Celebrating the Crimson Handshake


As the rest of the University celebrates 350 years of Harvard and the "crimson handshake," Harvard's youngest graduate school, the Kennedy School of Government, is also marking 50 years of training students for government. In recent years, it has developed a powerful network of government contacts and established itself as a major think tank, with 12 percent of its roughly $19 million income in 1985 coming from federal research grants and contracts.

But, like Rome, the Kennedy School network was not built in a day. Until the early 1970s, the school's independent identity was nebulous at best. It was, in fact, little more than a sideshow to the main activities of the Government and Economics Departments.

Such a limited role was inconsistent with the vision of its benefactor Lucius N. Littauer, Class of 1878, when, in 1936, he gave the University $2 million to begin an independent school of government, called the Graduate School of Public Administration (GSPA).

A wealthy philanthropist, former congressmen, and close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, Class of 1880, Littauer hoped to establish a school to provide training in a "broad way for public service."

But because Littauer's gift was not sufficient to provide for the endowed professorships needed for an independent school, then Harvard President James B. Conant '13 decided that the school would serve Harvard better as a "switching station," integrating existing programs in the University.

The vast majority of the school's early students--who studied in the Littauer Center built with an additional $250,000 gift from its namesake--already had experience in government service.

But many of the school's prominent graduates, including Sen. William Proxmire (MPA '49) and Robert C. Wood (MPA '48), housing and urban development secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson, pressed for a more active, independent program at the GSPA.

Their hopes turned to the new dean of the GSPA, Don K. Price, whose tenure saw the doubling of the school's endowment and the apppointment of the first professor responsible only to the GSPA. Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey '28 told Price that the school would be closed unless he could prove that it deserved Harvard's support.

The school's quest for an independent identity got a boost when, coincidentally, President John F. Kennedy '40 chose to locate his presidential library in Cambridge.

After Kennedy's assasination, his brother Robert F. Kennedy '48, chair of the Kennedy Library Corporation, decided to endow a new center for the study of politics and government. Pusey persuaded Kennedy to establish the Institute of Politics within the GSPA, and the school was renamed the John F. Kennedy School of Government. The moniker broke the University's long-standing policy of not naming any school after a person.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences appointed an executive committee--which included Littauer Professor of Public Administration Richard E. Neudstadt; President Derek C. Bok, then dean of the Law School; and Lamont University Professor John T. Dunlop, Nixon's labor secretary--to develop an independent, degree-granting program in public policy.

Although the new Kennedy School admitted its first degree candidates in 1969, it was not until Bok's appointment as Harvard's 25th president that Price overcame his hesitation to expand rapidly the school's faculty and resources.

In the wake of the Watergate scandals, Bok made the fledgling school of government one of his top priorities. Citing the "dolorous record" of government during those years, Bok called for "nothing less than the education of a new profession," in a 1973 speech.

In 1977, he appointed as dean Graham T. Allison '62, a Ph.D. in government and Marshall scholar at Oxford who had previously served as the school's associate dean. At 37, Allison became Harvard's youngest dean, though he had initially declined Bok's offer in part because of the school's financial difficulties.

When Allison assumed the top post in 1977, the school was running a $200,000-per-year deficit. Making a temporary exception to the University's dictum that each school must raise its own funds, the University offset the school's deficit while Bok and Allison launched a fundraising campaign. During his first eight years as dean, Allison raised about $50 million for the school. Its endowment and capital plant now has an estimated worth of more than $100 million.

The school, housed in its own building on the Charles River since 1978, now grants three degrees: a mid-career Master of Public Administration (MPA), a Master of Public Policy, a two-year MPA, and a Ph.D. Students study under a core curriculum that emphasizes methodology, quantitative reasoning, public management, and political organizational analysis.

Kennedy school graduates choose to enter a variety of fields after receiving their degrees. In 1985, 40 percent chose government positions at the federal, state, or local levels; 11 percent chose non-profit agencies; 12 percent pursued further education; and 31 percent entered the private sector. The graduates showed an average starting salary of $28,000 compared to $45,000 for Harvard MBA's, according to the Washington Post.

