, and public service,” said Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard, professor of government and education, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. “I’ll miss having her in this role but heartily welcome her back to the company of scholars.”
Kenji Yoshino, former president of the Harvard Board of Overseers, said Faust’s achievements make it difficult to summarize her legacy simply, but he agreed that her personal qualities stand out.
“I know of no leader with such gifts of mind and heart,” Yoshino said. “She has made Harvard a more excellent and a more compassionate institution, not least by insisting that compassion itself is a quality that admits of excellence. We shall not see her like again.”
Shirley Tilghman, a member of the Harvard Corporation and president of Princeton University from 2001 until 2013, lent her perspective as someone who led a peer institution, saying that Harvard’s visibility and prominence made Faust’s job that much tougher.
“The job of being president of an institution as complex, and frankly, as important and visible as Harvard just cannot be understated,” Tilghman said. “Harvard, in many respects, is the most visible and prominent university in the world. Whatever happens at Harvard matters not just at Harvard, it matters enormously to the rest of higher education. So that puts a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of the president to continue to represent higher education in the most positive way.”
A groundbreaking appointment
When Faust was named Harvard’s 28th president, she became its first female leader, a choice that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said has proven “historic.” Shaiba Rather ’17, who as president of the Undergraduate Council often interacted with Faust, said she realized last fall — when the country didn’t elect its first woman president — how important Faust’s distinction is for young women.
“I think mostly it was truly an honor to have a role model like President Faust,” Rather said.
Rather, who was a student member of the Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, said Faust’s efforts to make the University more welcoming to students of all backgrounds stood out to her. Rather also said Faust’s success at fundraising also was important because it allowed an increase in aid for students with limited means to pay tuition.
Faust had little time to settle into the job after being appointed in 2007, as the country plunged into the 2008-09 financial crisis, a key test in which Tilghman said Faust displayed a steadying hand.
Tilghman also said that Faust’s work to open Harvard’s doors to qualified students across the economic spectrum at home and abroad was critically important, as was her work to get the University’s Schools and offshoots to work together through her “One Harvard” initiative.
“I’ve been impressed at the extent to which that [One Harvard] message has been internalized by the University, and I think, as a consequence, it’s a much stronger university,” Tilghman said. “The complexity of Harvard — the famous tubs on their own bottoms — makes leading Harvard really a matter of character. In many respects, the president’s most important management tool is her voice, her integrity, and her bully pulpit. Drew used all of those to tremendous effect over the last 10 years.”
Another Ivy League leader, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, said she was not surprised at Faust’s success.
“I have enormous admiration for Drew Faust as an academic bridge-builder and a truly transformational leader,” Gutmann said. “Celebrating Drew’s inauguration in 2007, I predicted she’d be Harvard’s ‘president of reinvention.’ Drew has proven that prediction true and, if anything, an understatement. She has served during some of most challenging times with tremendous grace and substance, bringing strategic and creative vision to the University and moving Harvard forward as one. All of us in higher education admire her inspirational leadership and stellar scholarship. I’m proud of her as a pre-eminent presidential colleague, a pioneering leader of my ever-more-inclusive alma mater, and a phenomenal friend.”
The leaders of Harvard’s host communities, Cambridge and Boston, said that Faust worked to link the University to the two cities through collaborative programs and new initiatives.
“Drew Faust has worked hard to ensure the relationship between Harvard University and the city of Cambridge is a true partnership. We have grown together and learned together,” said Cambridge city manager Louis DePasquale. “Her commitment to the community — from working together to improve Cambridge’s public schools, to creating and fostering collaborative efforts regarding the environment and sustainability, to ensuring that the community continues to be able to access all that Harvard has to offer — has helped to ensure that Cambridge remains a remarkable place to live and work. My colleagues in city government and I look forward to working with her in the coming year and wish her well in in the future, no matter where her plans take her.”
Walsh praised Faust’s efforts to make Harvard accessible to a wider range of students, saying, “In the 10 years that President Faust has led one of the best universities in the world, she has made attending Harvard more affordable and accessible to all. Her efforts to support scientific research, sustainability, and the arts make her an invaluable leader in higher education, as well as making history herself as the University’s first female president. We’re grateful for the ideas and initiatives she brings to the cities of Cambridge and Boston.”
