Twenty-Five Years of Public Service on the Charles

September 19, 2003
Aine Cryts

Almost a thousand alumni and members of the extended Kennedy School community came together Friday to commemorate 25 years of public service at its current location on theCharles River -- once the car barn for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.
At a tented luncheon on the bank of the river and against the backdrop of dozens of international flags, four former deans and one former Harvard President hailed the accomplishments of the School.
Former Harvard President Derek Bok, introduced as "the godfather of it all," spoke eloquently of the creation of a school devoted to public policy and government on the level of other professional schools such as law and business. In the early days when the entire faculty could gather around one conference table, finding the resources to grow was a challenge, he said.
It was easy to convince people intellectually that there was no better gift than to strengthen government, Bok said. But "their eyes glazed" when they realized that you were talking about the regulators who oversaw their businesses, he said.
The School evolved beyond Bok's expectations. Among the many surprises he witnessed was the appeal of the Kennedy School's mission internationally, the growth of executive programs and the surge of mid-career education. He noted that the School has grown dramatically but cautioned that, since the public sector permeates every corner of society, the Kennedy School needs to guard against trying to encompass all disciplines. To do so, the Kennedy School would have to become a university unto itself, which is not possible, he noted.
The four deans at the helm over the last quarter century reminisced fondly. Current Dean Joseph S. Nye, Jr. introduced his predecessor Graham Allison and credited him with garnering the resources to build the current buildings. "This is the house that Graham built," noted Nye.
Allison, dean from 1977-1989, joked that during his tenure he was dubbed, "Dr. Why Not' for his reputation for experimentation and big dreams. "When a colleague would come to me with a suggestion, I would say, 'Why not?'"
Both Professor Bob Putnam, dean from 1989-1991, and Al Carnesale, dean from 1991-1995, articulated the numerous tensions that exist at the Kennedy School. Most often noted is the one between practitioners and academics. "This creative tension is one of the Kennedy School's greatest strengths," Carnesale said. He also cited the tensions between degree versus executive programs and between research versus teaching. These tensions are critical to the ongoing success of the School, he said. "It would a great danger to resolve any of them."
The all-day event included panels exploring aspects of public service organized by the various research and policy centers. The day's final event was the rededication of the Kennedy School's Forum as the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. The Forum, originally founded as the ARCO Forum, was renovated by the generous support of the Institute of Politics. The Atlantic Richfield Foundation will continue to be recognized as the founding donor of the Forum and will be honored by an annual lecture in years ahead.


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