"What Harvard has been trying to do for the last 15 years is to build a professional school like the Business School is to business or the Law School is to law," Allison says.

The dean says the MBA has only been seen as a "ticket" within the last 20 years. Sheila Burke (MPA '82), chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.), says it will take time for a Kennedy School degree to build the credibility and exposure of an MBA.

The Kennedy School covers a broader range of research than other schools of government, such as the University of Texas' Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and Princeton's Woodrow Wilson school, Allison says, because Harvard's center runs the gamut from local, state, and national to international issues.

"No other school takes elected officials seriously," Allison says.

Kennedy School research is distinct from traditional academic research because it concentrates on solving public policy problems, Allison says. For example, the principal book issued by the Kennedy School's Project on Avoiding Nuclear War, "Hawks, Doves, and Owls," ends with a list of 51 specific "do's and don'ts" for avoiding nuclear war.

The newest of the Kennedy School's eight research centers will examine the interaction between the media and government. Other centers examine policies relating to issues such as smoking, energy and health.

But the school is not without its detractors. The most common criticism is that it teaches, in the words of Washington Monthly Editor Charles Peters, "the art of public administration, how to get elected instead of the issues that government is trying to accomplish."

Allison says that by its mere existence, the Kennedy School has achieved its first goal of proving that "it is possible to have a professional school of government and put it on a sound, long-term footing."

The school's most important goal now is to develop a strong faculty with both academic and practical government experience, Allison says.

The school encourages its professors to serve in government to gain "practical, first-hand experience," Allison says. The school's faculty have occupied a number of significant posts: Deputy Treasury Secretary Richard Darman is a former faculty member; Dillon Professor of International Affairs Joseph S. Nye has served as a deputy undersecretary of state; and Mary Jo Bane, professor of political economy, is a top policy executive in New York's Social Services Department.

The professors' trips to the capital have helped to form close links between the school and the Washington community. These ties are especially prominent in the Reagan Administration.

In addition to Darman, Professor of Business and Government Roger Porter served as deputy director of the cabinet-level Executive Policy council, and Allison serves as a special, $260-perday consultant to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger '38.

Such contacts have helped the school gain government grants and contracts, including a $1.6 million annual contract to teach management to senior defense officials. The school also conducts "executive seminars" for newly elected congressmen, mayors, state and local officials and sub-cabinet officials.

One contact led to a major embarrassment for the school last spring, when Allison's decision to grant Attorney General Edwin Meese III a medal for "distinguished public service" generated widespread criticism from the Harvard community. Many scholars and alumni questioned whether the school could enjoy government contacts and still maintain its academic objectivity and integrity.

Meese demonstrated "real interest in the competence of political appointees" by helping to develop the school's seminar for sub-cabinet appointees, Allison told the Crimson in a March interview, explaining why he selected the attorney general for the award, minted for the school's 50th anniversary.

Allison has since termed the decision "a mistake," but he strongly defends the school's extensive contacts with government. "A professional school must retain strong connections with the policy community, while recognizing that such relationships pose risks. I believe we have successfully avoided any actual subversion," he says.

By most accounts, the Kennedy School's reputation in government cireles is highly favorable.

The school is "well-known and becoming better known," says Maj. Gen. Norman G. Delbridge. He says his participation in an executive seminar allowed him to meet prominent Washington contacts such as the chief staff member of the House Armed Services Committee.

A degree from the Kennedy School is very respected in Washington and getting more respected all the time," says Jeremy Rosner (MPP '82), former chief speechwriter for Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.).

A Kennedy School network is rapidly expanding on Capitol Hill, says Dole's assistant, Burke. "Like any other network you tend to call people you know when you need advice or recommendations," she says, adding that new graduates often call her for "jobhunting advice."

Much of the historical information in this article came from "The John F. Kennedy School of Government: The First Fifty Years."