Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to Become HKS Professor

A Conversation with Ashton B. Carter
Former United States Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, pictured at the Institute of Politics in 2015 with Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter will join the faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School at the end of the academic year as the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a professor of technology and global affairs.

Carter, who was previously a professor at the Kennedy School, will return to Cambridge after a series of gifts from frequent donors Robert and Renée Belfer. One of their gifts will be used to endow Carter’s new position at the helm of the Belfer Center.

During his tenure as Secretary of Defense, which lasted from 2015 to the end of the Obama administration, Carter led American efforts against ISIS, dealt with the ramifications of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and opened combat positions to women.

In his role at the Belfer Center and as a professor, Carter will teach courses and work with student researchers.

“I like to teach and I like students. I’m not one of these faculty members who doesn’t want to be with students. That’s the whole point,” Carter said in an interview with The Crimson.

Carter said returning to the Kennedy School will provide him with opportunities to continue to working with young people on topics of national defense.

“Two months ago I ended what was a 35-year career in national defense as Secretary of Defense and among the many day-to-day challenges and wars I was always mindful, as Secretary of Defense, of the future,” Carter said. “That comes from two ingredients: great technology and spectacular young people in a volunteer force. I wanted in my next career to combine those things to a degree, namely technological innovation and the next generation.”

The cornerstone of Carter’s work in the classroom and in research will be the role technology and innovation plays in national security.

“His focus will be on innovation and how innovation can help keep our country and other countries safer,” Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said.

Other Belfer gifts will be used for increasing financial aid, research initiatives and policy engagement by faculty members. Elmendorf declined to disclose the size of the gifts.

Following his inauguration, President Donald Trump unveiled a proposed budget slashing funding to research in the sciences, arts and humanities while bolstering funding for the Department of Defense. The cuts have worried professors across the University who rely on federal funding for research. Carter said he shares some of these concerns.

“I do believe that we make good use of the defense dollars that we’re given and we need them, but I’m a staunch believer equally in the importance of public funding for research and development and for execution and training, infrastructure,” Carter said. “I believe the Secretary of Defense needs to stick up for all of those parts of the federal budget as important for national defense.”

Carter’s appointment at the Kennedy School is the latest in a string of academic appointments for former Obama administration officials. Earlier this year, the University of Pennsylvania announced former Vice President Joe Biden would be joining the faculty to lead the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. Michelle Obama’s former chief speechwriter, Sarah Hurwitz, currently serves as a fellow at the Institute of Politics.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry will also coming to the Kennedy School this year, albeit briefly, to deliver the school’s graduation address.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.