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Harvard’s first female president stepping down

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2016

    Harvard President Drew Faust, center, receives applause while proceeding toward the podium at the start of Harvard University commencement exercises in Cambridge, Mass.

BOSTON >> Nearly a decade after she became Harvard University’s first female president, Drew Faust is making plans to step down.

Faust, 69, announced today that she will leave her post at the end of the upcoming school year, which will also mark the end of a major fundraising campaign Harvard launched in 2013.

“On June 30, 2018, I will complete my 11th year, and the Harvard Campaign will reach its conclusion,” Faust said in an email to university students, faculty and staff. “It will be the right time for the transition to Harvard’s next chapter, led by a new president.”

A noted historian of the American South and the Civil War, Faust plans to take a sabbatical and return to her scholarship after stepping down.

She had never been a college president when she was hired in 2007, previously serving as dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Her predecessor in the top job, Lawrence Summers, had been pressured out after five contentious years that brought him into conflict with many faculty members. The school’s current leaders say Faust quickly mended those bridges and gained trust on campus.

“She came into office after a period of strife and controversy on campus, and she quickly restored trust and a sense of common purpose,” William F. Lee, the leader of Harvard’s governing board, said in a statement today. “She was also able to introduce her own personality and leadership style — characterized by calm, candor and listening — to the campus as she ensured forward progress.”

Over the last decade, Faust has been credited with fostering collaboration among Harvard’s academic factions, expanding financial aid for students and serving as a champion for both the arts and the sciences. Under her leadership, the school’s current fundraising campaign has brought in $8 billion with a year to go, already topping the $6.5 billion goal.

But she has also faced her share of challenge and controversy.

Faust’s administration has drawn backlash from alumni and faculty over efforts to crack down on all-male social clubs. Black students have demanded greater diversity on a campus where some say they feel isolated. In November, Faust suspended the men’s soccer team over a lewd “scouting report” that made sexual comments about the women’s soccer team.

And last year, Harvard’s $35.7 billion endowment posted a 2 percent loss on its investments, its worst performance since 2009.

In her last year as president, Faust said, she will focus on fighting threats to federal funding for research, attracting top students, staff and faculty, and “advancing the work of inclusion and belonging that enables every member of our community to thrive.”

University officials say a search committee will be assembled in coming weeks to find a replacement.

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