Will Summers' successor be a woman?

The shortlist for the Harvard presidency starts to take shape.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz
Published February 23, 2006 2:47PM (EST)

It has been less than 48 hours since Harvard University president Lawrence Summers resigned his post amid continued criticism from his faculty and colleagues. But speculation has already begun to swirl -- both on and off the Harvard campus -- around the subject of his successor.

According to an article published by Bloomberg yesterday, "the first names coming up as his possible successor are mostly women." While there is no way to know whether the emphasis on female candidates is a direct response to the controversial comments that put Summers in hot water with feminists and scholars last year, it's hard to believe, in light of the bitterness still plauging the university community, that the Harvard board could be unaware of the powerful subtext beneath its decision.

One name that seems to have made its way to the top of the shortlist is Drew Gilpin Faust, the dean of Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. But former Harvard professor Cornel West (who left the school after a conflict with Summers) tells Bloomberg that "Harvard should [also] consider as models Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania; Brown University's Ruth J. Simmons; and Princeton University's Shirley M. Tilghman." "They've got ... decency, empathy, maturity and vision,'' West explains.

Judith Ryan, a professor of German who was one of the leaders of the anti-Summers movement, agrees. "It would be delightful to see a woman rise to the list of finalists,'' Ryan told Bloomberg. "[But] we should just look as widely as we possibly can."

Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit thefastertimes.com/streetfood and Signs and Wonders.

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