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Harvard finally has a female president. She is Drew Gilpin Faust and replaces Lawrence Summers who had a short tenure in large part because he raised critical questions about the academic output of some of the university’s most esteemed African-American faculty members (Cornell West to be specific, who among other things put out a Rap record)) and, perhaps more transgressively, speculated about the genetic differences between males and females when it comes to scientific achievement. With that one, it was only a matter of days before the Harvard board would need to find a sinecure for him. Which they did.

Last week Dr. Faust was officially inaugurated and, as is traditional, she gave a speech. In it she touched all the right bases. From the NY Times report, here are a few selections:

The essence of a university is that it is uniquely accountable to the past and to the future — not simply or even primarily to the present.

A university is not about results in the next quarter.

Education is not to make men carpenters so much as to make carpenters men [and women?]
[Universities are] stewards of living tradition [places for] philosophers as well as scientists [where learning and knowledge are pursued] because they define what has over centuries made us human, not because they can enhance our global competitiveness.

What a string of corporatized clichés. Could she, if she tried, have come up with anything blander or safer? Perhaps after her Ivy League colleague, President Lee Bollinger of Columbia, made such a fool of himself the other day when he "introduced" President Ahmadinejad, ever mindful that her, as his, job is more about managing various continuances than speaking out on important social and cultural issues, especially keeping potential donors donating, she told them what they hired her to hear.

Then, almost at the same time, we had the spectacle of the president of another great university, Duke University, finally squeaking out a few words about the exoneration of his lacrosse team. Fully seven months after the Durham prosecutor was discredited, disbarred, and tossed in jail. President Richard Brodhead, let’s get his name out there in bold type, after initially condemning the team for their "racist and sexist actions," all at the time unproven, and after many of his faculty out of their own pockets paid for full-page ads that were equally accusatory, finally Brodhead offered a tepid version of an apology:

Brodhead said that he "regretted" Duke’s "failure to reach out" in a "time of extraordinary peril" after a woman accused three players of assaulting her at a team party in March 2006.

"Given the complexities of this case, getting the communicating right [emphasis added] would never have been easy, but the fact is that we [not "I"--again my emphasis] did not get it right, causing the families to feel abandoned [what about his students?] when they were most in need of support. This was a mistake. I take responsibility for it, and I apologize for it."

What a stand-up guy.

I remember the day when political leaders, including presidents of the United States, and journalists, and plain-old citizens looked to university presidents such as James Conant and Derek Bok and Clark Kerr and Theodore Hesberg to help put grand social issues into meaningful, objective context and to help us think about and solve our most daunting problems. When there was deep concern about the lack of civil rights for Negroes and ugly confrontations all over the nation as Blacks rose up to demand their rights, President Eisenhower selected Father Hesberg, president of Notre Dame to head the Civil Rights Commission and its reports, though they upset and at times angered some of Eisenhower’s successors, were deeply influential and helped shape the nation’s agenda.

There was even frequent talk about certain university leaders running for President of the U.S. Eisenhower, recall was the head of Columbia when he ran. God help us if we had to choose one now. I’d rather have Fred Thompson.

Originally posted to zwerlst on Mon Oct 15, 2007 at 08:35 AM PDT.

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