Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Woman at Harvard? What Would Goethe Say?

Dear Dr. Faust,

"Nor past nor future now the soul employ,
The present only constitutes our joy." That's what he'd say!

Or, well, I'd say that, anyway, on the occasion of your appointment to the presidency of Harvard. And according to the news article I read,

"Some Harvard professors, particularly women, greeted the decision with euphoria. 'Harvard’s waited a long time — since 1636,' said Patricia Albjerg Graham, an emeritus professor of the history of education at Harvard, recalling that when she was a postdoctoral fellow in 1972, she was not allowed to enter the main door of the faculty club or eat in the main dining room."

So, Harvard has been waiting since long before Goethe and his Faust (1808) for women, and for one particular woman, to tempt fate and take the helm. Holy cow, this is like walking on the moon. One small step for a human, one giant leap for humankind.

It's not that we feminists should go overboard, making distinctions. That, I suppose is what got us into the mess of oppression in the first place. What we are looking for is fine folk of all types, folk with special talents to offer. And from what "they" are saying you are a "special folk." I read that,

"Faculty members and officials familiar with the search said Dr. Faust’s leadership style — her collaborative approach and considerable people skills — would be vital for soothing a campus ripped apart by the battles over Dr. Summers, whom many accused of having an abrasive, confrontational style. 'She combines outstanding scholarship with an uncanny ability to administer both well and with a heart,' said Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

"In the end, some Harvard professors said, Dr. Faust’s management style might have been more important to the nine members of the presidential search committee than any desire to name a woman. 'My own sense is that it’s a new template for leadership, and that probably is not unrelated to gender, but it ought not get eclipsed by it,' said Richard P. Chait, a professor of higher education at Harvard. Dr. Chait, who studies university management, noted that in several recent changes of leadership of major American corporations, tough, even bullying leaders were replaced by more mild-mannered consensus builders."

Now, I'm not one who believes there is no difference between men and women. And I think that it has taken some time in the progress of gender relations in the West for women to rise to leadership who did not tend toward what might be termed "the masculine" in their leadership style. And thank goodness for those leaders. But now, are we ready for women to bring to the table what women have to offer, to lead in a way that women are especially skilled? And then, without distinction, but fully appreciating what you and other women have to offer, we can better appreciate all things, and we can better find our kindred selves in others, men and women. As Goethe would say,

"[Words] must flow out from the heart.
And, when the soul is touched with passion's flame,
We look around and ask - Who burns the same?"

So this week, news of Dr. Faust’s selection was greeted warmly by Harvard students and particularly because you are a woman who represents well the passions that enflame many of us who are women and many who are men. "It’s about time," said Elisa Olivieri, a junior. "Talent is no longer ‘single, male, childless.’ It’s an excellent acknowledgement that the face of talent has changed.”



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