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

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.”


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