One of Harvard’s brightest stars will take a leave of absence next year to advise Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), himself a rising star in the U.S. government, on issues of foreign policy.
Samantha Power, professor of practice and founding executive director of the Carr Center at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG), said she hopes to work closely with Obama and his advisors on “three or four issues” of foreign policy, including United Nations reform, the genocide in Darfur, and the detainment camp in Guantanamo.
Power, who was promoted from lecturer to professor on July 1, is a frequent writer and speaker on human rights issues. In 2003, she won the Pulitzer Prize for “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” which chronicled American responses to genocide in the Twentieth Century.
“I write about American foreign policy, so I thought I could benefit from getting some firsthand exposure to the congressional side of policy-making,” Power said.
Her stay in Washington will be funded by the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonprofit group that publishes the influential journal Foreign Affairs.
Power won an international affairs fellowship from the Council in 2000, when she was the executive director of the Carr Center, although she delayed taking advantage of the opportunity until this year.
Elise Carlson Lewis, a vice president at the Council, said that the international affairs fellowships, which pay fellows to pursue public policy-related interests, are, for recipients, typically “the jumping-off point...to go into higher levels of government.” Past fellows have included Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who made the switch from academia to government after she received a Council fellowship in 1986.
But Power, who has never before worked for the government, said she plans to return to Harvard for the 2006-2007 academic year to write about her Washington experience.
Power and Obama—both graduates of Harvard Law School—were introduced to one another by Peter W. Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia and the son of Warburg Professor of Economics emeritus John Kenneth Galbraith.
Power said that, during their first dinner together earlier this year, Obama made a powerful impact on her.
“[I had] never been so impressed with somebody in public life as I was with him,” she said. “I got the sense in talking to him that he wanted to see what we could do together” on a variety of foreign policy fronts.
Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, was elected last November after he defeated Republican candidate Alan L. Keyes ’72 by more than 40 percent of the vote. Obama is perhaps best known for giving the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
A spokesman for Obama said that the senator was “very excited to have [Power]...be a member of the team.”
Julie B. Wilson, the associate academic dean at the KSG, said that although the school encourages its faculty to take leaves of absence for public service, it is normally unable to compensate them for academic leaves beyond the customary sabbatical every seventh year.
She said that these constraints often lead faculty members interested in public service to seek third-party funding, as Power did from the Council on Foreign Relations.
“We think [public service] makes you a much better faculty member,” Wilson said. “The insight she’s going to have is incredible.”
—Staff writer Brendan R. Linn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.