A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

To the Kennedy School’s Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I will be writing to you early next week about the beginning of another exciting year at Harvard Kennedy School. But I know that tragic developments in the world today are deeply affecting many in our community, and I want to reach out now in sympathy and with news about some upcoming events at the School. 

In particular, I have heard from a number of people about the sadness, fear, frustration, and other intense reactions they are having to developments in Afghanistan—and about their individual efforts to help vulnerable Afghans. As I read and watch the news, I find so many stories and pictures to be horrifying, including those following this morning’s explosions. My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan as they strive for peace in their country. My heart also goes out to everyone from outside Afghanistan who has served honorably in military or civilian roles there, and who has made huge sacrifices and suffered terrible losses, in the hope of helping the Afghan people to set their country on a better path; I am profoundly grateful for their service.

This tragedy offers an important opportunity for learning so that members of the Kennedy School community can help to make better policies and be better leaders in the future. I have worked with colleagues to arrange some School-wide learning opportunities, in addition to what may occur in classes and at the research centers:

  • Each semester I host “Dean’s Discussions” on topics of current interest; the discussions begin with remarks by faculty experts and proceed to a discussion among the faculty experts and audience of students and other community members. For this fall the discussions will focus on Afghanistan—what happened and what lies ahead both for Afghans and for international relations. We’ll announce the dates and times soon.
  • The Forum will host two events for which dates also will be announced shortly: At one event, Professor Ash Carter, who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2015 to 2017, will offer his views and take questions from the floor. At another event, some of the servicemembers and veterans among our students will participate in a panel discussion to offer their perspectives.

If you have suggestions for other events on this topic, please offer them. I look forward to learning from these gatherings, and I hope that many of you can join us.

Tragically, the suffering in Afghanistan is not the only heart-rending news in recent days. The terrible earthquake in Haiti exacerbated many serious, long-standing problems that affect the Haitian people. One important focus of teaching, research, and outreach at the Kennedy School is developing better public policies to address systemic challenges in developing countries. I hope you will attend some of the many seminars and events that focus on this work, and you can learn about some of the challenges and possible solutions on the webpages of our Center for International Development. The awful increase in deaths in this country and around the world from the Delta variant of the coronavirus is also drawing wide attention and alarm, naturally. The Kennedy School has thrown its insight and energy into helping policymakers and public leaders deal with the pandemic, and you can see some of our COVID-related activities on our website. Many other public problems are on our minds as well, of course, and I will address some of them in my message next week.

Anyone at the Kennedy School who needs to talk with someone about these issues or others should reach out for support: Students can talk with their program director or Harvard’s CAMHS, employees can talk with our human resources department or Harvard’s Employee Assistance Program, and all members of our community can talk with the Harvard Chaplains. 

Despite the seriousness of the problems our societies face, I am not discouraged. On the contrary, being at the Kennedy School reminds me every day about how many talented people of goodwill are committed to making a positive difference in the world. Let us keep at it.