Blog suspended for at least one to two weeks.
I have been a member of the faculty of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government since 2000.
On November 5, 2014, Harvard’s President, Drew Faust, sent to members of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) community a letter informing them, us, of the search for a new dean. Candid counsel was being sought from faculty, students, staff, alumni, and knowledgeable others. But, the advisory group for the search had already been established. It consisted of nine senior faculty from HKS, and four faculty from other parts of the University
One day later I sent to President Faust a letter that raised questions about the search process. In particular, I wondered why the only advisory group members from HKS were senior faculty. After all, the Harvard Kennedy School has 188 faculty, the large majority of whom are not senior. Moreover, HKS is a community that includes, in addition to faculty, more than one thousand students who are enrolled full time in its master’s degree programs. It further includes some 470 staff, who are critical to the School’s mission. I therefore suggested to President Faust that she might diversify the advisory group to include, for example, some faculty who were other than senior, and at least one or two students and one or two staff. The new HKS dean will, after all, lead not only senior faculty, but everyone affiliated with the Kennedy School.
President Faust replied to my letter, thanking me for my views, but reiterating that while she hoped to benefit from input from a range of people, she would continue to rely on the advisory group as originally constituted.
The purpose of this piece is not to extend this exchange, or to focus on HKS in particular. It is to suggest that the process of searching for all Harvard’s deans’ should be changed. In her letter of November 5th President Faust wrote that by establishing an advisory committee composed in the main of HKS senior faculty, she was following Harvard’s usual practice. My argument is that it’s time for this usual practice, this past practice, to change.
It is now widely agreed that search processes are fairer and better if they are led by groups that are diverse. In fact, in October 2014, Harvard Senior Vice-Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity, Judith Singer, distributed a document titled “Faculty Development & Diversity.” While this document pertains obviously only to faculty, its conclusions are broadly applicable. In particular, search committees and, presumably, advisory committees should include members “from diverse backgrounds, who may have helpful – and divergent – ideas that can enhance efforts to recruit and evaluate candidates…. Research shows that committees of individuals with diverse perspectives make better decisions.” (Italics mine.) This conclusion has been by now widely confirmed, yet again in a recent book, Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter, co-authored by Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein: “When dissent and diversity are present and levels of participation are high, groups are likely to do a lot better.”
Of course this raises the question of what constitutes diversity. Harvard, along with many other institutions, tends to think of diversity primarily in terms of women and minorities. (In this case diversity could also be construed to mean inclusion of faculty from other Harvard Schools.) But, especially as it applies to the search for a dean, to the search for a leader of the whole, the word “diversity” should be much more broadly defined. Advisory groups or committees charged with assisting Harvard presidents in their searches for new deans should include, at a minimum, a few faculty who are other than senior, plus some students and some staff.
Time has come to ditch Harvard’s past practice in searches for new deans. Time has come to update past practice so that it takes into account the latest research. Time has come for the process to be modernized and democratized – to be less exclusive and more inclusive.
My most recent book – Hard Times: Leadership in America – was published in October by Stanford University Press. The book explores the impact of context on leadership and followership.
Beginning February 3, I started posting, in this space, excerpts. They are in the order in which they appear in the book.
Excerpt from Chapter 4 – Politics
“Still, there is a pervasive sense, largely justified, that even if [government is] working, it is not working as well as it should, or nearly as well as it did. This matters of itself – and it matters because our opinion of leaders in government affects our opinion of leaders more broadly. Disappointment in the former tends to contaminate our view of the latter. It’s one of the reasons why leadership in twenty-fist century America is so difficult to exercise: the political culture generally, and political leaders specifically, have poisoned the well.
What’s happened? What’s gone wrong? More particularly, what’s gone wrong during the past half century when Americans’ trust in government and in those who people it, particularly at the federal level, have plummeted? The reasons fall into two categories: exogenous, external to politics; and endogenous, internal to politics – that is, to politicians and the political system.”
France has been agog in recent weeks over the trail of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of, among other things, pimping. Perhaps as a respite from the tragedies of terrorism, the country supposedly known for its blasé approach to matters of love and lust has been fixated on the sexual predilections of the man who, until just a few years ago, was head of the International Monetary Fund and possible successor to then president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The trial of Strauss-Kahn is a turning point. It’s the first time the French have intruded so boldly and brazenly on what once was considered a zone of privacy – the erogenous zone. It’s become known that Strauss-Kahn had a disposition toward rough sex, which now he neither denies nor disowns. Clearly a boundary has been crossed: French leaders, no matter how highly placed, have become vulnerable not only to having their private affairs made public, but to having their sexual proclivities put on public view.
Younger Americans might see this as something new and different. But older Americans will remember the year 1998, when the national obsession was with President Bill Clinton’s relationship with a 21 year old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. What was most titillating, trailblazing, was not the relationship itself – by then we knew full well that American presidents had had sex with women other than their wives – but the details about the relationship. For the first time even the media establishment provided the American people with facts – say, the stain on the blue Gap dress – that previously would have been kept strictly private.
On the surface this seems a small matter – a sign of the times with no major significance. I, however, argue differently. I argue that one of the reasons leaders don’t get no respect is that we have come to know too many too well. Detailed descriptions of men with their pants down do not contribute to a leadership culture in which subordinates see superiors as better than they.
George W. Bush will forever be blamed, at least in part, for the calamity that has become Iraq. Barack Obama will forever be blamed, at least in part, for the calamity that has become Syria. The question is … will Hillary Clinton forever be blamed, at least in part, for the calamity that has become Libya?
In the three and one half years since the U.S. participated in, or, better, led, a coalition to oust Libya’s Col. Muamaar el-Qaddafi, the country has become a dangerously failed state. Despite its huge reserves of oil, its vast financial assets, and its long coastline just across the sea from Europe, Libya has no effective government or even dominant force. This leaves it desperately vulnerable to rival coalitions, including the likes of ISIS, all of which are fighting for control, apparently to the death.
Libya has been Hillary Clinton’s Achilles Heel at least since the tragedy at Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including the Ambassador. But Benghazi was a single incident. What’s happening now in Libya, to Libya, is dreadfulness of a different magnitude entirely.
This is not the place to retrace Hillary Clinton’s steps in the decision to depose Qaddafi. However it is the place to provide a few relevant quotes from her book, Hard Choices, about being Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first term.
Chapter 16 is titled, “Libya: All Necessary Measures.”
First Clinton tells us that she thought Qaddafi “one of the most eccentric, cruel, and unpredictable autocrats in the world.”
Then she writes that she began to wonder as did many of her foreign counterparts, “Was it time for the international community to go beyond humanitarian aid and sanctions and take decisive action to stop the violence in Libya?’
Next she describes some Arab states and some European ones as eager to intervene. French President Sarkozy, for example, was “gung-ho,” and the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, “pressed the case for action.”
As well, key allies within the administration, notably then UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and then National Security Council aide Samantha Power, made a strong argument “that we had a responsibility to protect civilians and prevent a massacre.”
Before long the U.S. again was intervening – the attack against the Libyan government was on. Although, Clinton writes, “the military campaign in Libya lasted longer than any of us had hoped or expected,” in the end it was seen at the time as successful. By late summer of 2011, “the rebels had pushed back the regime’s forces. They captured Tripoli… and Qaddafi and his family fled into the desert.”
I am not writing to indict. I am writing to point out that any number of Democrats, along with any number of Republicans, mistakenly thought that deposing a dictator from without would solve an admittedly agonizing problem. I am writing to point out that though the buck stopped with Obama, his first secretary of state played a particularly prominent role in America’s decision to take military action in Libya. I am writing to point out that if we’re in the business of blaming for related mistakes, there’s no excuse for excluding from the accused Hillary Clinton.