Local Hero

Harvard and Cambridge Commemorate Their Leader

Six years after he graduated from Harvard, John F. Kennedy ran for Congress in Cambridge. He held on to the seat for six years before moving to the Senate, where he represented Massachusetts until he became president in 1961.

During his brief stay in the Oval Office, Kennedy did not forget the University or the city. He brought to Washington a bevy of professors and local officials. He pushed for funding of an 88-unit public housing project in Central Square which now bears his name. And he picked Cambridgeport as the site of the space program's national headquarters. (The land, now Kendall Square, had been cleared for NASA headquarters, but work was halted when new President Lyndon B. Johnson moved the center to his home state of Texas).

Harvard and Cambridge have also remembered their favorite son. The school of public administration was renamed the Kennedy School of Government in 1966. Two years ago, following rumors that the school was playing down its connections with the slain leader, the city council renamed Boylston St. John F. Kennedy St. The Metropolitan District Commission will soon give Cambridge a third Kennedy memorial--a park south of the K-School.

But the true Kennedy legacy in the area is not in concrete memorials. "I don't think you can say we have more sidewalks or trees because of his term of office," says City Councilor Francis H. Duehay '55. "But I do think people were proud of and have pride in his leadership," he adds.

That pride has translated into a more positive view toward government, and an inspiration to become more involved. John J. Droney served for 22 years as Middlesex County District Attorney before losing in the 1982 election, and he says Kennedy persuaded him to follow the path he did. Droney worked as treasurer for the 1946 congressional campaign, but had little interest in politics. Kennedy told him, however, "You wanted to be a lawyer, and I wanted to be a newspaperman, but we have to put that aside now. We have to put away some of our own wishes and solve some of the nation's problems." Droney adds, "He changed my whole attitude in 10 minutes."

More than just participation in government, Kennedy stressed skill in government--a theme which President Bok echoed when he declared the development of the Kennedy School a top priority in his 1973-74 annual report. "The major new opportunity lies in preparing students for careers in public service," Bok wrote. He boldly declared that the University would try to do for public service what it had done for private enterprise through the Business School earlier in the century, and for medicine two centuries ago. Today the Kennedy School is one of the largest public policy centers in the country, with a faculty of 105, a student body of 623, and six research centers.

K-School Dean Graham T. Allison '62 acknowledges that several other public administration schools are similar, but he insists that two traits unique to Harvard are direct results of Kennedy's tone--the stress on elective as well as appointive politics, and a provision for undergraduates to get involved. Both are achieved in part by the Institute of Politics, which brings in politicians as fellows, and which is directed in part by students at the College.

Prestige is another lasting influence of the Kennedy Administration on Harvard. The president focused national attention on his alma mater by tapping several graduates and professors for advisory positions. "What Kennedy did was make Harvard fashionable as this great breeding ground for people to go down to Washington and serve in major capacities," says Alan Brinkley, Dunwalke Associate Professor of American History.

But, more generally, he bolstered the intellectual role in running the country. While Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt '04 both made brain trusts their trademarks. Kennedy brought the practice to new heights. Abram Chayes, Frankfurter Professor of Law and legal adviser to the State Department under Kennedy, says that his boss "was the watershed. He made [blending academics and government] very attractive and easy to do." Chayes notes. "It was a different sense of involvement between the presidency and the academic community than ever before. Academics became a power position."

But, many stress, that inspiration has remained nonpartisan. Allison notes that the Reagan Administration has more Harvard affiliates in top positions than Kennedy did. That includes three K-School professors--Christopher C. DeMuth '68, who is working on regulatory reform. Roger Porter, who serves in economic policymaking, and presidential assistant Richard G. Darman.

Robert E. Klitgaard '68, associate professor of public policy, says "The center of gravity was working for change in government, but in a politically neutral sense." A picture of John F. Kennedy hangs in the school's main lobby. But Klitgaurd insists that "nobody sits around and raises their hands in allegiance."