Monday, February 12, 2007

Harvard's New President

Historian Drew Gilpin Faust has been named Harvard's new president and the first woman in that role. Poor president Faust. I truly sympathize with any woman having to do one of those "firstwomanevah!" jobs. It's absolutely the pits. She will be asked "the woman's" opinion on everything, with the assumption that all billions of women think exactly the same, and her decisions will be screened for any microdot-sized indications that she might favor women over men. If she does well she will be given credit. If she does poorly, women will be blamed. That's how it goes.

Grumpy writing, that. It was caused by this article on president Faust. I will extract the relevant bits for your benefit:

With Faust's appointment, half of the eight Ivy League schools will have a woman as president. Her selection is noteworthy given the uproar over Summers' comments that genetic differences between the sexes might help explain the dearth of women in top science jobs, comments which sparked debates about equality at Harvard and nationwide.

Faust oversaw the creation of two faculty task forces, formed in the aftermath of Summers' remarks, to examine gender diversity at Harvard. She has been dean of Radcliffe since 2001, two years after the former women's college was merged into the university as a research center with a mission to study gender issues.


Some professors have quietly groused that _ despite the growing centrality of scientific research to Harvard's budget _ the 371-year-old university is appointing a fifth consecutive president who is not a scientist. No scientist has had the top job since James Bryant Conant retired in 1953; its last four have come the fields of classics, law, literature and economics.


While the presidential search was marked by disciplined secrecy _ committee members met behind closed doors in a Georgian mansion and were quietly ushered away in idling Lincoln Town Cars _ it also revealed an embarrassing trend: several top-tier candidates said they weren't interested.

In January, Thomas R. Cech, head of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a Nobel prize winner, asked the search committee to remove him from consideration. The presidents of Columbia, Brown and Princeton all said they did not want the job.

All this might be quite true and part of good reporting on the issue. But my inner grump noticed that the story first implies that Faust was selected because of the Summers controversy and the little bit about sciences being neglected looked to me like a jab in the same direction. Then the end of the story appears to tell us that they had to spoon up the dregs at the bottom of the pot to appoint her. You know, like an affirmative action hire in the anti-feminists' fevered imagination.

Which is quite ridiculous, naturally. Faust is eminently qualified and deserves the job. If we dug in a similar manner in the background of every hiring committee's work, what would we find? Much nastier things to report. But we don't usually do that. Usually the person's appointment is written up in nice and laudatory terms.