An In-Depth Interview With Drew Faust, President of Harvard University

01/05/2011 06:52 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In a recent in-depth interview with Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, we discussed recent developments in teaching and learning, financial aid and accessibility, growing university-wide collaboration, leadership in higher-education, the advancement of women and gender equality, the role of religion in curriculum, bridging research to practice, and the future of the institution.

Below is an excerpt, while the full interview can be found here.

Rahim Kanani: What are some of the major evolutions of Harvard University in the last decade in terms of learning and teaching?

Drew Faust: First, let's look at the college and the undergraduate experience. A number of changes have emerged in recent years focusing more attention on the undergraduate experience: for instance, the new general education curriculum requirements that update the foundations of a Harvard college education for the 21st century. We've also enhanced student services like advising, because we recognize that Harvard's extraordinary intellectual resources are complex and that students, to have the full benefit of their time here, need good advice.

We have placed much more emphasis on teaching. Most of our faculty members are excited about exploring new ways of approaching teaching and many of these are being enacted and implemented through the courses in general education -- things that weren't so common in our curriculum in the past.

We have focused on integrating the arts -- the practice of the arts, not simply the appreciation and critique of the arts -- into our undergraduate teaching. So we are exploring many innovative dimensions, including the introduction of art-making into many General Education courses.

The international dimension has also changed. We now provide funding so that essentially any undergraduate student, regardless of his or her financial circumstances, can go abroad for an internship, research, or study. Just as important has been the change in our culture, which now emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of international opportunities, whereas, in the past, that would have been somewhat discouraged. Instead we urge students to undertake some international experience and then we work to both prepare students while they're here and to integrate what they learned into what they do when they come back. A quarter of our undergraduates engaged in a significant international experience last year.

I was recently at a dinner with freshmen students who had invited me to come to their faculty dinner. I asked how many were taking a language and how they feel about taking language classes. I was struck by the fact that almost all of them were enrolled in a language, and many of them were taking new languages, or even two languages. Students today think that the importance of language is clear in this increasingly globalized society.

Harvard is responding by offering more and more languages. For example, we've added a number of African languages in recent years. The students at the dinner were taking a wide range of courses: Urdu, Mandarin, Arabic, and African languages.

Rahim Kanani: Explain a little bit about how students are now also taking advantage of Harvard's revamped financial aid program.

Drew Faust: In the past decade we really focused on opening Harvard College to students from all economic backgrounds. To achieve this we have recruited aggressively and have enhanced our financial aid program. The foundation of the program is the Harvard Financial Initiative, which ensures that students from families with incomes below $60,000 attend without any parental contribution and those from families under $80,000 have a very small parental contribution. In 2007, we introduced our Middle Income Initiative, which is intended to make a Harvard College education available to a wide range of individuals, both of modest means and of moderate means. These efforts are designed to diversify the student body economically, just as we have diversified it in terms of international origin, ethnicity and so forth. About two-thirds of our students currently receive financial aid. These initiatives have had a real impact on the makeup of our undergraduate student body.

One other dimension of new activity in the College also relates to something that I think has broader ramifications beyond the undergraduate experience itself. That is that an increasing number of opportunities for our undergraduates take advantage of the intellectual resources of our professional Schools. Two new concentrations were introduced last year in the sciences, one in stem cell regenerative biology that is located in a new cross-University department between the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Medical School. A second is a concentration in bioengineering, which draws on new activity in bioengineering involving the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Medical School, as well as other programs across the University. We have also launched a secondary field in global health, which again takes advantage of the programs at the School of Public Health, the Medical School, and the Kennedy School.

So undergraduates are able to benefit from University resources; at the same time we are also seeing much more collaboration on a University-wide level.

Rahim Kanani: Speak a little bit about this notion of growing University-wide collaboration.

Drew Faust: Increasing collaboration has grown in importance in Harvard's recent past. By that I mean there has been much more emphasis on how we can work together, how we can draw on each other's resources, as for example in new degrees like the Educational Leadership Degree at the Education School, which involves the Kennedy School and the Business School, as well as the resources of the Education School itself. We've also developed a number of new joint degrees that bring together more than one School: for example...[more]

The full interview can be found here.