Mark D. Gearan ’78, former director of the United States Peace Corps and former president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, was appointed director of the Institute of Politics Monday.
Gearan has served as “president in residence” at the Graduate School of Education for the last year. As a Harvard undergraduate, he was an active member of the IOP and said he attributes the $500 summer stipend he received through the Institute to be an “important” development in his life.
“It has really been an important part of the thread of my life that opened up my eyes to the world of public policy, public service and politics,” Gearan said, “I have been very grateful for that opportunity.”
Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School, made the decision to tap Gearan, though a search committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff provided guidance throughout the selection process.
“We were looking for the person we thought could best inspire the students and lead an organization that would inspire students to go into public service and politics,” Elmendorf said.
The IOP director position sat unfilled for approximately 10 months following the resignation of former director Maggie Williams in April 2017.
William D. “Bill” Delahunt has served as interim director since William’s departure. He also served as interim director while Williams was on leave in fall 2016 to serve on Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential transition team.
Dustin Chiang ’19, president of the IOP Student Advisory Committee, said it took time to consider all of the candidates and their qualifications.
“The position of the director of the IOP is a very important one and it was a very thorough process in which the dean considered a number of candidates, and we wanted to make sure we had the best candidate possible selected to be our director,” Chiang said.
A former Crimson news editor, Gearan will take the lead of an organization under scrutiny following a series of controversial fellow appointments. Last fall, the IOP briefly appointed Chelsea Manning, a former Army soldier who went to prison for leaking classified military documents, as a visiting fellow to the IOP. Her visiting fellowship was rescinded after backlash from CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Later that fall, Sean Spicer, the former press secretary for President Donald Trump, faced scrutiny for only hosting off-the-record events on campus.
Gearan responded to the controversy by addressing his willingness to listen to students about their opinions and focusing on the roles they can take in public service and politics.
“This is a unique time in American civic life but that was one of the motivations I had to seek the position,” Gearan said, “I think the mission is a brilliant one and one to inspire Harvard students to think of leadership roles in public service and political life.”
Gearan will officially take the helm of the Institute of Politics in March, according to a press release.
“For me, it will start with listening to those that are most engaged and listening to those who are most engaged. I think there are people very, very committed to the Institute,” Gearan added. “[The Institute] does have this rich history of thought and experience, and that’s a hallmark of higher education, so I have conversations that I can’t wait to get started with.”
—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez
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