November 9, 2020

To the Harvard Kennedy School Community,

As you know, all of the major U.S. news organizations have estimated that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have won a majority of the popular vote and will win a majority of votes in the Electoral College, so that they will become the next President and Vice President of the United States. Although the full official election process will continue, and some recounts and legal challenges may well occur, I am writing now to look ahead to our future work at the Kennedy School—including a faculty panel scheduled for this Thursday.

We have experienced a U.S. presidential election of historic importance. The election was historic in the stark contrast between the candidates and in the unusually high turnout by U.S. standards (and I want to thank our colleagues who led the Harvard Votes Challenge for helping to build a stronger civic culture at the University). The election was also historic in the global context and implications of the outcome, as one can see from news around the world. Moreover, the election was historic in the milestone of electing as Vice President the first woman and, specifically, the first African-American woman and first South Asian-American woman. 

During presidential transitions, the departing President has generally left a note for his successor. In the note that George H.W. Bush left for Bill Clinton—a note that has been described appropriately as a "lesson in grace"—President Bush wrote "Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you." I would add that, given the U.S. role in the world, U.S. leaders' success is often the world's success as well. Therefore, let us all root hard for the success of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

I want to encourage everyone again, as I did in my message two weeks ago, to be compassionate with yourselves and others in the coming days. Naturally, many people are having strong and varied reactions to the election, including anxiety over disputes about the finality of the election results. These reactions are on top of the stresses of the pandemic, ongoing racism, economic turmoil, and much else. Please remember our social norms of empathy, respect, and flexibility—and if you would benefit from personal support, please reach out to one of the resources I mentioned in my message.

In addition, I encourage everyone to focus on the values that bind us together as a community and help us serve the societies we belong to. The deans of all of Harvard's schools, together with the president and provost, sent a message ten days agoreaffirming those values. We wrote that we are committed to a just Harvard and a just world where all people's rights and dignity are respected and honored. We wrote that we are committed to free and honest inquiry in the unfettered pursuit of truth, which requires reasoned dialogue and a respect for knowledge, evidence, and expertise. And we wrote that we are committed to practices and institutions that enhance the common good—including a successful democracy in the United States with a right to vote and peaceful transfer of power according to the rule of law. I hope and trust that you share these commitments.

Further, I encourage everyone to remember how much important work we at the Kennedy School need to do, in the United States and around the world, in the months and years ahead. We need to continue our high-quality research and outreach focused on the most important public challenges, and we need to continue to teach and learn about principled and effective public policy and leadership. We will also endeavor to more fully understand this election, because listening to and understanding voters is essential for successful governance. I am pleased that so many of you were able to join the U.S. Election Debrief that I hosted last Wednesday, and I am grateful to Professors Arthur Brooks, Cornell William Brooks, Archon Fung, David Gergen, Nancy Gibbs, and Pippa Norris for sharing their insights.

As we look to the future, one important question is what policies will be advanced by the incoming U.S. President and Vice President. Accordingly, I will host an event on "Policy Advice for the Biden-Harris Administration" on Thursday, November 12, at 1 pm ET. Please register here to join me and fellow students, staff, and faculty members to hear from Professors Joseph Aldy, Nicholas Burns, Jason Furman, Juliette Kayyem, Wendy Sherman, and Sandra Susan Smith. Even with this large and distinguished panel, we will not be able to cover all of the crucial policy areas, and I invite you to look out for more events hosted by the School's research centers in the coming weeks.

I said a few weeks ago that we live in a time of great peril and great promise in the public sphere. The peril is clear in the litany of public problems we face. But the promise should be evident as well: A renewed understanding of the importance of public leaders and public policy offers all of us who care about each other a wonderful opportunity to build a better future together. Let us seize that opportunity.

Finally, I want to draw your attention to the Veterans Day holiday that will occur this Wednesday. The anniversary of the end of World War I (on November 11, 1918) is recognized in a number of countries as Armistice Day, as it was for many years in the United States; in 1954, the U.S. holiday was renamed Veterans Day to honor all U.S. military veterans. I hope that everyone will reflect this Wednesday on our gratitude to those who have served and sacrificed to protect our countries through honorable military service.

Best wishes,