A stronger institution
Michael Smith, the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said Faust will leave a stronger institution to her successor.
“President Faust’s exceptional leadership has strengthened every part of this institution and positioned Harvard well for the rapidly developing challenges and opportunities of our time,” Smith said. “I cannot overstate the gratitude I feel for her efforts to create an unparalleled learning environment for our undergraduate and graduate students and an intellectually generative environment for our faculty and staff.”
Rakesh Khurana, the Danoff Dean of Harvard College, hailed Faust’s innovative achievements and said he has benefited personally from working with her.
“For the past decade, Harvard University is fortunate to have been stewarded by such an innovative, forward-thinking leader,” Khurana said. “President Faust’s legacy is a globally respected institution that stands for the truth, inspires breakthrough research, and models the role that higher education plays in elevating ourselves and our world. From a personal perspective, she has been a role model of kindness, thoughtfulness, and integrity. I am a better person for having worked with her, and I look forward to working with her in the coming year.”
Faust’s support for improving undergraduate life embraced such key concerns as diversity, sexual assault, race, and single-gender social organizations, according to Diana Eck, the Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society and faculty dean of Lowell House.
“I think one of the most important things for faculty deans has been that Drew has met with us for a discussion at least once and sometimes twice a year. … She is enormously receptive to the concerns of House life and supportive of the Harvard College residential system. Whether it be the difficult issues of sexual assault, single-gender social organizations, or race and diversity, she was always out front as a thoughtful listener and leader,” Eck said.
“As a faculty member, I have appreciated her openness to radical, cross-disciplinary projects, such as the Kumbh Mela project [in India] that involved not only me and Rahul Mehrotra at the Graduate School of Design, but faculty from across the University, including in public health, business, and public policy. She clearly understands that departments can become ossified and that the future will involve much more thinking and teaching across departmental lines.”
Though the financial crisis predated their years on campus, current Harvard College students gave Faust credit for managing the institution through that troubling time, and for preserving important priorities such as financial aid and House renewal. Nonetheless, Undergraduate Council members Victor Agbafe, who lives in the recently renovated Dunster House, and Alex Popovski, both juniors, said that much of Faust’s lasting legacy will come not from big-ticket items, but from her efforts to make a more diverse Harvard campus, safe and welcoming for all.
Agbafe cited the Classroom to Table program, which provides funds for faculty members to meet informally with students over dinner, as an example of the impact that can come from low-cost community-building efforts. “That’s not just her throwing money at something saying, ‘O.K., now be happy,’” Agbafe said. “That’s her saying, ‘Students we want you to feel you’re part of this institution.’”
Agbafe also praised her willingness to tackle the sometimes difficult legacy of past wrongs, like slavery on campus, in a way that helps students make sense of what came before. “I think she’s helped to keep the dialogue going,” Agbafe said. “I think we definitely have to appreciate that.”
Popovski said Faust’s leadership has been important off campus as well, in her support for undocumented students and the DREAM Act, and for the humanities and the arts. In addition, he said that initiatives in online education through edX and HarvardX extend Harvard’s reach well beyond its borders, something he is witnessing firsthand. Popovski is spending the summer working in Tanzania, and some of his coworkers and friends are taking classes through edX, an online collaboration among Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other institutions.
“President Faust deserves credit not only for a steady brand of leadership,” Popovski said, “but also for a forward-thinking and value-driven one — in her own words, ‘as bold as it is thoughtful.’”
Looking to the year ahead
Despite the many accolades coming her way, Faust still has a year in office, and Agbafe said he expects she will continue to use her bully pulpit to build a more inclusive Harvard community.
Tilghman said the next year, which doubtless will include challenges to tackle, ought to include some celebration of both Faust’s legacy and of her leadership of University’s capital campaign, which will conclude when her term does and which recently topped $8 billion.
Looking even further ahead, Tilghman, as a former Ivy League president herself, offered some advice for Faust targeted to July 1, 2018.
“My first recommendation is: Don’t agree to do anything for about a year. Just enjoy the freedom … in having more opportunities to spend time with family and friends. Think about what the next stage in life will look like,” Tilghman suggested, adding that Faust’s time will remain in demand. “She’s going to be asked to do virtually everything.”