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

At a time when major American universities are placing a high premium on the study of climate change, the Harvard Kennedy School has “successfully recruited a junior faculty member focused on climate change,” HKS Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said in an interview Wednesday.

Charles A. Taylor, a Ph.D. candidate in Sustainable Development at Columbia University, will join the Kennedy School in July 2023 after completing a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley. Elmendorf said HKS also has offers out to two senior faculty members at other universities who study climate change.

In recent months, several peer institutions have taken major steps to increase their resources dedicated to studying sustainability and the climate crisis.

Columbia University founded the Columbia Climate School in July 2020. Stanford University announced on Wednesday it plans to establish a new school of sustainability with the help of a $1.1 billion donation. Stanford’s school will launch with 90 faculty members and will focus on policy to combat climate change.

While Harvard has not established its own school focused on studying climate change, Elmendorf said “developing the people and the ideas to slow climate change is one of our highest priorities at the Kennedy School.”

“We want to build more courses for Kennedy School students and also students elsewhere at the University who want to come take these courses,” Elmendorf said. “We want to continue to be on the leading edge of research on policy related to climate change.”

Elmendorf said the future hires are meant to “build the next generation of faculty members” studying climate change.

“They are leaders and will be for decades to come,” he said. “Leaders in thinking about the consequences of climate change, and practical ways to slow climate change.”

“We view this as a really important part of building the school’s capacity to help our students — and students around the University — to learn more, and go forth, and be more effective advocates for developers of policies that will slow climate change,” Elmendorf added.

Elmendorf said the Kennedy School’s initiatives related to climate change are “very much in coordination with work elsewhere around the University.”

“So I think you may hear broader University plans at some point as well,” he added.

Elmendorf said that the Kennedy School is also trying to hire a faculty member studying China “given the growing importance of China’s role in the world.”

Yadlin Protests

During the interview, Elmendorf also addressed Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine’s weekly protests against retired Israeli Defense Forces general Amos Yadlin, who is serving as a senior fellow at the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative this semester.

Elmendorf acknowledged guests like Yadlin who are invited through the Middle East Initiative, “often elicit negative commentary from some people, and sometimes elicit protests from people.”

But he said the Kennedy School has “invited people with a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over time.”

Nadine Bahour ’22, a Palestinian student who participated in the protests, voiced concerns that the different perspectives are not given an equal platform.

“I think all voices should definitely be represented, which is what the HKS strives for,” Bahour said. “But I have not witnessed in my four years here equal representations between Palestinian and Israeli voices and perspectives on the Kennedy School campus.”

Joseph G. Leone, a second-year student at the Kennedy School who participated in the protests, said Yadlin’s invitation to HKS as a senior fellow was “disturbing” to him because of his role in the Israeli military.

“There’s a difference between a historian or a political scientist who is knowledgeable vs. someone who is an active participant and advocate for violence against civilians, which is a war crime,” he said.

In an interview after his first study group of the semester in February, Yadlin said he was proud “to defend Israel from those who want to destroy it.”

“All I have done in my service was according to the international law,” he said.

Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli Defense Force general, pictured in February at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, where he is serving as a fellow this semester.
Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli Defense Force general, pictured in February at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, where he is serving as a fellow this semester. By Miles J. Herszenhorn

Leone also said he believes the location of Yadlin’s study group was changed after the initial rallies in an attempt by the school to “deter protests.”

“I think they moved it somewhere where protesters could not show up, could not make their voices heard,” he added.

Elmendorf said in the Wednesday interview that the study group was moved after concerns were raised “that the original physical configuration made it possible for the protesters to actually disrupt the study group.”

“We were able to identify another location where disruption could not occur, but yet the protesters could still be at the school and do their protesting,” Elmendorf added. “And that seemed like a better way to accomplish our dual goals here.”

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

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