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Elmendorf Discusses Kennedy School Diversity and Financial Aid Problems, Progress

Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf delivers remarks at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.
Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf delivers remarks at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. By Gigi M. Kisela
By Raquel Coronell Uribe and Sixiao Yu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf addressed student calls for increased diversity and more comprehensive financial aid in an interview Tuesday.

The Kennedy School has long been plagued by diversity issues, as evidenced by the school’s annual demographic reports. Over the three years since the first report was published, the Kennedy School has significantly increased the share of students and faculty who identify as racial and gender minorities. Still, the school remains overwhelmingly white and male.

To address this imbalance, Elemendorf said, the Kennedy School is reimagining the school’s recruitment strategy and hiring a new assistant dean.

“We hired a year or so ago, a new assistant dean to oversee our recruiting and admissions process, somebody with experience in broadening and strengthening admissions pools,” Elmendorf said. “This is the first year in a sense to see whether those strategies that we've deployed to the school are making a difference. And I think that they have been.”

This year, the Kennedy School also implemented an intensive two-week course on the history of race and inequality. The module is required by some programs, such as the mid-career master in public policy program.

This was the first year the Kennedy School this course, which Elmendorf said he believes went “very well.” But he said he is unsure whether it will be required for all students.

“Most of the other programs at the Kennedy School don't have required courses,” Elemendorf said.

“It's a very important course. But we have to see now how that worked, and to think about what the best way is to expand that learning to students in other programs,” he added.

Some affiliates have alleged the Kennedy School does not foster a comfortable environment for students and faculty of color. Elmendorf said he is conducting remote discussions with new faculty members to ensure they feel supported.

“The first question I put to these new faculty members is, what can I do to help you find this place to be the best possible place they can work,” he said.

Elmendorf said he is “always sorry” to hear stories of people who don’t feel as though the Kennedy School’s environment is welcoming.

“The ongoing role of the dean is to draw faculty members and students to a school and then provide an environment in which they can thrive,” Elmendorf said. “I take that seriously for all of the students, and all the faculty, and all the staff members of the Kennedy School.”

The dean also discussed obstacles to offering more significant scholarships.

In the past, students at the Kennedy School have called to establish a need-based financial aid system that would replace the current merit-based system. Elmendorf said that while increasing financial aid has been a “priority” for him, the school “does not have the resources” to meet all of its students’ needs.

“We work very hard to persuade donors to the Kennedy School that one of the key ways they can make better governance in the future is to enable talented people without the means today to come to the school, to graduate without a huge amount of debt, so they can go easily into public service,” he said. “We try to distribute [the aid] across people in the best way we can, and there isn’t enough to go around.”

“I know that, and I’m doing my best to try and change that,” Elmendorf added.

—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.

—Staff writer Sixiao Yu can be reached at

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