Harvard has new female president

The “U” has never had a female president, but women are well represented.

Emma Carew

Although the University has never had a female president, it certainly has made its contribution to the process.

In 1923, University alumna Ada Comstock became the first woman to lead a college or university when she became the third president of Radcliffe College.

More than 80 years later, Dr. Drew Faust joined a growing list of female university presidents as the first female president at Harvard University.

Faust, who also led Radcliffe before ascending to the Harvard presidency, was inaugurated last month.

In the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, an academic consortium consisting of the Big Ten schools plus the University of Chicago, there are four female presidents.

“These are relatively recent changes,” Vice Provost for faculty and academic affairs Arlene Carney said.

In a 2005 survey of more than 1,000 schools by the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 20 percent of college and university presidents were women.

At the University, women can be seen in leadership positions across the board. One-third of the Regents are women, including current chair Patricia Simmons. Nearly half the Twin Cities campus deans are women.

In particular, the University is home to deans of colleges encompassing fields not considered traditional for women,

such as medicine and business.

“That’s quite unusual,” Carney said of Carlson School of Management dean Alison Davis-Blake. “There are very few women deans of business schools.”

When Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity Rusty Barceló was a student and early in her career, her professional role models were “certainly not women,” she said, “because there weren’t any.”

Women in the position of university president “shows to all students, be they female or male, what is possible,” Barceló said. “People can see that leadership is continuous.”

Carney said she too lacked female role models as a student.

“When I was a graduate student, I never had a course from a single female professor,” she said.

One of the steps the CIC talks about in terms of creating leaders is for someone to visualize him or herself as a leader, Carney said.

“It was really difficult to visualize being a chair of a department or being a dean,” she said, “because I didn’t see women in those roles.”

The high numbers of women in leadership roles at the University was one of the reasons Barceló was attracted to the school.

“Women account for more than 50 percent of all students (on campus),” she said, “and it’s beginning to show that.”

More important than making progress toward a female president is working toward increasing numbers of women throughout the administration, Carney said.

“The president is a symbol, the highest leader,” she said, “(but) you really need to have more people in different places.”

Ziva Danneker, an officer of the Women’s Student Activist Collective, said she doesn’t think a female president should change anything about the position because there aren’t any inherent differences between men and women in leadership positions.

“The fact that it’s taken so long says a lot about the stereotypes and misconceptions we have in society,” Danneker said.

“I think there’s just a general misunderstanding or fear that women in those positions can’t handle the responsibility,” she said.