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Harvard JFK Jr. Forum Committee Co-Chairs Discuss Plans to Expand Reach of IOP Forums

The Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum frequently hosts talks with government officials, scholars, and dignitaries.
The Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum frequently hosts talks with government officials, scholars, and dignitaries. By Julian J. Giordano
By Thomas J. Mete, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s Institute of Politics will aim to diversify the areas of expertise of the invited guests at its John F. Kennedy Jr. forums this fall, according to JFK Jr. Forum Committee Student Co-Chairs Robert Fogel ’25 and Ryan P. Tierney ’24.

The IOP typically hosts at least one of its flagship John F. Kennedy Jr. forums each week of the semester, regularly inviting top government officials and prominent political and business leaders to discuss pressing issues in current affairs.

In an interview last week, Fogel and Tierney — who began their terms this semester — said the committee will emphasize hosting forums in the fall that resonate with the broader Harvard student body.

“We’re always going to have the senators and the governors, and those people — those people are amazing,” Fogel said. “But there’s so much more to American government and politics than just elected officials.”

While still inviting the political “heavy hitters,” the committee hopes to reshape the forum’s traditional audience — many of whom are Government concentrators — to better reflect the Harvard student body as a whole, according to Fogel and Tierney.

“We really want to do a good job of bringing in people who don’t typically see themselves at the IOP,” Fogel said. “I want to be bringing in people who aren’t simply Gov concentrators.”

“I love Gov, but there’s so much more in the world than that, and the IOP has so much to offer the entire Harvard community,” he added.

Even as the committee expands the forum’s audience they will continue to shy away from inviting “very far-left Democrats” or “far-right Republicans” that don’t fall in line with Harvard’s “reputation for being the establishment” in terms of political ideology, Tierney said.

“Harvard’s name is such a big platform for people that we want to make sure that the voices we're bringing in reflect the values of the institution,” Tierney added.

With the 2024 presidential primaries slowly taking shape, Fogel said the committee is optimistic about bringing presidential candidates to the forum.

“I’m very hopeful that, as we get into primary season, we will be able to have some of these individuals, because the forum is such an important space to discuss important topics with potentially elected officials,” Fogel said.

Though the committee aims to expose students to as many primary candidates as possible, the IOP does not take stances on political ideology or races, Fogel said. Fogel floated the idea of hosting debates or town halls with presidential candidates.

“That could be an opportunity for us to have a kind of change in structure of how a forum looks, so it could be more balanced,” Tierney said.

Fogel and Tierney also lauded the recent appointment of Laura C. Dove as senior director of administration at the IOP, with Tierney saying that her connections to Washington circles and management of “day-to-day” operations have allowed the committee to begin inviting potential guests to the forum for the fall semester.

“We have the infrastructure in place, after that transition, to be able to plan these things out well in advance,” Tierney said. “I think the caliber of names that we are leveraging connections for the fall is even a step up.”

—Staff writer Thomas J. Mete can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @thomasjmete.

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IOPHarvard Kennedy School