A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, and Fellows of Harvard Kennedy School,
Welcome to the beginning of a new semester. I have heard from many people who find recent developments in the world and at Harvard deeply troubling. During such times, we at the Kennedy School are called to continue the hard work that develops better public policies and public leaders, and the promise of a new year should fuel our resolve.
I have had two opportunities in recent months to meet with alumni and friends of the Kennedy School who live and work far from Cambridge. In December, some colleagues and I traveled to the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Last week, some other colleagues and I were in Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. In each of these places, the Kennedy School’s teaching, research, and engagement are making a positive difference for people, and the common theme of our discussions was how we might do even more.
The world is beset with significant problems, and my heart goes out especially to the many innocent victims of hatred and violence in this country and others. Terrible occurrences affect the Kennedy School community both because we and our families and friends can be directly affected and because we are people who care deeply about others, including others we do not know. Our mission of addressing the hardest public challenges—achieving peace, freedom, justice, broad prosperity, sustainability, and more—demands much from us, but I hope you take pride from your part in it.
Let me offer just a few examples of recent and current activities at the Kennedy School that are making a positive difference (with regrets about the many important activities I do not have room to mention):
Education about the Middle East: Professor Tarek Masoud and his colleagues at our Middle East Initiative have arranged many opportunities for us to learn more about the terrible developments in Israel and Gaza. The presenters at these events have offered a wide range of perspectives, and the audiences have been attentive and civil, as one would hope.
Engagement on Climate Change: Members of the Kennedy School community participated in the COP28 meeting in Dubai last month, including hosting and speaking at sessions on methane reduction, decarbonization technologies, greenhouse-gas markets, and more.
Improving Public Management: Faculty and staff members from our Government Performance Lab and other parts of the School collaborated on an executive education course about alternative 911 emergency responses. Our colleagues’ expertise and teaching skill generated especially positive feedback from the participating cities and counties.
Fostering Development: At our Center for International Development, the efforts to “build, convene, and deploy talent” in the international development field are bearing fruit in new internship and training opportunities for students, new visiting researchers, and new collaborations with development experts across Harvard and beyond.
Exploring Artificial Intelligence: In multiple Forum events, a Dean’s Discussion, and other occasions around the School, faculty members and outside experts gave their perspectives on the good, the bad, and especially the unknown effects that will come from AI. Meanwhile, we are finding new ways to use AI in our teaching, learning, and scholarship.
Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging: Ensuring that outstanding people with a wide range of views and backgrounds come to the School and thrive together here is crucial to our mission. For some specific steps being taken to recognize the benefits and responsibilities of pluralism, see our webpage on race and the University’s announcement about religion and national origin.
Candid and Constructive Conversations: A new webpage provides the summary report on this topic by the School’s working group, and it will include continuing updates as we implement the group’s recommendations. The ability to disagree constructively across difference is a core competency for public leaders and is critical to learning and working together.
I look forward to the semester ahead with a strong sense of hope about the learning, scholarship, and other work we will accomplish. Thank you for your part in advancing our crucial mission.
With best wishes,