Fall 2019 Welcome Letter to Students, Faculty, and Staff

This welcome letter was sent to the faculty, staff, and students of Harvard Kennedy School at the start of the 2019–2020 academic year.

Dean Douglas Elmendorf
September 05, 2019

To the Harvard Kennedy School Community,

Welcome to the new academic year!

I hope everyone had a good summer, with the chance to do some of the work you intended and also the chance to enjoy some time away from work. The quiet around the school gives us time to reflect, redesign, and regroup—but it is exciting to have the school full of life again now.

Let me welcome especially our new students, staff, and faculty.

The Kennedy School’s extraordinary faculty has been further strengthened this year by our new arrivals. Among the professors beginning this year are Marcy Alsan (an economist and physician whose research concerns the relationship between health and socioeconomic disparities), Arthur Brooks (a social scientist focusing on management and leadership, and the former president of the American Enterprise Institute), Will Dobbie (an economist whose research examines the causes and consequences of poverty), and Gordon Hanson (an economist who studies the impact of immigration and trade on the U.S. labor market and also works on urban and development issues). In addition, we have several faculty searches underway for distinguished scholars and practitioners working on a range of specific topics with different disciplinary backgrounds. 

We are fortunate also to have attracted outstanding new staff members over the past year. Among the recent senior arrivals are Oliver Street, Assistant Dean for Enrollment Services in our Office of Degree Programs and Student Affairs, and Karen Bonadio, Director of Alumni Relations in our office of Alumni Relations and Resource Development. And we are benefiting from the talents and hard work of many other new staff members as well.

Of course, we have an impressive group of new degree-program students on campus. I was delighted to have the opportunity to greet them last week. I talked with them about our individual stories—the array of interests, experiences, and perspectives that contribute so much to the life of the Kennedy School. I also spoke about the importance of our common story—our shared commitment to improving public policy and public leadership so people can be safer, freer, and more prosperous. If you’re interested, you can read my full remarks on my web page.

I should note also that impressive participants in our executive-education program have been coming and going from campus all summer, and will continue to do so through the academic year. We do not have a chance to welcome them as a group, as we do for degree-program students, but we are no less grateful that they have joined us and no less proud of the work they go on to do. In addition, we launched this summer our online Public Leadership Credential, and are reaching more students that way.

As I said to the new degree-program students, when we look across this country and around the world today, we can see profound challenges to safety, freedom, and prosperity. That is why the work of the Kennedy School is so important. We are conducting research that is intellectually path-breaking and immediately useful in solving public problems. We are engaging directly with practitioners, to share with them what we know and to hear from them what they need us to figure out. And we are teaching and learning both inside and outside our classrooms. I said that I hoped our students’ learning would include both honing their values and strengthening their analytical and practical skills, because both values and skills are needed to solve public problems.

For us to be as effective as possible in advancing the Kennedy School’s mission, we need to insist on excellence in all of our activities. If our research were not excellent—if our analysis were not innovative and rigorous and accurate—we would be misleading rather than helping the public servants we mean to support. If our engagement with practitioners were not excellent—if we did not convey clearly what we know and listen carefully to their perspectives—we would be wasting their time and ours. And if our teaching and learning were not excellent—if our faculty did not teach the most valuable material and our students did not apply themselves to understand it—we would be squandering such valuable opportunities. 

For us to be as effective as possible in advancing our mission, we also need to ensure that everyone at the Kennedy School feels safe and respected. Reaching this goal begins with our core belief in the worth of each person, regardless of their demographic characteristics, ideological views, and role in our community. That core belief is manifested in our expectations about behavior at the Kennedy School, in the University policies regarding sexual harassment and discrimination and in the University’s resources for non-U.S. students. It is manifested in our expectations of civility and civil discourse, so that everyone here can have thoughtful and informed interactions with others even when they disagree, perhaps in fundamental ways. And it is manifested most importantly in our mutual commitment—a commitment by all of our students, staff, and faculty—to making this community as welcoming as possible to everyone.

I am very proud of the amazing work our faculty, our students, and our staff—as well as our alumni—do every day. I hope you are proud of the role you play. But we cannot rest on our laurels. We have a profound responsibility—and a wonderful opportunity—to make a positive difference in the lives of people everywhere. Thank you for being part of this quest.

With my best wishes to everyone for the year ahead,