A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

To the Entire Harvard Kennedy School Community—Students, Faculty, Staff, Fellows, Alumni, and Friends,

I hope that you are washing your hands carefully, watching your health, and staying an appropriate distance from others in person—but reaching out to your families, friends, and neighbors in every other way.

I write today with one update and, I hope, some reassurance.

The update: In light of Sunday’s announcements by Governor Charlie Baker to further increase social distancing in Massachusetts, and consistent with steps being taken at a number of other Harvard schools, I ask that Kennedy School students, staff, fellows, and faculty not come to any of our campus buildings after noon on Thursday unless absolutely necessary. To determine whether a visit is necessary, please consult with Debbie Isaacson (for students), Beth Banks (for staff and fellows), or Suzanne Cooper (for faculty). I understand that staying away from campus imposes particular burdens on some members of our community, and I encourage those members to reach out to Debbie, Beth, or Suzanne for advice and assistance. I also note that further actions by our state or local governments may limit access to campus more quickly or severely than we intend ourselves.

And, I hope, the reassurance: The work of the Kennedy School goes on, and that work has never been more important. As the pandemic unfolds, we are all observing the central importance of public leadership and public policy: Leaders who have prepared their institutions well, and who are stepping up to this challenge with appropriate policies clearly communicated, will save lives, preserve economic activity, and strengthen our ties to one another. We have never needed such leaders and polices more than we do now.

So, to our students, faculty, staff, fellows, and friends who undertake and support the teaching and research that helps to make great leaders and policies: Thank you for all you have done and will do. To our alumni who are leading governments and organizations, large and small, that are grappling with the pandemic and other public challenges: Thank you for making those of us at the School today so proud.

Although we are now operating remotely, and this week is spring break, our work is proceeding apace. Our faculty are hosting dozens of one-hour discussions on different topics for students whose plans have been so badly disrupted, and they are reconfiguring their courses for remote teaching after the break. Our staff are responding to urgent questions from students, supporting remote work on a scale we have not tried before, continuing our path-breaking research and engagement with practice, and sustaining the operations of the School. Our students are responding resolutely and constructively to the sharp changes in their lives while also looking for ways to assist others who are less fortunate. 

Of course, I don’t want to understate the disruptions that we are all experiencing. I’m disappointed that so many of our plans for the next few months have been tossed in the air, and I found it painful to watch the School empty out physically, even though I know that so much will happen virtually. I’m also concerned about the health of my family and friends, of everyone in the Kennedy School family, and of so many other people across the United States and around the world. And I am worried about the broad economic fallout from the unprecedented shutdown in certain consumer services and more. I’m sure that many of you share these feelings, and undoubtedly you have other thoughts and concerns you would add as well.

In this time of great tumult and uncertainty, however, I am reassured by being part of Harvard Kennedy School. We have a special mission of public service whose importance is being demonstrated every day. And we are a collection of special people, committed to that mission and to each other. One student wrote me that she has been “overwhelmed by how administration, faculty and students have showed up to support each other, even when each person is dealing with their own individual adjustments.” That’s how I feel too.

Thank you all for being part of the Kennedy School—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Please stay safe and healthy.

With my best wishes,


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