Five success secrets we can learn from Harvard’s first female president

Drew Faust, Harvard’s first female president, announced yesterday that she will be stepping down on June 30, 2018, which will be 11 years after she became the school’s 28th president. The New York Times reported “it had been widely assumed that Dr. Faust, 69, the university’s 28th president, would leave her post soon. Although her term will not last as long as those of some of her predecessors, she was nearly 60 when she took office.”

[pullquote] Those students’ freedom from heavy student loans will be Faust’s legacy.[/pullquote]

“It has been a privilege beyond words to work with all of you to lead Harvard…‘through change and through storm.’ We have shared ample portions of both over the last decade and have confronted them together in ways that have made the university stronger—more integrated both intellectually and administratively, more effectively governed, more open and diverse, more in the world and across the world, more innovative and experimental,” Faust wrote in a message.

Many would give Faust high marks for her leadership of the top Ivy League school, so we mined her career for ideas on how to imitate her success.

Aim higher than you could imagine

Under Faust, Harvard publicly launched The Harvard Campaign in 2013, a fundraising initiative striving to rack up $6.5 billion, which reportedly  “if successful, would be the largest ever in higher education.” It was a hugely ambitious target.

The campaign ends next year, but the funds have soared way beyond the $6.5 billion mark—to grow past a staggering $8 billion.

Help others in substantial ways

Harvard’s endowment is legendary, and Faust could have been declared a success by just growing the number. But she put it to use to dramatically change the lives of Harvard students. Even though the value of Harvard’s endowment value dipped by a whopping 27% in 2009, during the economic downturn, Faust rallied for increased financial aid, so reportedly, “student aid University-wide” has gone up every year of her presidency, to $539 million last year from $339 million in 2007.

[pullquote] Faust has encouraged Harvard students to use their talents to improve the world. [/pullquote]

Many graduates of the the Class of 2016 have reportedly left the prestigious university entirely debt-free— more than a whopping three-quarters of them. Additionally, more than half of the students at the school get need-based financial aid. Their parents pay $12,000 every year, on average. Those students’ freedom from heavy student loans will be Faust’s legacy.

Champion diversity

The “One Harvard” initiative brought together Harvard College and the institution’s graduate and professional schools, and introduced “Harvard’s community to new and diverse populations,” among many other accomplishments.

Faust also started the Presidential Task Force for Inclusion and Belonging.

Two of its emphasized goals are: “understanding the demographic realities across the University and how to improve the success of efforts to increase diversity” and “the lived experience and common culture here and how it might be transformed to promote full belonging and empowerment for all members of the community.”

There has been ample proof that diversity helps companies work better; Faust recognized that the same policy works in schools, too.

Give back

Faust has encouraged Harvard students to use their talents to improve the world.

For Public Service Week in 2009, Faust wrote about how public service applies to your career in a piece for The Harvard Crimson.

“If you are one of the majority of undergraduates interested in public service, it may become the focus of your career; it may be a stepping stone as you build a career in another field; or it may be a dimension of a multifaceted life. Whatever path you take, and for however long, you are choosing to do something of great importance: to give your talent, time, and energy to something larger than yourself,” Faust wrote.

Provide others with opportunities to learn

While Harvard is highly exclusive, Faust pushed the university to be available in more democratic ways.

During her leadership, Harvard and MIT launched an online education platform called edX in 2012, which offers free courses and has more than 90 international partners,  and four million accounts have been made.

Faust is sure to leave a lasting legacy when she steps down next year— a search for the next president is expected to start in the weeks ahead.