Harvard Goes From Bundy To Allison

Bok's Best and Brightest At the Kennedy School

In 1961, David Reisman '31, Ford II Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus, had a discussion with two members of the Kennedy administration about their highly-touted "limited war" policy in Vietnam. Foreseeing the tragic consequences of a war that the American public and government would inevitably expand instead of limit, Reisman asked the two presidential advisers if they had ever been to Utah. When they said no, he replied, "You all think you can manage limited wars and that you're dealing with an elite society which is just waiting for your leadership...It's not an Eastern elite society run for Harvard and the Council for Foreign Relations."

With the governmental failures of the past 15 years clearly in mind, President Bok has been trying for the past several years to get public servants from Utah, and several other parts of the globe, to Cambridge so they will learn to avoid their predecessors' pitfalls. Since he first publicly articulated that ambition in his 1973-1974 annual report, one of the keystones of Bok's administration has been the upgrading of the Kennedy School of Government. Bok hopes to turn the Kennedy School into a peerless professional school that will train people for major governmental posts, offer sabbaticals for public servants and sponsor research on an endless number of topics relating to public administration.

Implicit in these ambitions is what Graham T. Allison '62, dean of the Kennedy School, readily acknowledges as the "best and the brightest syndrome": There is always the danger the school will create an Eastern, intellectual elite--perhaps as incapable of understanding the public and as callous to ethics and social values as the elite of the early '60s. On a less dramatic plane, Bok and company may simply be guilty of unrealistic goals, the nature of which, Allison says, "is somewhat related to the character of the University."

But Harvard's drive to elevate the Kennedy School is not the result of any ignorance of the diplomatic and Great Society failures of the '60s. Although the Kennedy School's new building, growing faculty and increasing enrollment are primarily products of recent years, the school's metamorphosis started in the mid-'60s. Following the example of the Rand Corporation, a private think tank, the government began to apply economic theory, systems analysis and other sophisticated techniques to governmental problems--creating a new demand for trained public servants. Bankers and lawyers were superseded by economists and political scientists, and in 1966 the Littauer School became the Kennedy School, offering more degrees, formulating its own curriculum, and gaining its own faculty.

The Kennedy School offers two main programs. The traditional one-year Masters of Public Administration (MPA) provides a flexible curriculum for those in mid-career. The Masters of Public Policy (MPP) is a two-year program, with a rigid first-year curriculum oriented towards recent college graduates. Advanced degrees, three-week seminars and programs for foreign students are some of the offerings the school expects will extend its influence. In the midst of a $20 million fundraising drive, the school also plans to open five new research centers in addition to the one it opened last year.

The Kennedy School has made conscious efforts to temper its academic sophistication (which could easily lead to elitism and isolation) by going beyond the abstracts of political science and economics to emphasize the pragmatic approach. The case-study method, pioneered by the Business School, is used as a means of stimulating decision-making, and MPP students are required to participate in a short work-shop or cooperative experience with a government agency. The school's active faculty includes some of the luminaries of the Cambridge-Washington shuttle: Allison, John T. Dunlop, Lamont University Professor, and Richard E. Neustadt, professor of Government. Adjunct lecturers, including Massachusetts State Rep. Barney Frank and former CIA employee Robert T. Kiley, chairman of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, are brought in for substantive teaching roles. The Kennedy School's Institute of Politics offers several programs and study groups on the more political side of government.

With its three-pronged ambition--preeminence in analysis, management and research--the school has carved out a unique niche for itself. It is not a school of social policy or social welfare like its counterpart at Brandeis, nor a school of management like MIT's Sloan. Compairing Sloan to the Kennedy School, William F. Pounds, dean of the Sloan School of Management, says, "We tend to try to produce people who are capable of management of complex" and not "to teach people what the public interest is."

Management training is probably the weakest of the school's three areas. Harvard Business School, a school of business administration and not management, has traditionally trained managers and budget analysts for both the private and public sectors. B.J. Rudman, Massachusetts' assistant secretary for economic affairs and director of the state's Manpower Office, says, "I planned to go into public administration all the time," but chose Harvard Business School over the Kennedy School because "the Kennedy School would tell me what things should be but not how they should be done." Even though he thinks the Business School still offers a superior public management background, Rudman says, "I am amazed to what extent the Kennedy School has changed over the past five years."

Charles J. Christenson, Straus Professor of Business Administration with a joint appointment at the Kennedy School, differentiates between functional management--running an organization--and general management, which involves integrating objectives into broader policies. The latter method appears to be the Kennedy School's objective, training generalists, who, like the omnicompetent Confucian scholars who ran ancient China, are capable of flexible decision-making as well as bureaucratic gamesmanship.

The role Christenson and other non-Kennedy School professors have played in broadening the school's abilities is one of the foundations of Bok's ambitions and the school's unique feature. The Ford Foundation has backed seven public administration schools across the country, including Harvard. According to the foundation's report on public administration schools, Michigan's Institute of Public Policy Studies requires that all faculty have joint appointments with its other faculties; Berkeley's Graduate School of Public Policy prohibits all joint appointments. The Kennedy School, on the other hand, has its own faculty, although it also includes several joint appointments. With this strategy, the Kennedy School has been able to establish itself clearly as a separate entity, but can also take advantage of certain strengths of the other schools and has been able to offer a variety of joint degrees with the law, medical and public health schools.

"The jury is still out" on the new version of the Kennedy School, Ira Jackson '70, assistant dean of the Kennedy School, says, because not enough time has passed to judge the career paths and accomplishments of its alumni. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) graduated from the old Littauer School, and Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III is currently enrolled in the MPA program. But for the most part, the school aims to prepare the non-elected public servant. Recent graduates include Congressional legislative aides, staff analysts, a state cabinet secretary and agency heads. Jackson is quick to point out that the school is not training "a racist and sexist" cabal of private advisers like the best and the brightest of the early '60s. The school has a flexible admissions policy, he says, bringing together academics, city pols and bureaucrats. The number of women enrolled in this year's 130 member entering class for the MPP program increased from 13 to 30.

Bok's ambition, to make the Kennedy School do for government what the law, business and medical schools have done for their professions, may be like Sisyphus's task more an inspiration than a practical goal, Jackson says, "We're not going to solve [the problems of government]like the School of Public Health could solve lead poisoning. We're just trying to improve, over time, the quality of people who staff government."

While history has not had time enough to issue its verdict, it seems the Ford Foundation has, led by its president McGeorge Bundy of "Best and Brightest" fame who is also a former dean of Harvard College. In its report on the seven public policy schools it has been funding, the foundation noted, "If innovations (educational and otherwise) can be said to have succeeded by not failing, then the 'public policy movement' may well be a remarkable success."