THERE WAS, AT ONE TIME, a different and even grander
vision for the tract now occupied by the Kennedy School, JFK
Park, and the Charles Hotel. In 1966, Harvard and the Kennedy
Library Corporation agreed on the Big Plan, with
I. M. Pei as architect. The Big Plan called for a complex
including the John F. Kennedy library, museum, presidential
archives, and School of Government, plus the Institute of
Politics (IOP), all on the car barn site of the
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). But Harvards
fundraising bogged down, the MBTA took years to relocate,
and well-heeled Cambridge neighbors, including some Harvard
faculty, objected that the tourist attraction would cause
unbearable congestion in Harvard Square. In 1975, the Big
Plan unraveled and eventually the Kennedy Library rose at
the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
Richard Neustadt, who died last October at his English country
home in the village of Furneux Pelham, Hertfordshire, at age
84, was among those who created the Big Plan, and its demise
saddened him. Instead of viewing the tourists as a nuisance,
Neustadt considered the influx of thousands of ordinary American
citizens as a valuable resource that would preserve the Kennedy
School from insularity. You would have had real live
tourists streaming past the windows of the institute and school
all the time, he said last year, somewhat wistfully.
Those were voters, and the students had to notice. But
the voters were moved away in order not to bother the professors.
Right? So its symptomatic of a lot of things.
Such musings epitomize Neustadt, an academic who embraced
the polity with open arms and felt at home in the untidy world
of politics and governance. And Neustadt was in on the ground
floor of the Kennedy School before there even was a
ground floor. In 1964, he and Don Price urged Robert Kennedy
to accept Harvards offer to be the institutional home
of the Institute of Politics and to rename the Graduate School
of Public Administration, of which Price was dean, in John
F. Kennedys honor. Robert Kennedy acquiesced, and a
year later Neustadt left Columbia University to come to Harvard
as Littauer Professor of Public Administration and associate
dean of the Kennedy School. In 1966, he launched the Institute
of Politics as its founding director.
In that role, Neustadt brought live political animals
hazardous-duty people, he called them to
Cambridge. He settled the institute in a wooden-clapboard
building at 78 Mt. Auburn Street, familiarly known as the
Little Yellow House, a move he later called the
best strategic decision I ever made. It was near Harvards
residential houses and very convenient to collegiate foot
traffic. Students loved the Little Yellow House,
Neustadt said. It gave the IOP a lot of vitality.
Yet, as he also remembered, many professors viewed it as a
distant innovation, somewhat distasteful in a university setting,
but not troublesome, and probably the price you have
to pay for the assassination of a president, as one
member of the faculty said to me.
With a handful of other senior faculty, Neustadt was one
of the Kennedy Schools founding fathers.
His centrality was such that his onetime student, former Kennedy
School Dean Graham Allison, said that Without Dick Neustadt,
the Kennedy School simply would not exist. Along with
Price, dean from 1958 to 1977, and Allison, dean from 1977
to 1989, Neustadt defined the schools mission, hired
its first faculty, and built the new campus. Think of
them as a triumvirate, says Kennedy School Professor
Richard Zeckhauser. Neustadt was the jockey, Graham
[Allison] was the thoroughbred, and Don Price, the gentle
trainer. It was a very good situation.
By 1968, the IOP was thriving, but the Kennedy Schoolwas
a graduate school in name only. Youve got a big
tail [the IOP] here, but you havent got a dog to attach
it to, declared Katherine Graham, Washington Post publisher
and a member of the Institute of Politicss Senior Advisory
Committee. Yet the presidents name was on the
school, said Neustadt. It had to be a proper memorial.
Price and I convinced ourselves that we had to create a dog
worthy of the tail. Neustadt worked tirelessly on canine
construction, and put his money where his mouth was, pledging
20 percent of the IOPs annual income for five years
to help create the MPP Program. Last year, with one of his
characteristic deep laughs, Neustadt reflected that, In
retrospect, I think I might have been smart to go the other
way, and attach the IOP to arts and sciences, rather than
let it live alongside the Kennedy School. It certainly would
have been a lot easier for the director! Indeed it would
have been, but in that case the Kennedy School might never
have come to be.
BORN IN PHILADELPHIA on June 26, 1919, Neustadt attended
the University of California at Berkeley and served in the
Navy. He received his PhD from Harvard in 1951. As a young
man he had a formative experience working in the Bureau of
the Budget under President Harry Truman. Years later, colleagues
like Theodore Sorenson liked to joke about Neustadts
readiness to tell a Truman story at the slightest provocation.
In his most significant scholarly work, Presidential Power:
The Politics of Leadership, first published in 1960, and
reissued in later editions, Neustadt described and analyzed
the powers of the presidency. For Allison, Neustadt towered
above all other 20th century students of the American presidency.
Neustadt also taught a course on The American Presidency
at the Kennedy School until 1987. As he repeatedly said,
the great power of the president is the power to persuade,
says Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. He kept quoting Trumans
comment on Eisenhower: As a general he is used to giving
orders. But as president he gives orders and nothing ever
happens. [Neustadts] ideal president was FDR,
who was a master of the techniques of presidential power.
President Kennedy admired Presidential Power and was
himself an ideal president in that tradition.
President Kennedy also asked Neustadt to prepare a top-secret
report on the Skybolt affair, a diplomatic rift between the
United States and England, centering on a troubled missile
program. Neustadt delivered his report to the president on
November 15, 1963. President Kennedy read the document and
gave it to Jacqueline Kennedy, saying, If you want to
know what my life is like, read this. She was carrying
it on their fateful trip to Texas. He was going to see
me after he came back from Thanksgiving, Neustadt recalled.
Ill never get over not having had that meeting.
Writing about the presidency interested Neustadt more than
taking White House jobs, but he did consult with Presidents
Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, and Clinton. He believed in organizing
the White House to match the interests and skills of the president.
For example, while Eisenhower, trained in military administration,
liked hierarchical organization charts with boxes, JFK had
little use for such systems and, taking his cue from Neustadt,
dismantled the elaborate structure that Ike had
put in place. Neustadts book Preparing to be President
collects memos he wrote for Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and
Clinton for their transitions into the Oval Office.
Neustadt became an emeritus professor in 1989, but remained
active in Kennedy School affairs and continued to write books
and advise officials. His first wife, Bert, died after a long
illness in 1984; Neustadt later married Shirley Williams,
professor of electoral politics emeritus, a member of the
House of Lords, and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party
in England. In recent years they divided their time between
England and the coastal town of Wellfleet on Cape Cod.
He was ironic and optimistic, says Schlesinger.
He viewed the presidency as comedy he was gently
amused by it. Not that Dick didnt respect the office
as an instrument of life and death. But he regarded administrative
history and analysis as a comedy, with tragic consequences.
A memorial service for Richard Neustadt will be held on
April 15, 2004, at 5 p.m. at Memorial Church, Harvard University.
Following the service, a brief reception will be held in the
Kennedy Schools Forum.
Craig Lambert is deputy editor of Harvard Magazine.