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Harvard will open a new center this fall devoted to the study of public leadership, the Kennedy School of Government announced yesterday.
The center, which Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye Jr. cited as one of the major accomplishments of his tenure, will be led by Public Service Professor David R. Gergen, a former White House adviser, and by Lecturer in Public Policy Ronald A. Heifetz.
The center will focus on research on leadership and training programs for public officials, Heifetz said yesterday, but may expand to include programs for undergraduates.
Heifetz, who has been studying leadership for 17 years, said the center's creation recognizes a growing field in academia.
"This is a dream come true," he said. "I'm three-quarters excited, one-quarter scared. It's a daunting and awesome opportunity."
The Kennedy School received initial funding for the center from Leslie Wexler, founder and chair of The Limited, and his wife Abigail. Officials at the Kennedy School would not disclose the amount of the Wexlers' gift, which will support the center for its first three years.
Gergen and Heifitz said that while planning for the center is still in the early stages, they hope to see it grow to the size of the Kennedy School's other major programs, like the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy or the Institute of Politics.
"We see this as a significant undertaking, one in which we will collaborate with other centers and faculties at the school," Gergen said.
Heifetz said the center would also support research in leadership throughout the Kennedy School through a grant program.
"There are at least 12 to 15 members of the faculty from the Kennedy School who will be quite involved," he said. "We hope that the center will serve as a source of research support on leadership for the Kennedy School faculty at large as they study leadership within their policy or institutional contexts."
The center will also invite world leaders to campus, starting with a conference of former prime ministers in May. Heifetz said the conference was the first of "multiple kick-off events" that will continue through the fall.
In addition to studying leadership academically, Gergen said a goal of the center would be to combat gender inequality in leadership positions.
"A serious part of this effort is going to be to prepare more women for positions of public leadership," Gergen said, citing the low numbers of women in Congress compared to European parliaments.
While there are currently no plans for undergraduates to play a role in the center, Gergen and Heifetz said they would welcome such involvement in the future.
"We would be quite open to proposals from the College or from undergraduates for ways in which we can foster leadership educational opportunities among them," Heifetz said.
The Wexler money will last three years, but Heifetz does not foresee problems when it runs out.
"We anticipate that if we fulfill our aspirations during these first three years, we will receive very large funding," Heifetz said.
The Wexlers already support several other programs at Harvard, including a fellowship that brings Israeli public servants to the Kennedy School.
Nye, who both Gergen and Heifetz said was instrumental in pushing for the new center, called the center "one of my highest priorities as dean" in a statement yesterday.
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