For the second time in five years, Harvard is radically reorganizing how it studies economic development in the Third World, as administrators consider rebuilding from scratch the Center for International Development (CID).
CID would have a smaller budget, a greater focus on faculty-led research and closer oversight of spending than it did under its founding director Jeffrey D. Sachs ’76, says Hariri Professor of International Political Economy Dani Rodrik.
The proposal is the product of a steering committee, chaired by Rodrik, appointed last spring to chart a direction for the center in the wake of Sachs’ decision to leave for Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
Given the history of CID and the consequences of its director’s July departure, their task has involved more than just a little tinkering.
“We’re trying to put CID back on track,” Rodrik says, “but we’ll have to essentially start from scratch.”
It is not often that Harvard admits error and starts from square one. More remarkable are the players involved and the extent to which the proposed solution echoes previous efforts.
Sachs was the big name, the internationally and popularly recognized face of development studies and the center. His departure was publicly greeted as a major loss.
University President Lawrence H. Summers, who must ultimately decide the fate of CID, has emphasized development studies as an important priority for the University’s future.
He’s being presented with a plan, however, that is in many ways a return to the past.
In its academic focus, the plan tries to return to what Rodrik says he and other faculty believed was the center’s original intent. Financially, the plan grows out of concerns on the part of the central administration not to repeat the ways of the last four years.
But Sachs says the center he founded was blossoming and warns that it may now be heading toward irrelevancy.
Refocusing on Research
CID was founded in 1998, as a center affiliated with the Kennedy School of Government, at a time when Sachs was chair of then-troubled Harvard Institute of International Development (HIID). HIID was beset with controversy over the alleged wrongdoing of two of its affiliates working on its Russia project—a case that is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit by the U.S. government.
While HIID provided consulting services to the developing world, CID was intended to be the research arm of the University’s efforts at development studies.
Soon, in fact, it was the University’s only arm. In 2000, HIID was dissolved and much of its endowment transferred to CID. A committee reporting to then-Provost Harvey V. Fineberg ’67 said the University should concentrate its efforts on academic research rather than consulting.