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John Harvard's Journal

Radcliffe Ramps Up

September-October 2001

Things are different at Fay House. As the academic year begins, Drew Gilpin Faust, the Civil War historian who is the first dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (RI), has made sweeping changes in programs and personnel, including a series of senior academic appointments. In the process, the form of something new in American higher education has begun to become visible: a scholarly institute of advanced study, operating as part of a university and committed to a broad intellectual agenda that includes work on women, gender, and society.

When she arrived in January, Faust says, her conversations with staff members made it clear that "Radcliffe has been in transition ever since they can remember." From the series of "nonmerger merger" agreements between Radcliffe and Harvard Colleges during the 1970s (by which student residences, admissions, and finally all aspects of undergraduate life were combined), the institution had constantly been "becoming something," but never achieving a settled identity or purpose. In contrast, the agreement reached in April 1999 to bring Radcliffe into the University altered its legal status and staked out what Faust calls "a clear definition of Radcliffe as an institute for advanced study."

As dean, Drew Gilpin Faust is moving swiftly to give substance to Radcliffe's reincarnation as an institute for advanced study, focused on the intellectual excellence of its fellows.

Photograph by John Soares

Giving that definition substance has involved both re- and deconstruction. Much of the necessary work was outlined in the report of an ad hoc advisory committee convened by former president Neil L. Rudenstine at Faust's request (see "Radcliffe Consults Its Compass," May-June, page 62). She describes its essence as moving Radcliffe from doing a "whole grab bag" of things (left over from the days of undergraduate education or grafted onto the institution since) toward a single focus on intellectual excellence centered in the institute's appointed fellows.

There, of course, the institute can build on precedent: Radcliffe's Bunting Institute sustained the work of many distinguished women through its annual fellowships. In the new institute, Faust expects several adaptations, reflecting the fact that "it is a different world for women." When the Bunting was launched in 1961, it envisioned a year of "independent study" for women who often were not salaried, and who needed help with day care or other support; moreover, the fellowships were, for the most part, not funded. Today, most likely fellows hold professional jobs and the fellowships are fully funded, making possible what Faust calls a "more substantial escape from regular life" for even senior scholars. In other words, given women's professional progress in the past 40 years, fellows now come from a different population, with different needs.

As an explicitly academic community, therefore, the institute in her formulation is genuinely a place for "advanced study"--thinking, writing, or artistic creation--rather than for the "independent study" of yore. To alumnae concerned that the new Radcliffe's fellowships will slight women from unconventional backgrounds, Faust reiterates the primacy of the academic mission, but also speaks about "attracting mavericks" in diverse fields and taking advantage of "a kind of suppleness" not available within Harvard's schools, where tenure holds sway.

Under the institute's charter, and consistent with past fellowship awards, Faust intends to bring in artists, professional women, and academics--ranging from junior faculty members, for whom a year of research time might be the stepping stone to tenure, to those at the most senior level, whose work promises intellectual breakthroughs. (For more on this year's fellows, see "From Playwriting to Physics," page 60).

That said, Faust is modifying the program in several ways. The number of fellows has been reduced, from 60 to about 45, to promote collegiality and emphasize the candidates' quality. (She relishes announcing that one in 20 applicants was accepted this year, making it "harder to get into the Radcliffe Institute than it is to get into Harvard College.") Rather than vesting fellowships in a separate Bunting Institute, the program has been moved directly into the dean's office, where she can be closely involved. (The Bunting name will be retained for some future use.) The selection process is being altered to promote national and international outreach and to engage more distinguished scholarly reviewers for the applications, ending what she calls "any parochial perspectives that might intrude."

Faust is also changing the fellowships' intellectual structure. Because Radcliffe differs from the institutes for advanced study focused on behavioral sciences and the humanities (in, respectively, Palo Alto and North Carolina's Research Triangle Park), the ad hoc committee envisioned creating groups of fellows who work on certain subjects or themes over the course of several years, among themselves and with Harvard faculty members, during annual term fellowships or appointments lasting a few years. Beyond the benefits to the fellows themselves, Faust envisions these clusters of scholars exerting an influence on Harvard, linking departments and schools and making it possible to advance work on women, gender, and society across disciplines.

