A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

To the Harvard Kennedy School Community,
I hope everyone had a good summer, with plenty of time for family and friends. Welcome to all our new students, faculty, staff, and fellows, and welcome back to all our returning community members!

One of my favorite activities as dean is to meet with our alumni, who live and work across this country and around the world. So, a highlight of my summer was an event in Tokyo hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School Club of Japan. The Kennedy School has more than 400 Japanese graduates, and they have an active alumni network. During a panel discussion and the reception that followed, I spoke with alumni who serve in government, civil society, and the private sector, and I also had a chance to talk with current and prospective students. It was a wonderful evening, and the conversations reinforced the importance of the Kennedy School’s work—as do so many of my conversations with our alumni across the globe.

At the end of the last academic year, I wrote an update on how the Kennedy School is meeting the public challenges of our time. I encourage you to visit (or revisit) this update, where I offered some examples of our recent activities in the areas of peace and security, prosperity, equity, democracy, sustainability, and public management and leadership. Through our teaching, research, and engagement with practice, we are helping to improve public policy and leadership so people can live in societies that are more safe, free, fair, and sustainably prosperous. In the update, I also emphasized that advancing our mission most effectively requires excellence in how we undertake and organize our work, and I reviewed some areas of our operations where significant advances are underway.

Let me highlight now a few topics of importance for the upcoming semester:

This fall’s Dean’s Discussions—an opportunity for all members of the HKS community to engage with faculty experts on pressing issues of the day—will address three topics: artificial intelligence, climate and energy, and developments in China. We will have opportunities to learn from faculty members Joe Aldy, Jie Bai, Sharad Goel, Dan Levy, Rana Mitter, Meghan O’Sullivan, Kathryn Sikkink, Tony Saich, Latanya Sweeney, and Charles Taylor. Details on times and locations will be forthcoming in HKS Daily.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in June regarding affirmative action have significant implications for universities across this country. As Harvard’s senior leadership stated after the rulings, “we will certainly comply with the Court’s decision”—and we continue to believe that “deep and transformative teaching, learning, and research depend on a community comprising people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences,” so “we will determine how to preserve, consistent with the Court’s new precedent, our essential values.” At the Kennedy School, we will keep working toward that goal in collaboration with our alumni as well as with students, staff, and faculty here and elsewhere at Harvard. 
To gain the full benefits of diversity, we need to have a supportive environment of learning and work that enables everyone to thrive. To further this goal, Harvard has established new policies against discrimination and bullying that were developed over the past few years by committees of faculty, staff, and students. These policies will take effect officially in a few days, and information on them will be forthcoming shortly. We will be talking this fall about how to use these policies and other tools to create and sustain the Kennedy School community we want.
One key aspect of a supportive learning and work environment is the ability to engage in candid conversations with people who hold very different views from our own. Because the world is experiencing widespread division and a lack of constructive dialogue, and because working with others on complex and divisive issues is crucial to the Kennedy School’s mission, I asked a working group last year to suggest norms and practices that can help us build our skills for candid conversations. The working group will offer its recommendations to us soon.
None of these initiatives—or the many others taking place at the Kennedy School—would be possible without the skills and determination of our community. Because of those skills and determination, people around the world are benefiting from more evidence-based public policies, better management of public institutions, and more principled and effective public leaders. I am grateful for your partnership in advancing this cause and look forward to all we can achieve together.
With best wishes for a good year ahead,