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First Female Harvard President Discusses Priorities and Goals

Harvard University named historian Drew Gilpin Faust as its first female president Sunday. The announcement ended the search for a successor to Lawrence Summers, whose remarks on genetic differences between the sexes sparked controversy. Faust discusses her new role.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, a conversation with the next president of Harvard University. Drew Gilpin Faust was selected this weekend to become the first woman to lead Harvard in its 371-year history.

    She's a Civil War historian, former professor at the University of Pennsylvania, now the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She will take over as president of Harvard in July. And she joins us tonight from Cambridge.

    Dr. Faust, first, welcome and congratulations.

    DREW GILPIN FAUST, Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study: Thank you very much.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Just on a personal level, how important is it to you to become president of Harvard University?

  • DREW GILPIN FAUST:

    Well, it's an enormous thrill for me. It represents a chance to contribute to higher education, which has been my whole adult life, in a new and extraordinarily important way. And I'm very excited at the prospect.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Does it matter that you're the first woman to be president of Harvard?

  • DREW GILPIN FAUST:

    Well, I think — I want to say two things about that. One thing I said yesterday, when I was announced and someone asked me a similar question, I think it's important that I'm the president of Harvard, not the woman president of Harvard.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure.

  • DREW GILPIN FAUST:

    On the other hand, I've just been overwhelmed by people's responses, e-mails, phone calls, messages, from women and men, really all over the world, saying how much this means, young women saying you're an inspiration, people bringing their little girls to come shake my hand.

    I think it has enormous symbolic meaning that there is now a woman president of Harvard or will be on July 1.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But it's only symbolic, you think?

  • DREW GILPIN FAUST:

    No, I think it symbolizes important changes in the place of women in higher education, the place of women in public life, the place of women in America, and the world more generally.

    But it's more than me. I mean, I'm the symbol. But the reality that lies behind it is much broader than Harvard, or me, or even higher education.

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