To shape the themes for these fellows' work, she is consulting senior scholars and adding some to the staff. In July, a group of 11 professors from around the country (in fields from philosophy to film studies) joined Faust to brainstorm about the institute's interests in the humanities. She envisions being joined in that agenda-setting by a new director of the institute's Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, a distinguished professor who will hold a joint appointment in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Katherine S. Newman embraces an "incredible opportunity" to shape the social-science program.
Martha Stewart / Kennedy School of Government

Separately, also in July, two Harvard faculty members, Katherine S. Newman and Barbara J. Grosz, joined the institute to complement Faust's work on the humanities. Newman, appointed dean of social sciences, is Wiener professor of urban studies at the Kennedy School and chair of Harvard's joint doctoral program in sociology, government, and social policy; she will continue in those capacities half time. At Radcliffe, she will pursue what she calls "an incredible opportunity to enhance the research lives of all the social scientists on campus": creating new programs and attracting social scientists worldwide to the institute. She envisions research, symposiums, publications, and educational outreach in fields possibly including immigration studies, the social psychology of stereotyping, and globalization--a charter "anybody would jump at."

Grosz, who as McKay professor of computer science works on artificial intelligence and collaborative human-computer interface systems, became dean of science. She sees her mandate as providing a stimulating environment in which leading scientists, including laboratory scientists, may carry out their research and interact within and across disciplinary boundaries. Symposium and colloquium series will bring more scientists to Harvard and create opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to interact with scientists at the institute, thus "enriching science throughout the University."

She expects Radcliffe's commitment to help "increase the visibility and number of women scientists in the country as a whole"--a powerful lure to Grosz, who has led efforts to expand their ranks at Harvard (see "Women in Science Redux," May-June, page 63). Like Newman, Grosz will continue her teaching and research, but half-time. She says, "Launching the Radcliffe science program presents an opportunity to go beyond studying the problem to doing something that could really make a difference."

To make way for all this building on Radcliffe's historic foundations, Faust has pared away other educational functions not closely related to the fellowships. The publishing program relocated to Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism before she arrived, and she is seeking a new home for the landscape program--perhaps where it could offer degrees (as the institute cannot). Courses in humanities and liberal arts have been discontinued, and the "intellectual renewal" courses for leaders of other organizations may be recast to connect more closely with the fellows.

At the same time, Faust plans other kinds of outreach: an as-yet unspecified K-12 education effort, an element of which will be her own program next summer introducing high-school teachers to work on women of the Civil War era; a 2002 symposium and traveling exhibition, from the Schlesinger collections, on women, finance, and entrepreneurship; and a symposium on September 28 honoring the twenty-fifth anniversary of Radcliffe's Murray Research Center that will explore the study of human lives from the perspectives of social science, fiction, and history.

Professor Barbara J. Grosz expects her Radcliffe work to increase the visibility and number of women in science nationwide.

Jon Chase / Harvard News Office

Consistent with the ad hoc committee's recommendation, the fellow-based social sciences and policy agenda being devised by Newman will determine the institute's future work in these fields, and so the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute is being phased out. Its staff-led reports and contract studies focused more on applications than on the basic research that institute fellows will emphasize, and will not be pursued further once current grants are completed during this academic year.

Finally, to support the institute's operations as a center for advanced study, Faust has appointed as the new executive dean (the senior administrator) Louise M. Richardson, an international-relations scholar who has been associate professor and head tutor in the government department; revamped financial management and the external-relations function; reduced staffing overall, reflecting the changes in the fellowship, education, and public-policy programs; and retained the Venturi, Scott Brown planning firm to begin working on the physical form of the institute's campus. She hopes to accommodate future fellows in a common community--a goal constrained by Harvard tenants' current use of such important buildings as Byerly Hall, Agassiz House, and the graduate-student housing at Cronkhite Center.

Once the fall term begins, there remain such challenges as building undergraduate research partnerships with the fellows, continuing a Radcliffe tradition; establishing an undergraduate advisory committee; and creating a program of fellow presentations in the undergraduate Houses. Beyond the intellectual benefits for Harvard students and faculty members of such interactions within their areas of study, Faust says, the institute's fellows can begin to effect the inclusion of scholarship on women, gender, and society in "a whole variety of other fields," much as she has done in some of her research on the Civil War.


Can this agenda possibly succeed in the Harvard context, an alumna asked at the class of 1976's twenty-fifth reunion, when Radcliffe explicitly lacks the prized coinage of professorial appointments and tenure? Absolutely, Faust countered, given that the most important aim of scholarship is creating new knowledge. Radcliffe, reborn as an institute for advanced study, "is the culmination of what a university is for." In that sense, she said, the institute controls "the highest currency of what a university is and does."

Thus Faust--in all other respects the very model of a quiet senior professor--zestfully pursues something "rare in higher education--that a piece of an institution has the opportunity to undergo the self-scrutiny and redirection that Radcliffe has." Rarer still do such opportunities come with Radcliffe's resources and reputation, built across more than a century, and the support of a Harvard. So, even as she leads change that causes some acknowledged discomfort but opens other opportunities, Faust finds herself, happily, "a little astounded" to direct Radcliffe's rebirth.


The Radcliffe Institute's 2001-2002 fellows include a sculptor