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Presidents do not run the country on their own, and more often than not they do it with the help of Harvard professors.
After President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, roughly a dozen Harvard professors left their university posts to work for the new administration in Washington. If re-elected, Obama is expected to keep many of his Harvard advisers in place.
But even if Tuesday’s election results in a win for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the revolving door between Cambridge and the capital will likely remain intact. In keeping with presidential tradition, a Romney administration would likely pull a number of Harvard professors into the White House or other government offices, political experts say.
“If you’re a president, one of the things you probably want to do is bring in people who have more of an academic and outsider perspective,” said C. M. Trey Grayson ’94, director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “You want people from the outside to come in with more fresh ideas and a more data-driven experience.”
Harvard professors are always a key part of that perspective, Grayson said. And because both Romney and Obama are Harvard graduates, their connections to the faculty here are particularly strong.
Romney counts six Harvard professors as current campaign advisers and several others as close friends or former advisers. Many of his top staffers, including chief policy adviser Lanhee Chen ’99, are Harvard graduates.
Another likely draftee from the Harvard faculty may include economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw, say political experts. Mankiw currently serves as one of Romney’s top economic advisers and is often mentioned as a likely appointee to either the National Economic Council or the Treasury Department.
Mankiw, who teaches the popular introductory course Economics 10: “Principles of Economics,” was one of President George W. Bush’s top economic advisers from 2003 to 2005. Like most professors contacted for this article, Mankiw was not willing to talk about his relationship with the Romney campaign or the potential administration.
“I am very happy being a professor at Harvard, and I do not anticipate changing jobs anytime soon,” Mankiw wrote in an email to The Crimson.
Other possible appointees include economics professor Martin S. Feldstein, Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen, and Dunster House Master Roger B. Porter—all of whom worked in the White House under Ronald Reagan. Christensen is a close friend of Romney’s and, like Porter, he is a fellow Mormon.
While Feldstein told The Crimson that he is not interested in leaving Harvard, Christensen said he would serve either a Romney or Obama administration if he was interested in the position. Porter did not return repeated request for comment.
Experts expect Harvard professors would fill a number of smaller government positions and advisory roles as they have in the Obama administration. Romney campaign advisers also include Kennedy School professor Meghan L. O’Sullivan, Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, Kennedy School professor Paul E. Peterson, Graduate School of Education professor Martin R. West, and Belfer Center fellow Paula J. Dobriansky, most of whom have worked for other Republican administrations in the past.
The majority of faculty advising Romney declined to comment on their work for the campaign, or the possibility that they would join a future administration. Those who replied said that they are happy with their positions at Harvard.
But Grayson said that the way professors feel about Harvard often does not matter much when a president comes knocking.
“It’s hard to turn down a president who asks you to do something and says your country needs you, especially for these higher profile positions,” he said.
The revolving door between politics and academics serves both presidents looking for fresh perspective in Washington and universities who want faculty with real world experience, Grayson explained. The frequent turnover in Washington largely driven by the cyclical back-and-forth of power between parties also ensures a steady exchange between universities and administrations.
“When a party loses power, those people have to go somewhere,” Grayson said. “So you can go to a think tank or you can go to a university so you continue to write and think about these issues.”
Because Harvard tends to attract more Democrats to the faculty than Republicans, it is unlikely that a potential Romney administration would draft as many professors as Obama has. The professors that Romney would likely select are primarily from the economics department or the Business school, Grayson said.
Obama drew most heavily from the Law School in the days following his election.
Former University President Lawrence H. Summers and former Law School Dean Elena Kagan were two of the most high-profile faculty to head to Washington in the administration’s earliest days, as the head of the National Economic Council and Solicitor General respectively. Obama also brought in Law School professors Daniel J. Meltzer ’72, Jody Freeman, and Cass R. Sunstein ’75 among others.
Summers, like many Harvard professors who followed Obama to Washington, returned to campus after two years of service in order to maintain his status as a tenured professor. Meltzer, Freeman, and Sunstein have also returned to Harvard in the last few years. Sunstein’s wife, former Kennedy School professor Samantha Power, still works for the president as a director on the National Security Council.
—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at email@example.com.
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