Our work at Harvard Kennedy School to advance the common good has never been more important. Incoming Harvard President Claudine Gay said, when her appointment was announced: “Today, we are in a moment of remarkable and accelerating change—socially, politically, economically, and technologically. So many fundamental assumptions about how the world works and how we should relate to one another are being tested. Yet Harvard has a long history of rising to meet new challenges, of converting the energy of our time into forces of renewal and reinvention.” At the Kennedy School, we are rising to meet the public challenges of our time—in our teaching, research, and engagement with practice. As we do so, we are helping to improve the lives of people everywhere.
Progress on Key Substantive Topics
The Kennedy School’s mission is to improve public policy and public leadership so people can live in societies that are more safe, free, fair, and sustainably prosperous. By combining cutting-edge research, the teaching of outstanding students, and direct interaction with practitioners, we have an impact on solving public problems that no other institution can match.
Any attempt to summarize the School’s progress on substantive topics inevitably falls short, because so much is happening here. So, rather than trying to summarize fully, let me instead offer just a few examples of our recent activities in the areas of peace and security, prosperity, equity, democracy, sustainability, and public management and leadership.
Peace and Security
This summer, Professor Meghan O’Sullivan will assume the directorship of our Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is an expert on the geopolitics of energy, and she has served in senior government roles and has advised national security officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Throughout the past fifteen months, many members of our faculty have been analyzing the war in Ukraine and advising policymakers on next steps; for example, Professor Graham Allison has been producing a regular “report card” on the war, Profesor Steve Walt drew lessons for the future, and others have written about other aspects of the war and its broader implications. On a different note, our expertise on China will be strengthened significantly this summer with the arrival on our faculty of Professor Rana Mitter, who is coming to us from Oxford University.
Our Center for International Development (CID), led by Professor Asim Khwaja, collaborated with Harvard University’s new Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability to focus the annual Global Empowerment Meeting on sustainable development. The meeting was part of Harvard Climate Action Week, which was a coordinated effort across Harvard’s schools, and addressed ways that countries can develop and grow through “green” approaches that mitigate rather than exacerbate climate change. Professor Carmen Reinhart, who was back on our faculty this year after serving as chief economist for the World Bank and is affiliated with the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government as well as CID, wrote recently about China’s growing role in the international financial system. Meanwhile, Professors Dani Rodrik and Gordon Hanson launched their Reimagining the Economy project, with a goal of developing specific policies for achieving more inclusive prosperity in the United States and abroad.
Professor Marcella Alsan, who is both an economist and a physician, studies inequities in health care, examining medical mistrust and racial differences. As director of our Wiener Center for Social Policy, Professor Sandra Susan Smith launched a program of grants to faculty and students for qualitative research, including ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews. Professor Daniel Schneider, whose Shift Project explores the effect of unpredictable work schedules on households’ economic security and wellbeing, recently co-edited a special journal issue on the social and economic consequences of COVID. And an online, multimedia resource focused on gender equity in negotiations has been developed by Hannah Riley Bowles, co-chair of the Women and Public Policy Program and of the Center for Public Leadership.
Professor Archon Fung, the director of our Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, has been speaking about threats to American democracy and what can be done in response. Fung and Professor Khalil Muhammad spoke about multiracial democracy on a recent Kennedy School PolicyCast podcast. Tarek Masoud recently co-edited a book about “democracy in hard places,” presenting case studies of democracies that have persisted under adverse conditions. Faculty members Erica Chenoweth and Zoe Marks, who are affiliated with our Carr Center for Human Rights Policy (and other centers as well), are writing a book about the role that women have played in violent and nonviolent protest movements over many decades. Professor Latanya Sweeney’s Public Interest Technology Lab at our Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy explores ways in which technology can support, rather than undermine, democracy.
Harvard’s Salata Institute will draw together faculty from across the University, and we are fortunate that the Institute is located on the Kennedy School campus. One of the first cross-school teams of researchers to receive a grant from the Institute includes faculty from the Kennedy School and five other Harvard schools; the group is designing a comprehensive strategy to reduce global methane emissions drawing on the disciplines of science, engineering, economics, political science, law, business, and history.
