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Drew Gilpin Faust
President, Harvard University

Faust forward: “Harvard makes major contributions to training and educating the leadership class, and we want to make sure that that group of leaders represents the broad range of humanity and ability.”

Drew Gilpin Faust Has Attacked Harvard's Diversity Problem

The elite institution's first female president has been on the job for seven years and has transformed its student body.

FAST COMPANY: A number of Harvard initiatives over the past decade have focused on increasing access to the university. Why?

Faust: There are many reasons. First, we want to offer Harvard's resources to the most talented students, whatever their backgrounds, whatever their financial circumstances. We want generous financial-aid policies that are clear and understandable, so that people with aspirations will think of Harvard as a possibility for them.

When we introduced the changes in the financial-aid program about 10 years ago, we really tried to get the message out very clearly, so people could say, "Well, if I come from a family that earns under $65,000 a year, there's no parental contribution." That's really clear. Now, additionally, if you come from a family where income is up to about $150,000 a year, you pay no more than 10% [of family income].

Having a diverse student body educates everyone. That will be the world in which our students will ­operate after they graduate.

We also think that Harvard makes major contributions to training and educating the leadership class, in political life, in academic life, and public service, and we want to make sure that that group of leaders represents the broad range of humanity and ability. It's an issue about the quality of the educational experience, and it's an issue also about justice.

What changes has this push created at Harvard?

To give you some numbers: 10 years ago, about 48% of undergraduates were on financial aid; now 60% are. About 20% of the class is in the group of $65,000 and below, so their parents are not paying anything. That's a shift in the demography and background of the class. We've tried to identify students who have talent but haven't necessarily had some of the opportunities that more well-resourced applicants might have. For example, we might identify a student who seems to have a lot of potential in science but is attending a high school where there are no laboratories. When a student like that comes to Harvard, we need to play catch-up and introduce them to what it means to work in a lab or what kind of math skills they need to have. That's changed some of our teaching.

You've made a big effort to get the word out, to reach schools and geographic areas you would not have focused on before.

Yeah. Dean William Fitzsimmons designed a whole set of travels and outreach to go along with the program. He also has a cadre of students who reach out to their communities and act as ambassadors. Some are even hired by the admissions office.

This increased-access program started a little before your tenure. What was the most difficult decision you've faced in expanding it?

In 2008–09, Harvard's endowment fell by 27%. We made major cuts in budgets across the university. We did not cut financial aid. In fact, we increased it, because we found so many families coming in midyear, saying, "This package I got no longer works, because my dad just got fired," or whatever it might be.

Did you find any resistance to that?

To be honest, some faculty said, "My program is really important. Where do I rank?" We explained that the basis of what we are, the foundation, is attracting talented students, and therefore, that is going to be a priority.

What else does Harvard need to do in terms of diversifying access to the university?

We've increased the numbers of women faculty by about 25% in the past 10 years, but they're still only, I think, about 28% of the faculty overall, 24% of the tenured faculty. That's something we continue to push on. We always ask the review faculty, "What women in this field did you consider? Did you cast the net as widely as possible to make sure that everybody of talent was considered?" We have developed elaborate training processes for people on search committees: how to cast a net widely, how to avoid using gendered language in letters, how to read recommendation letters with a sophisticated eye. A generation ago, a major professor would call the other major professors in his cohort and say, "Who've you got?" And that would be it. That never happens now.

Let's talk about the importance of liberal education, especially now. I recently moved out to Silicon Valley, where everything that supposedly defines progress has to do with new technologies. Clearly that's all very important, but should it overshadow the importance of a ­liberal education?

Let me invoke one of Silicon Valley's heroes, Steve Jobs, who would show a slide of two "street signs" at an intersection: technology and liberal arts. This was someone who turned to design as the critical differentiator for a technical product. The liberal arts were very much a part of what enabled him to be as innovative and as inventive as he was.

