A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

Like many of you, I watched in shock and anger yesterday as an armed mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and attempted to use force to stop the peaceful transition of presidential power. We are fortunate in this country to have a long history of peaceful transitions of power, which makes this attack all the more troubling.

The fair and effective functioning of American democracy has been threatened in recent years by many forces and people. I am grateful to all of the Kennedy School’s faculty, students, fellows, and staff who have been working hard to counter those threats and to bolster democracy in the United States (and in other countries as well).

Yesterday’s assault at the U.S. Capitol brought American democracy into further peril. Although true evidence of voter fraud should be taken seriously, the multiple allegations of widespread fraud in the November presidential election have been discredited by numerous election officials and rejected in roughly 60 court cases. Even so, those allegations have created deep skepticism among many people about electoral integrity, and yesterday those allegations encouraged some people to act on their skepticism with force. Anyone who is truly committed to American democracy should be willing to put that commitment ahead of their desire for particular electoral or policy outcomes—and therefore should be horrified at what has unfolded and rue any part they played, and should do all they can to restore and strengthen the country’s democratic norms and institutions.

I also worried yesterday about violence in the Capitol and on the streets of Washington, DC, in a very personal way. Some of our former students in degree and executive-education programs work in the Capitol complex, and I spent eight years working there myself. I feared for the safety of our graduates and of all the committee staffers, legislative aides, Capitol Police officers, journalists, building-services workers, and others who walk those halls. In addition, Washington is the home of many of our current and former students, and of many of my family’s friends, and I was concerned about their safety too. The reported deaths and injuries from the protests are terrible.

I know that many of you share my distress. If you want to talk with someone about these events, please reach out to your fellow students and colleagues, or to our teams in Degree Programs and Student Affairs (for students), in Human Resources (for staff and fellows), in the Academic Deans’ office (for faculty), and in the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (for all).

The damage to U.S. democracy from the recent rhetorical and physical attacks will not be repaired easily. But I am reassured a little this morning that the U.S. Constitution prevailed overnight and that a new U.S. president and vice president were announced in accordance with the country’s democratic processes and that Constitution.

In the community letter written in late October by the leaders of Harvard University, we said: “The success of democracy in the United States depends on the right to vote, a free and independent press, checks and balances, the peaceful transfer of power, and the rule of law with equal justice for law. We think it vital to support and adhere scrupulously to those norms, especially in times of division and stress.” 

This moment is a good one for us all to reaffirm our commitment to those values. The moment is also a good one for us to reaffirm our commitment to the Kennedy School’s important ongoing work to help renew democracy, in the United States and elsewhere—using our teaching and research, our knowledge and creativity, and our dedication to public service.

Best wishes,

Douglas W. Elmendorf
Dean and Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy