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David T. Ellwood ’75: Clinton administration official turned dean

By Daniel J. Hemel and Stephen M. Marks, Crimson Staff Writerss

As the University sought to fill the vacant position of Kennedy School dean in 1995, senior faculty speculated that David T. Ellwood ’75, a senior official in the Clinton administration’s antipoverty effort, would leave his White House post to serve as the school’s top administrator.

Ellwood did leave the White House in 1995, expressing deep reservations about the compromise that President Clinton reached with congressional Republicans on welfare reform. But he returned to his post as academic dean of the Kennedy School, while the school’s top administrative post went to another Clinton White House official: then-Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph S. Nye.

After eight years as dean, Nye is stepping down this summer—and University President Lawrence H. Summers has tapped Ellwood to lead the Kennedy School.

Ellwood said he doesn’t know if he would have accepted the deanship in 1995 had then-University President Neil L. Rudenstine offered him the post.

“I can devote myself to the job [now] in a way that would have been very difficult back then,” Ellwood said. “This is the right time for me.”

Ellwood has been a member of the school’s faculty since 1980—with a two-year leave of absence during his stint at the White House in the 1990s. He most recently served as the Black professor of political economy.

Ellwood inherits a school that has changed dramatically since the beginning of Nye’s deanship. The school’s faculty and student body have grown remarkably—both in size and diversity.

Sustaining that growth will be a challenging task. The University faces a fundraising slowdown and a costly Allston expansion—factors that could exacerbate the Kennedy School’s budget crunch and force further belt-tightening measures.

But with these challenges come new opportunities. The Allston expansion will make the Kennedy School closer to the geographic center of Harvard. And if Ellwood has his way, the school will be a link between the University’s Cambridge home and its new campus across the Charles.


Ellwood served as the only Harvard College alum on the University’s Allston planning task force focused on undergraduate life—a committee that last month recommended the construction of between three and eight upperclass Houses across the river.

“If undergraduate housing is on both sides of the river, we’re conveniently located right at the intersection,” Ellwood said.

The Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics could then serve as central space for undergraduates on both sides of the Charles, Ellwood said.

Ellwood holds deep ties to the Quad—currently home to three upperclass Houses that could be uprooted in the Allston expansion. He was a member of Currier House while he was a student at the College, and his daughter is a member of Pforzheimer House’s Class of 2006. But the task force’s report could uproot the Quad houses from Garden Street.

“I’m proud to be a Currier House resident,” Ellwood said. “But at the end of the day, the key is one University and I believe in one University.”


Under Nye, the Kennedy School was out in front of the University’s effort to build a more international focus.

Nye said the proportion of international students has approximately doubled, to 45 percent, since he assumed the deanship in 1996.

“It means that in any given classroom you have a very high chance of being with somebody who’s very different from you, and that could be students from 80 different countries,” Nye said. “And I think that makes a richer environment in the classroom.”

The school decided to increase the percentage of international students for two reasons, according to Nye.

“One was that we saw our mission as global: training public leaders in a global context,” he said. “But in addition we felt that each of these foreign students helped to educate an American.”

He added that the proportion of international students is at about the right level.

“We’ve generally thought that we don’t want to cross the 50 percent line,” he said.

A key element of the Kennedy School’s increasingly global focus was its launch of a new degree program granting a master’s of public policy in international development.

“It has added a very bright group of students, predominantly from overseas,” Nye said.

The program was closely tied to the Center for International Development, located at the Kennedy School. Since 1998, the center has served as a clearinghouse for researchers across the University who are studying emerging economies.

That center may be scrapped this summer after its director, Cabot Professor of Public Policy Kenneth H. Rogoff, steps down from his administrative post. Ellwood said that he and University President Lawrence H. Summers will reach a decision on the center’s future in the next few weeks.

“We’re going to continue the international development efforts,” Ellwood said. “I believe very deeply in the center’s basic ideas and mission.”

Closing down the center would be a blow to the school, according to Nye. He said a large center like CID is costly to maintain.

“I think the key to its future is going to be a attracting a donor who is interested in development who is willing to provide the resources,” Nye said. “Maybe we’ll have to either scale it back considerably or find new sources of support.”


