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Harvard Kennedy School Dean Apologizes to Students Negatively Affected By Enrollment Services Overhaul

Douglas W. Elmendorf is the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School.
Douglas W. Elmendorf is the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School. By Julian J. Giordano
By Miles J. Herszenhorn, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf apologized to students who have been negatively affected by an overhaul of the school’s admissions and financial aid departments in an interview Wednesday, but said the school “will be better off in the future” because of the change.

The Kennedy School restructured its enrollment services last summer, laying off seven employees as it merged its admissions and financial aid teams. Almost 20 students interviewed by The Crimson last month reported that services have declined markedly in the months since the change.

“We’re very sorry for the disruptions that have affected students,” Elmendorf said Wednesday, reiterating an apology first offered by the deans who oversee the new office.

“The transition has not been as smooth as we had hoped or planned,” he said. “But I am confident that we will be better off in the future than we were in the past.”

Elmendorf said the restructuring sought “to create a more effective admissions and financial aid process for the long term.”

“I think we’re building a team that will be more effective, but [that] doesn’t mean that there haven’t been dropped items along the way,” he said. “There have been, and that’s what we feel bad about.”

Elmendorf said the employees hired to staff the newly-merged office are “working very hard to try to minimize the number of calls that aren’t returned or paperwork that isn’t finished at the right time, and so on.”

“I think this team will do a terrific job,” Elmendorf said. “But it is taking them some time to settle in and to learn more of the system here.”

Nine current and former HKS staff members said Oliver Street — the assistant dean of enrollment services who oversaw the transition to the newly-merged offices — fostered a toxic work environment, The Crimson reported last month. Four employees said the concerns about Street were reported to the Kennedy School’s HR department.

“Oliver made a lot of important contributions to the school,” Elmendorf said. “But I’m not going to comment on his individual performance beyond that.”

Asked whether he knew of employees’ concerns about Street, Elmendorf declined to comment.

Street left the Kennedy School on Thursday after less than three years. Elmendorf credited him with helping to improve the racial diversity of HKS’ student body.

The search for a new assistant dean for enrollment services has not concluded, Elmendorf said.

“Our commitment to recruiting a diverse class is lasting,” Elmendorf said. “And [we’ll] be looking for the next assistant dean who can lead this effort most effectively.”

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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