Phi Beta Cons

Faust Comes to Harvard

Harvard’s choice of Drew Gilpin Faust as its new president has all the hallmarks of a penitential act. Faust enters the presidency of the world’s foremost university rather light on executive experience, but very strong in feminist advocacy. Following Larry Summers’s forced departure, and the recommendations of Harvard’s Task Force on Women Faculty which Faust headed, comes this crowning institutional mea culpa, (or, should one say, surrender?).

The big worry is that the strong pressures Harvard’s great scientific research centers already feel to subordinate hiring decisions to the needs of social engineering will now be ratcheted up markedly. So far, aggressive quota hiring has had its most deleterious effects on Harvard, and academe as a whole, in the “softer fields” of the humanities and social sciences. As serious as these have been, translating the practice into the natural sciences poses enormously more peril for higher education and the nation at large. In this context, one wonder’s exactly what Faust had in mind when she said, in her first public comments as president-elect, that there is a need to bridge the two cultures of the sciences and humanities? Where Harvard goes, others are likely to follow.

It is worth noting that while many are rejoicing at Harvard’s choice, they’re also rushing to deny any implication that academe’s “glass ceiling” can now be definitively considered smashed. The potential of the “discourse of shame” — the moralistic aggression at the heart of radicalism’s cultural ascendancy — is far from exhausted.

Stephen H. Balch was the founding president of the National Association of Scholars. In 2007 he received the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush.