A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

To Harvard Kennedy School’s Faculty, Students, Staff, and Fellows,

It is with deep and profound sorrow that I write to inform you that our colleague, teacher, and friend Ash Carter passed away yesterday evening after suffering a heart attack.

This loss is so sudden and so devastating.

I first met Ash Carter in 2016 at the Pentagon, when he was serving as U.S. Secretary of Defense, and we began our campaign to lure him back to the School after he left the Defense Department. We were all honored when Ash rejoined our faculty in 2017 as the Belfer Professor of Technology and Global Affairs and the Director of our Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Ash Carter has been an important leader of the Kennedy School during the past five years—supporting faculty recruitment, helping to expand our curriculum on technology and public policy, creating a project called Technology and Public Purpose, and partnering with me in various collaborative efforts. Ash was devoted to our students: He said that one key reason he returned here was his experience at the Defense Department of visiting abroad and being greeted with the salutation “Hello Professor Carter” from his former students—so he wanted to come back and work with more students, and he helped to raise funds for student fellowships. Ash has been a leader at Harvard more broadly as well. For example, he and Frank Doyle, the dean of Harvard’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, hosted a regular gathering of faculty and others across Boston who think deeply about technology and society.

Ash Carter’s recent contributions to the Kennedy School are only a small part of the immense contributions he made over his entire career here—a career that stretches back almost 40 years. Ash earned a DPhil in theoretical physics from Oxford but became very interested in policy. He began here as an assistant professor in 1984 and received tenure in 1988. He taught numerous courses, mentored many future leaders, and helped to develop our concentration in International and Global Affairs. Ash left the School for public service between 1993 and 1996 and again between 2010 and 2017—and it is through that service that he became so well-known and admired beyond our campus.

The United States and the world know Ash Carter for his lifelong efforts to serve this country, to defend the best values of this country, and to build a safer world for all people. Between 1993 and 1996, he served as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy; one of his key activities in that role was the denuclearization of Ukraine, a subject on which he spoke a good deal of late. From 2010 to 2017, he served successively as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics; deputy secretary of defense; and secretary of defense.

As secretary of defense, Ash Carter oversaw the military campaign against ISIL, an increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region, a new cyber strategy, and a stronger NATO response to Russia. He devoted significant attention to investments in technology, including the creation of tech hubs to connect the military with private-sector technology experts. And he focused on improving the recruitment and retention of talented people, in part by opening all military positions to women without exception. During the past few years, he remained a very important public voice and private adviser on matters of national security and international relations.

Much more could—and should—be said about Ash Carter. We will find ways to share the perspectives of the many people at the Kennedy School and beyond who knew Ash and worked with him. For my part, I want to offer my gratitude for his insight and wisdom, his unwavering commitment to trying to make the world better, his confidence that the Kennedy School can make an important difference in the world, his generous spirit toward his students and colleagues, and his warm and gracious friendship with me. I will miss him so much.

My heart goes out to Ash’s wife Stephanie and to all of Ash’s family. Our thoughts and sympathies are also with everyone who knew Ash, learned from him, and worked with him. If you want to talk with someone at this difficult time, please reach out to your program director (for students), your HR contact (for staff), the academic deans’ office (for faculty), or Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Service (for all). When we have information about a memorial service, we will let you know.

With great sadness,

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