A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

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

To those who are new this year, welcome to Harvard Kennedy School! We are ​​delighted to greet new faculty members, new staff members, and new students hailing from nearly every U.S. state and almost 100 countries and territories.

To those who joined our community during the past year and a half, welcome to campus. We have been sustained and strengthened by your virtual presence and key contributions, and I am so pleased that I will be able now to greet you in person. 

To those who have been part of this community for a longer time, welcome back to campus. Your resilience in learning and working during this hard period has been truly inspiring, and I am very grateful.

And to everyone, I am thrilled that health conditions have improved enough in Boston that we can be together again on campus. But the pandemic is not over, as we all know. To help keep us safe, Harvard is requiring vaccination, regular testing, and mask-wearing indoors. In addition, various changes have been made on campus, including a step-up in ventilation. Thank you for wearing your mask properly, reminding others if they forget, and following the other protocols so that we can continue to be together. Harvard and our local, state, and national governments are actively monitoring emerging health information, and we will adjust our operations as needed. You can always check current health guidance for the Kennedy School and for the University as a whole

Public Challenges and Public Actions 

Tragically, the improvement in health conditions here has not occurred in many other places. I offer my sympathy to everyone who has been ill or lost loved ones or endured the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. I offer my gratitude to the health care professionals, scientists, first responders, essential workers, government employees, and all who have been serving others during this very difficult period.

In addition to the pandemic, the past year and a half has seen wars between and within nations, attacks on democracy in this country and others, massive economic disruptions, overdue reckoning with racial injustice and other systemic inequities, alarming changes in the climate, and more. Many of these problems are longstanding in some ways, but they are also increasingly urgent. And as I wrote last week, terrible developments in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world are a source of distress and focus of concern.
Meeting these challenges requires collective action—not only actions by individual households, businesses, and other organizations, although those are needed as well, but actions by communities and societies. In other words, we need not only private actions, but public actions—public policies, public management, public leadership. 

Moreover, we need principled and effective public actions. We have been reminded so clearly over the past year and a half that unprincipled and ineffective policies and leaders cost people their lives and their livelihoods, while good policies and leaders enable people to thrive.

This is where Harvard Kennedy School plays an important role. Making public actions better is what the Kennedy School exists to do. We are here to improve public policy and leadership so people can live in societies that are safer, freer, more just, and more sustainably prosperous. To do that, we need to take on the most important public challenges, in all of their moral, intellectual, and practical dimensions.

When we do our work well, we make an important positive difference in people’s lives: The ideas and graduates that come from the Kennedy School have a profound impact on governance across this country and around the world. Let us seize our opportunity.

The Year Ahead

As we begin this academic year, I encourage you to learn about the School’s activities in areas beyond your own. One of the things I love about the Kennedy School is the amazing range of public challenges to which we bring evidence and expertise. Please wander around the School’s webpages, including those of our many research centers and initiatives. Our research, teaching, and engagement about climate change, which cut across a number of parts of the School, have their own dedicated webpage. Subscribe to the School’s newsletter, follow our social media accounts, and keep up with our calendar so you can attend events on topics that catch your eye.

I also want to highlight our new webpages about the School’s approach to advancing diversity, equity, and anti-racism. To fulfill our values and achieve full excellence in our mission, we foster a diverse and welcoming community where everyone can thrive, and we oppose racism and other systemic injustices. The new pages describe the vision, strategy, and numerous action areas being developed and addressed by students, staff, and faculty.

Looking beyond our work together, let me encourage you as well to keep taking good care of yourselves and your loved ones. I recognize that the return to campus is complicated for many people, and especially concerning and difficult for some. Even those of us in comparatively lucky circumstances now may be worried about the future and tired by the past year and a half. We have emphasized during the pandemic the importance of showing empathy, flexibility, and respect for each other, and those remain our watchwords. If you feel particularly stressed at any time, please reach out to Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services’ 24-hour hotline (for students) or Employee Assistance Program (for staff and faculty)—and have an open conversation with your program director (for students), manager (for staff), or area chair (for faculty) about how to balance your personal needs and work responsibilities. With compassion for each other, we can continue to move forward together.
In Closing
Thank you for all you have done and will do to build a better Kennedy School and to advance our shared mission. I wish you a healthy and exciting year of learning and progress.
Best wishes,