Harvard Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood to Step Down Next Year

October 9, 2014

David T. Ellwood, who has led Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) through a dynamic decade of significant change and growth, announced today that he will step down as Dean following the conclusion of the 2014-15 academic year. Ellwood, the Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy, will return to teaching and regular service on the faculty following a sabbatical in 2015-16.

Ellwood assumed the deanship in July 2004 and soon embarked on a multi-faceted, multi-year effort to significantly strengthen the School’s financial position and double student financial aid. Under Ellwood’s leadership, the School has also enhanced its teaching and learning, launched a new joint degree program with Harvard Business School, sharpened and expanded its executive education programs, and organized its faculty and research centers to promote greater collaboration and cross-disciplinary solutions to challenging public problems. Ellwood will depart having made significant progress on the School’s capital campaign and having led the School in the development of a major campus renovation project, which is slated to begin in the spring of 2015, pending regulatory approval.

“I have been honored to serve as Dean of Harvard Kennedy School during such an extremely exciting and transformative period of our history,” said Ellwood. “What I love most about the School is its clear mission to make the world a better place, both by educating exceptional public leaders and creating innovative ideas to solve critical public problems. It is an incredible honor to work with such amazing people so committed to a better future.”

“We have made great progress on many fronts over the past decade, but I am most proud of increasing student financial aid, improving our overall financial footing, expanding the faculty, and laying the groundwork for a significant campus development project that will transform our teaching and scholarship and strengthen our community," Ellwood added.

“From the outset of his deanship, David has embodied and amplified the spirit of service that infuses the School he leads,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “As the longest serving of Harvard’s current deans, he has emerged as a dean among deans, bringing an always thoughtful and nuanced perspective to hard institutional questions.”

“As a scholar and teacher with decades of devotion to Harvard and to public service, he has modeled a commitment to academic work that vigorously engages with policy and practice,” added Faust. “As a citizen of the University, he has sought out ways to link people and programs across conventional bounds, seeing the benefits not only for his School but for Harvard as a whole. And, as a colleague and friend, he has been an enduring source of valued counsel, incisive questions, and constructive ideas.”

Ellwood is recognized for his efforts to make education more affordable. During his tenure, student financial aid increased from $11 million to $23 million per year. This included the creation of many Public Service Fellowships, which serve as tuition grants for students who work in public service for at least three years after graduating.

Under Ellwood’s leadership, the School also enhanced the classroom experience and expanded active learning opportunities. In addition, the School launched the Strengthen Learning and Teaching Excellence (SLATE) initiative, designed to ensure HKS faculty match their intellectual distinction with a mastery of classroom skills.

The School’s Executive Education operations and programming have been significantly strengthened over the past decade, now reaching leaders from throughout the world who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to come to Harvard. More than 3,000 senior leaders from across 140 countries attend the School’s short-term Executive Education programs each year.

Ellwood has also led the School’s Acting in Time initiative, designed to foster dialogue and action to spur public leaders to act before a looming problem becomes intractable. He has also institutionalized a number of HKS events to inspire and promote the importance of public service, including an annual School-wide Public Service Week, and regular Days of Service for the entire community.

Throughout this period, the Kennedy School has strengthened its financial stability and management. In spite of the financial crisis and the economic pressures facing all of higher education, the School has had modest budget surpluses every year of Ellwood’s deanship.

Finally, Ellwood and his team have made significant progress on the School’s capital campaign. Just three years into the seven-year campaign, the School has raised more than 70 percent of its goal. Among the many priorities of the campaign is to fully fund an ambitious new campus development initiative designed to transform the School’s teaching and scholarship and strengthen its sense of community.

Pending regulatory approval, construction is expected to begin next spring with completion anticipated in late 2017. The plan includes several building extensions, six new classrooms, a new student lounge and dining facility, a redesigned courtyard, an atrium winter garden, and a suite of new offices and meeting spaces.

“I believe the Kennedy School is well positioned for its next great leap,” Ellwood said. “It is such an important time in the world. The Harvard Kennedy School will continue to play a vital role in tackling many of the greatest public challenges of our time.”

Ellwood first joined the Kennedy School faculty in 1980 and served two separate terms as the School's Academic Dean. Recognized as one of the nation's leading scholars on poverty and welfare, Ellwood's work has been credited with significantly influencing public policy in the United States and abroad.

In 1993, he was named Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) where he served as co-chair of President Clinton's Working Group on Welfare Reform, Family Support and Independence. At HHS, Ellwood played a key role in the Administration's development and implementation of critical social policy.

Ellwood is the author of numerous books and articles, including “Welfare Realities: From Rhetoric to Reform,” co-authored with Mary Jo Bane. His book, “Poor Support: Poverty in the American Family,” was selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the notable books of 1988 and by the Policy Studies Organization as the outstanding book of the year.

A native of Minnesota, Ellwood graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1975 and earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University in 1981.

Ellwood will continue serving as Dean through June of 2015. President Faust said she will launch a search for a new dean soon.

For more information:

Dean David Ellwood's Statement

President Drew Faust's Statement

Harvard Gazette Q&A

David Ellwood's Faculty Profile Page

A History of Harvard Kennedy School Deans:


Harvard President James Conant names Harvard economics professor John Williams as the school's first dean.


Edward Mason succeeds John Williams as dean. He serves until 1958.

Don Price, Jr., the Ford Foundation's vice president, is appointed dean, succeeding Edward Mason. The only dean not already a member of the Harvard faculty, Price serves until 1977.


Graham Allison, Jr., becomes the school's fourth dean and, at age 37, Harvard's youngest graduate school dean. He serves until 1989.


Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam is appointed dean. He serves until 1991.


Nuclear engineer and Kennedy School professor Albert Carnesale succeeds Robert Putnam as acting dean. He is appointed dean the following year and serves until 1995.


Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, Jr., is appointed dean. He serves until 2004.


Professor David Ellwood, an economist focused on social policy and former assistant secretary of health and human services, is appointed dean.

Dean David Ellwood

Photo Credit: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

“I have been honored to serve as Dean of Harvard Kennedy School during such an extremely exciting and transformative period of our history,” said Ellwood.


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