by Karen Topakian
Several years ago Harvard University needed to replace its president, Lawrence Summers, who resigned after making this controversial statement, “the under-representation of female scientists at elite universities may stem in part from ‘innate’ differences between men and women.”
This Ivy League school had never selected a women president, the timing seemed right. Why not apply? But was I qualified?
A Harvard Business Review article said, “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” And who gets the jobs? Men!
I certainly possess 60% of the qualifications. Honestly, how hard could it be to serve as Harvard’s President?
First, Harvard draws on the greatest minds of people in numerous fields and I would access everyone of them to help me schedule meetings, make travel plans, draft speeches, disparage Yale, return overdue library books… I wouldn’t even need to learn how to pronounce Hav-vad like a local. Remember, I’m from Rhode Island!
Second, I would only have to manage the university’s finances, fundraise, lead meetings, represent the University in public affairs, report to the governing bodies and develop big-ass visions.
A piece of cake.
My credentials and qualifications would make the job a snap.
On the finance front, numbers don’t scare me. Armed only with a calculator, a yellow pad and a Number 2 pencil, I can attack any financial statement. When the numbers get too big, I just kick off my stilettos and use my toes.
Trust me, I know how to ask people for money. Just ask my mother about my teenage tantrums whining and begging for extra cash. While in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute, I worked In the Admissions and Financial Aid offices, where I learned how to sell big-ticket tuition costs to parents who foolishly questioned the “value of a fine arts education.“ Plus I’ve honed the science of glad-handing, schmoozing and chit chatting while balancing a plate of crudités on my knee.
Fundraising also involves relating to all kinds of people. My multi-discipline business experience makes it easy to relate to the titans of industry. While working summers in a mind-numbing dead end job at the family business, General Plating, I experienced what kind of careers awaited me with only a high school degree. During my days working at a noted RI clothing store, I mastered the art of customer relations by politely telling men that I couldn’t model the lingerie they contemplated buying for their wives.
Leading meetings only requires a few skills – standing up and out yelling the other losers at the table. And when that doesn’t work, banging my shoe on the table.
Representing the University in public affairs means wearing the right garb for the right crowd – LL Bean for the New Englanders and Chanel for the sophisticates. Plus I expertly dress up any outfit with jewelry.
I also have good elective skills. While serving as the first director of the University of Rhode Island’s first Women’s Center, situated directly across from the rifle range and the turf farms, I learned to dodge speeding bullets and mastered the art of watching grass grow.
Finally, Harvard is practically my alma mater. My partner’s father graduated from Harvard Law School during the Truman Administration. In the early 1970s, I occasionally studied at the Widener library during the brief hours it allowed access to women.
In closing, I think it would be fun to serve as Harvard’s president. I could organize events and research on topics of my choosing. For example, I could invite Madonna and the Pope to speak at a symposium about religious icons in the 21st century. They would have to attend. Or authorize scientific research on the curative digestive powers of klushab, an old Armenian recipe of stewed prunes and raisins. And what about the benefits of free parking in Cambridge?
I still believe the job wouldn’t be that hard. Certainly not as hard as the US Presidency and now there’s a woman running for that.