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Freakonomics

The Harvard President Will See You Now

Drew Gilpin Faust was installed as the president of Harvard University in 2007. Her immediate predecessor was Derek Bok, a longtime Harvard president (from 1971-1991) who came back for one year as acting president after the short and stormy tenure of Lawrence Summers. Faust had spent 25 years as a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and later became dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. As a historian, her specialty is the Civil War and slavery; among her books is Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War.

In the podcast, Faust answers some of the FREAK-quently Asked Questions we’ve put to people like Aziz Ansari, Boris Johnson, and Nate Silver. But we spend most of the time talking about things like:

+ Her background:

“I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in rural Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley in a conservative community in a conservative family, a traditional family, in which my mother said to me, “It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you figure that out, the happier you’ll be.” So the expectation for young women in that environment was that they would grow up and marry and have children and that they would be subservient in significant ways to the aspirations, ambitions, and agendas of the men whom they married.”

+ Whether her appointment as Harvard president was a “token” female appointment in response to the volatile response over Larry Summers’s comments on the underrepresentation of women in the sciences:

“Well, I didn’t feel that I was a token appointment because I didn’t think that the Harvard Corporation would make token appointments. They’re not that kind of group. I felt that I had been chosen on the merits. But there were plenty of people who, outside of that realm, who’ve accused me of being a token appointment or alleged that I was a token appointment.”

+ What a university endowment is for, and what it’s not for:

First of all, an endowment is made up of gifts given to the university over time that are legally bound to certain uses. So some of the endowment is restricted to funding a French professor, or funding student aid. And that means that we have to use the income from that money for that particular purpose. And also at the same time preserve the corpus of the gift so it can continue to fund that in perpetuity.

We also talk about the amazing letter that the nine-year-old Faust sent to President Eisenhower. 

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