Dozens of students and former civil servants gathered on Tuesday night to listen to former senior advisors to the late Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 discuss their experiences with the senator’s contributions to education.
Each of the four panelists, speaking in Askwith Hall at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, spoke about different projects that they were involved in and they all said that the senator was very easy to work with.
Robert Schwartz, the academic dean of the GSE who was moderating the event, said that while Kennedy was involved with health care reform, his “education legacy” is equally notable.
“If you actually look at the record of his life over the last 15 years, he’s made an enormous impact on creating an education policy and framework,“ he said.
Schwartz added that one of the reasons why Kennedy, the third longest-serving senator in American history, succeeded in bringing about reform was that he drew heavily on his Harvard connections and often invited experts from the University to act as his advisors.
Nick Littlefield, a former staff director and chief counsel for Kennedy on the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, described Kennedy as being “obsessed with school reform”.
“He launched the juggernaut of education legislation that I think affects everybody all the way through their lives in America even today,” he said.
Clayton Spencer, the Vice President for Policy at the University, worked with the senator on direct lending from the government to students in need. She said that the program saves the government money and enables more students to pursue higher education.
“It’s great that you have [schools like] Harvard... but it’s not so great if you can’t afford to go there,” she said. “Education has to be the engine of opportunities.”
Spencer also spoke about Kennedy’s personality.
She said that his sense of humor made him “a blast to work with.”
“Life is about fit, and Senator Kennedy was meant to be a senator,” she said.
The other two panelists were Ellen Guiney and Danica Petroshius, who both worked closely with the senator on Goals 2000, a project focusing on standards-based education reform, and the No Child Left Behind Act, respectively.
The event attracted a number of individuals who have worked in public service as well as many students at the University, including Elizabeth B. Epstein, a graduate student at the GSE.
“He’s the most influential education leader of our time,” she said. “I’m here to hear what other people have to say about him in memoriam.”