I was talking to [Google executive chairman] Eric Schmidt about this just a month ago. We don't know where the world's going. Technology is disrupting so many traditional assumptions, employment options, economic foundations that we don't know what kind of jobs students are going to have a decade from now. People need to have the skills and adaptability that will make them flexible enough to be successful in a world that we can't predict. So what are those kinds of skills?

Imagination. Insight. Perspective. So much of that comes from a breadth of experience that you can get through reading history, reading literature, thinking critically about yourself, challenging your taken-for-granted assumptions, and seeing that they may all change in a second because other people have challenged them in other times and places. There's a contingency that you come to understand through the liberal arts that is very much a part of our world, that best suits students for a lifetime of continuing to learn and adapt.

I was very struck by this on one of my first trips to China after becoming president. I sat down with a group of Chinese university leaders, and many from institutions that were business-oriented or science-oriented. They said, "We don't have enough of the humanities and the liberal arts in China. Our students don't know how to ask questions. They take too much for granted. They don't know how to use their imaginations to get beyond where we are to where we want to be." I was astonished.

Overall, what have you been most surprised to learn in your first seven years running Harvard?

Well, one thing I've come to understand is how important listening is to leadership. When you're listening, you're getting information. You're being given the gift of understanding where someone is, and leadership is about moving people from where they are to where you hope they'll go.

The other thing--and this seems in some ways at odds with what I just said--is that I am struck by how challenging it is to communicate messages in a large organization. You have to say them again and again and again. As a history scholar, if I publish something, I don't ever say it again. If I gave a speech that said the same thing as one of my published articles, everyone would shake their heads and say, "Well, she's done with. She doesn't have anything new to say." But a leader needs to have a message that can be identified, understood, and incorporated by the constituency you're trying to lead. So you just have to keep saying the same things over and over again.

What do you do with your time off?

My most recent indulgence has been Breaking Bad. I also did the whole House of Cards series in two weekends. It's all pretty evil, but disappearing into otherworldly television series is a good escape.

[Photos by Graeme Mitchell]

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10 Comments

  • caomingsun

    Miscarriage of justice is one horrible horrible thing that could ever happen to human society; it could result in the victims being further victimized; it could produce retaliatory fascism crimes directly from the judicial system;

    Yesterday, a man named JayJones argued on cnn dot com that "Apparently they are tolerated in human society, since neither of them have been arrested or imprisoned. What is your definition of fascist?"

    =========================== My answer:

    Dear Mr. JayJones,

    --- Miscarriage of justice is going on, and that's why neither Sebastian Thrun nor Gabriele Scheler have been arrested or imprisoned so far, while I as a victim am further victimized by their retaliatory fascism crimes; the case remain mystified and incomplete so far; and at this stage, the real problems are coming from the judicial system; Justice has not been done; (to be continued)

  • caomingsun

    --- The fact that Gabriele Scheler or Sebastian Thrun have not been arrested or imprisoned so far does not mean they are tolerated in human society; at least I know San Francisco State University fired Gabriele Scheler and Stanford partially fired Sebastian Thrun due to their involvement into such fascism crimes; and I am pretty sure both of them would be universally rejected as more and more people learn the fascism nature in their crimes;

    --- As I said before: "We are all made of human beings; you have your judgement, and we all have our own; Anybody with normal intelligence could easily figure out that there is something seriously wrong going on in this case;" I wonder who's the officer handling Gabriele Scheler and Sebastian Thrun's case? How would they explain the brutality from Gabriele Scheler on my body as evidenced in those 7 photos, in the first place?� h t t p : //t dot cn/SXQ6Rj (delete spaces in between, replace 'dot' with . to get the right web address) �

  • caomingsun

    --- What's the real identities of judicial officers (namely ZZZ/YYY/VVV) handling Gabriele Scheler's recanted testimony? How can I see their materials to accuse me? Can you let us know? I have serious questions to ask them;

  • caomingsun

    A simple campus atrocity case turned into a series of fascism crimes;

