Kennedy School Students Seeking Meeting With Administrators Regarding Recent Promotion Decision

Following outcry over a Harvard Kennedy School faculty committee’s decision not to promote lecturer Dean Williams—whose two courses on leadership are critical to the school’s practical curriculum, students say—the Kennedy School Student Government will request a meeting with administrators to discuss the decision and its implications for the school’s educational mission.

The KSSG said that the move to not grant senior lecturer status to Williams, who specializes in teaching applied skills, undermines the Kennedy School’s status as a professional, rather than research, institution—a sentiment echoed by a petition signed by 497 Kennedy School students and alumni.

Williams, who was offered a part-time contract for the 2013-2014 school year, teaches one section of Management, Leadership, and Decision Sciences 201: “Exercising Leadership: The Politics of Change” and MLD 202: “Exercising Leadership: A Cross-Cultural & International Perspective.”

According to the petition, MLD 202 will no longer be offered when Williams moves to a part-time position. The petition also expressed concern that if Williams leaves the Kennedy School in the following year, the number of seats available in MLD 201 will be cut in half.

Harvard Kennedy School spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson declined to comment on the petition, citing the school’s employee privacy policy.

According to Ronald Heifetz, the other lecturer for MLD 201, the course is consistently rated the most influential class at the Kennedy School by alumni. In the spring of 2013, 177 students lotteried for just 104 seats in the course.

At a meeting Tuesday night, KSSG members agreed to draft an open letter requesting that administrators meet them for a discussion of the future of MLD 201 and 202, adaptive leadership at the Kennedy School, and the Kennedy School’s status as a professional school. The letter will lay out a time frame for decision-makers to respond.

Should the administration not reply by the deadline, KSSG is planning to take alternative measures, including contacting national media and asking that alumni earmark capital campaign donations for adaptive leadership courses and lecturers.

Before discussing their plan of action, the KSSG heard from Heifetz about leadership-oriented curricula at HKS. Heifetz backed students’ concerns about the Kennedy School’s dedication to leadership curricula, saying that when Williams took a leave from the school to pursue field work, the Kennedy School initially planned to offer only one section of MLD 201. He said that it was only after his intervention that the school offered the second section.

Heifetz also said that the Kennedy School administration’s hiring process has contradicted the school’s professional mission by favoring researchers and academics over government practitioners. According to Heifetz, the school’s lack of commitment to leadership and other practice-oriented classes is evident through a lack of training for instructors of these courses, as well as the fact that the Kennedy School has no tenured faculty in these fields.

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