Dean Rethinks Public-Policy Needs Albert Carnesale, New Dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Sees Three 'Frontiers of Knowledge'

By Jim Bencivenga, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 14, 1992 | Go to article overview

Dean Rethinks Public-Policy Needs Albert Carnesale, New Dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Sees Three 'Frontiers of Knowledge'


Jim Bencivenga, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University cuts a wide swath in the public-policy arena. Its faculty and alumni not only advise governments but, at times, run them.

By any criteria, the school exerts tremendous influence. For instance, it is not unreasonable to speculate that former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev could turn up as a lecturer someday.

So when the school's new dean, Albert Carnesale, says that education policy, health-care issues, and environmental questions are "frontiers of knowledge so important" that he "cannot imagine the Kennedy School not focusing much attention and energy on them," he is reacting not only to public-policy concerns, but charting a course of study aimed at their solution.

"Leadership can take place at many levels," he said in an interview in his office, referring both to his own approach to management and to the leadership role of the Kennedy School.

"The simplistic notion of 'leaders' and 'followers' does not work very well. Sometimes just clearly defining the problem for an organization or society" is leadership, he says. "Leaders have to be the ones who help the organization, and the others with whom they are working, share a vision of what it is they're trying collectively to do."

Mr. Carnesale is an expert on American foreign policy and international security, technological change, and policies associated with nuclear weapons and arms control (he served on the United States delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks in 1970-72). He holds a doctorate in nuclear engineering and joined the Harvard faculty in 1974. He was appointed in November by Harvard's new president, Neil L. Rudenstine.

Public officials "are always making decisions of interpretation," he says. "They are always making decisions of extrapolation. They are always applying {policy} to particular cases that don't quite fit the generalization."

Since it is the nature of public policy to operate within a broad guideline, and for personnel in an organization to implement policy, such personnel also make policy, he avers.

The critical concept for students is to recognize that public-policy leadership exists at many more levels than they might imagine. Students must also understand how news media influence communication with constituencies. This is as much a leadership issue as it is a management issue, he says.

How does this affect curriculum and research at the Kennedy School?

For starters, the "biggest change is much more comparative analysis, much more of an examination of how others address these problems {in other countries}. …

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