    This case is the the start point of a series of fascism crimes which got Sebastian Thrun in [Stanford police case number: IR #04-111-0335;Victim: Peter Cao; Criminal Suspect: Gabriele Scheler] http://t dot cn/SXQ6Rj (replace 'dot' with . for the right web link) --- attention to the 7 photo evidence to see how inhuman people from this suspect lady is --- here is the link to Gabriele Scheler's website ---- http://t dot cn/RPbiq5G (replace 'dot' with . for the right web link) Sebastian Thrun and Gabriele Scheler and the likes, have to be brought to justice; They can't escape from it :)

  • caomingsun

    It is a tough task to fight against such anti-humanity crimes which are fascism by nature; As a victim of a series of fascism crimes associated with Gabriele Scheler, Sebastian Thrun and the likes, what I posted on the web are no more than facts, facts those fascists I challenged dare never publicly deny; I bet such of their fascism crimes would not be tolerated anywhere in human society; If anyone disagree, especially those I publicly challenged, please give us a candid answer right here on this board; --- equal opportunity and freedom of speech :)

  • caomingsun

    Sebastian Thrun 一方法西斯势力对歧视谋害弱小无辜毫无悔意,他们至今仍认为我受他们歧视迫害“是当然的(certainly)应当的(plausible)" --- 在此案未澄清前,和那些法西斯份子没有认识到歧视谋害他人是有罪的之前,我不愿意看到这个法西斯份子 Sebastian Thrun被宣扬;Sebastian Thrun 和他背后的法西斯份子行为有违人文主义基本准则(against the basic principles of humanity), 他们应当受到法律制裁;

  • caomingsun

    The point is, though I am a victim while Gabriele Scheler a criminal suspect, my life has been underhandedly cursed and systematically molested by fascism powers behind Sebastian Thrun for over 10 years without an end ever since Gabriele Scheler recanted her testimony and falsely accused me at somewhere unknown to me in the judicial system; Sebastian Thrun and Gabriele Scheler's follow up retaliatory crimes had been collateralled by some officers (namely ZZZ/YYY/VVV) who's handling Scheler's recanted testimony in the judicial system, and who hided their identities from me during these many years till today; Neither did I ever see their materials to accuse me, nor did I get a chance to defend myself; i.e. their underhanded retaliatory fascism crimes are coming from the judicial system, as well; --- Miscarriage of justice is going on;

  • caomingsun

    There is actually a war between fascism and anti-fascism, at this stage, fascism still prevails in our lives; Sebastian Thrun and Gabriele Scheler are just front figures we could see in a fascism circle, there is a whole pack of fascists behind them to cover up their crimes and to retaliate on victims; However, Those fascism crimes associated with Sebastian Thrun and Gabriele Scheler and the likes are against the basic principles of humanity, such fascism crimes have to be disciplined by laws and such fascists like Gabriele Scheler and Sebastian Thrun and the likes have to be brought to justice; they can't escape from it :)

  • caomingsun

    --- How could a simple campus atrocity case which also get Eric Schmidt in grow into a series of fascism crimes? --- Miscarriage of justice is going on; — Sebastian Thrun, Udacity Co-founder, had collateralled with a criminal suspect named gabriele scheler in a series of fascism crimes starting from a Stanford campus atrocity case — Stanford police case number: IR #04-111-0335;Victim: Peter Cao; Criminal Suspect: Gabriele Scheler] — h t t p ://t dot cn/SXQ6Rj (delete spaces in between, replace 'dot' with . to get the right web address) — attention to the 7 photo evidence to see how cruel people from this fascism circle are —, which led to the tragic death of an innocent Asian Stanford student, Thrun is not innocent in an unsuccessful plotted murder on me either and I have been cursed by fascism powers from Sebastian Thrun and Gabriele Scheler’s side for many years.

  • Avrum Fine

    The ONLY diversity problem anyone has is with the know-nothings who complain about diversity.