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 appointment 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.

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