The size of the school’s faculty jumped 40 percent under Nye’s tenure, with the number of minority professors increasing at an even faster rate. And since 1996, the number of women with tenure or on a tenure track at the Kennedy School nearly doubled.

“It’s also true that the percentages start from a low base, so there’s still a long way to go,” Nye said. “So we’ve made progress, but there’s lots left for David to do.”

Meanwhile, the school has encouraged more of its students to pursue public service careers. In 1997, a whopping 51 percent of graduates took private-sector jobs after leaving the school. Nye said he feared “that the Kennedy School might become Harvard’s second business school.”

In response, Nye moved to bolster the school’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), which offers financial aid to alums in low-salary public service jobs. He made changes that increased LRAP’s budget five-fold—with stunning results. Last year, just 20 percent of Kennedy School graduates took private-sector positions.

But the expansion of the school’s faculty and the growth of its financial aid outlays soon left the Kennedy School swimming in red ink.

The school reversed a fiscal year 2002 deficit of $5.9 million and ran a modest surplus last year. But balancing the budget came at a steep cost: the school cut 47 staff positions in 2003.

“That was a sad chapter for us,” Ellwood said. “Any time you lose staff, there are certain consequences...but ultimately, we have to keep ourselves afloat.”

In March, Nye said he would have to scale back graduates’ LRAP eligibility in order to preserve the Kennedy School’s financial health. But after students staged an all-night demonstration to protest the changes, Nye announced that he would exempt past and current students from the more stricter eligibility requirements.

Meanwhile, the outgoing dean has raised additional donations earmarked for LRAP from alums, and students have initiated a fundraising drive of their own to sustain the program. Ellwood pledged to continue Nye’s effort.

“LRAP remains something I’m very concerned about, and I will work hard over with alumni and donors to expand the program as much as we can,” Ellwood said.


Nye juggled his responsibilities as dean with his scholarly writing, which most recently has included the March 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

Ellwood said some of the same strategies that Nye recommends for international leaders also apply to graduate school administrators.

“The basic idea here is that the power to persuade is much more effectively done through the authority of your ideas than the authority of your office,” Ellwood said.

Nye noted that deans don’t have much hard power.

“Being able to persuade people and attract them to your vision of the institution is an essential part of academic administration,” Nye said. “You become a practitioner of soft power in the ability to attract others, because it’s the major source of power that you have.”

Nye’s prolific production of academic literature while simultaneously executing his administrative duties makes him a rarity in the world of higher education.

“As Larry Summers once jokingly told me, I’m one of the few ‘player-coaches,’” Nye said.

Ellwood said his own “overwhelming emphasis” will be on his administrative responsibilities. As a result, Ellwood said—regretfully—that he will not teach any courses next year. “Being dean will be my absolute first priority,” he said.

But Ellwood also said that he hopes to continue his research on the evolution of the American family.

His most recent academic work examines the social and technological changes of the 1960s—which allowed women greater control over their reproductive lives and permitted them to pursue professional careers.

“The effect of this has been that more educated women postpone childbearing—and sometimes eliminate it altogether. Less educated women do not postpone childbearing but do postpone marriage,” Ellwood said. “This has resulted in rapid and dramatic changes for the American family.”

As the Kennedy School attracts more students from abroad, Ellwood’s own research is taking a more international tone.

“Dramatic family structure changes happen throughout the world,” Ellwood said. “Fertility rates have plummeted in much of western Europe. The sorts of things I’m working on here about understanding changes in marriage and fertility in the United States—similar kinds of questions can be asked about many nations.”

Ellwood’s research and his synthesis of academic findings with policy suggestions have drawn praise from students and colleagues.

“He’s devoted his life to eradicating poverty,” said Tim Sultan, the outgoing Kennedy School Student Government president and a leading figure in the fight to maintain financial support for LRAP. “We couldn’t have a better champion for our mission.”

“He has been fascinated by one of the most intractable of problems—persistent poverty—and has been determined in searching for ways to address it,” said Dillon Professor of Government Graham T. Allison Jr., who was the first-ever dean of the Kennedy School, from 1977 to 1989. “[Ellwood] embodies the school’s mission of excellence in public problem-solving.”

—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at

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