Public Management and Leadership
We held an official opening celebration for the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University, which will work alongside our Taubman Center for State and Local Government in aiding local public officials. One of our new Bloomberg faculty chairs was filled this past year by Elizabeth Linos, whose People Lab focuses on improving service delivery; another of these chairs will be filled in the coming academic year by Anthony Foxx, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. In addition, we received significant new gifts to support the Project on Indigenous Governance and Development, which was founded and has been led by Professor Joe Kalt, and to establish a new faculty chair in that subject.
Operations of the School
Advancing the Kennedy School’s mission most effectively requires excellence in how we organize and support the efforts of our outstanding faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. Let me offer a brief update on five areas of our operations where important work is underway.
Finances and Fundraising
The School’s unrestricted budget (which includes resources that can be directed flexibly and excludes funds dedicated to specific purposes through the terms of gifts and grants) is in balance, and we have reserves to draw upon when unexpected problems arise. Moreover, our buildings are in excellent condition, and unrestricted giving by our alumni and friends has increased notably in recent years, for which I am very grateful. However, inflation is raising our costs substantially, and holding annual tuition increases to 3 percent requires us to restrain hiring for faculty and staff. In addition, the financial aid we offer falls well short of our students’ need, and the need to take on significant debt discourages enrollment and is an obstacle to careers in government and the nonprofit sector after graduation. Therefore, expanding financial aid is our highest fundraising priority, and this summer we will be launching a focused initiative for this purpose.
Curricula and Degree Programs
To maximize our impact and maintain our competitive edge, the School needs to offer the most effective and compelling degree programs and curricula. Because public challenges, students’ interests, and employers’ needs are always evolving, our offerings should evolve as well. Potential adjustments to the MPP core curriculum, new certificates of achievement in emerging topics for students in all programs, and the possibility of merging (or changing the relative sizes of) the MPP and two-year MPA programs have all been considered recently. We plan to establish a standing faculty committee to work with other faculty, staff, students, and alumni to explore these and other potential changes and to recommend a future strategy.
Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging
Both fairness and excellence in our mission depend on drawing to the School outstanding people with a wide range of experiences and perspectives and enabling them to thrive here. We continue to focus on ways to advance this goal for our students, staff, and faculty, including through vigorous recruiting, more need-based financial aid, increased scholarly attention to the role of race in public policy, and greater awareness on campus of the many benefits of our varied identities. In addition, our Culture Ambassadors Network is in full swing, with staff members in each department and center working with each other and with colleagues in their groups to reinforce the values of empathy, flexibility, and respect.
Based on the recommendations of a faculty committee, the senior faculty have voted to adopt new criteria and procedures for appointing fellows at the School. In this context, fellows do not include students who hold fellowships as a form of financial aid, but instead are other academic members of our community ranging from predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees to accomplished policymakers and scholars. Because fellows appointments are academic appointments, the criteria for fellows are similar to those we apply to faculty members and include expertise, integrity, and engagement with our community. Proposed appointments that present complex issues relative to those criteria will be reviewed by a faculty committee before the appointments are offered.
In a global environment of wide political divides and constrained discourse, the School has a vital responsibility to foster learning on campus through candid conversations and to prepare students to work effectively in diverse societies after they graduate. A faculty and staff working group has engaged with students and others to identify perceived barriers to candid conversations on campus. By early fall, the group will offer recommendations to strengthen our norms around discourse, to build trust in our community, and to suggest ongoing programming that can strengthen our skills at difficult conversations. Moreover, the Institute of Politics, led by new director Setti Warren, is aiming to focus more on events tackling difficult political questions with different positions represented.
None of the work I have described—or the many, many other important initiatives underway at the Kennedy School—would be possible without the impressive skills and powerful determination of our faculty, staff, fellows, and students. And the impact of the School across this country and around the world would be terribly diminished without the talents and dedication of our alumni.
Through our efforts, 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 the partnership of our community in advancing this cause.
May 31, 2023