The Harvard Kennedy School has seen little or no change across various demographics in its student, faculty, and staff population, according to the school’s annual diversity report released Thursday.
The school saw only a marginal uptick in the racial diversity of its student body compared with last year. Fifty-eight percent of students this year identify as white, while 60 percent did last year. The school continues to have no students of Native American, Alaskan Native, Native Pacific Islander, or Native Hawaiian background. The tenured faculty composition remains identical to last year — professors at the Kennedy School are 79 percent white and 78 percent male.
Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf ’85, who emailed the report to school affiliates, said in an interview Thursday that there was a need for improvement in representation.
“Improving the Kennedy School. . .is a responsibility that I have as dean, a responsibility that all the members of our leadership team share in, and a responsibility that everyone at the school shares in some ways,” he said.
When the Kennedy School released its first diversity report in 2018 — per the advice of its Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion — many affiliates voiced concerns about the lack of diversity it revealed within the school and called for administrators to improve the representation of minority students and female faculty.
In response to the continued gender imbalance within the school’s faculty, Elmendorf said the school matches the industries from which it draws scholars.
“That reflects in part the gender composition of the fields from which we do most of our hiring,” he said. “The most common disciplinary backgrounds [among] the faculty at the Kennedy School are Economics and Political Science.”
“But, we think we can do better over time,” he added.
He said the school has introduced new hiring processes to account for gender bias among its feeder fields.
Bryan Cortes, a member of the school’s Journal of Hispanic Policy and the Latinx Caucus, wrote in an email that his organization plans to push administrators to improve the “abysmal” representation of minorities among its students and faculty.
“The School still has a long way to create a student body and faculty that is representative of the society we live in,” he wrote.
Professor Khalil G. Muhammad, who teaches on history, race, and public policy, said there is a need for a larger transformaton of the culture of diversity at the Kennedy School.
“[The report] is far from a sufficient reflection of the need for a massive shift in the culture and climate of the Kennedy School,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad is currently the only tenured black faculty member at the Kennedy School after professor William J. Wilson ’96 retired earlier this year. He said the difficulties the school appears to face with minority recruitment and retention within its student body are mirrored at the faculty level.
Muhammad said the school must look beyond numbers when seeking to improve diversity and consider all aspects of its “larger systemic issues.”
“Even if the numbers were to improve marginally, that would not necessarily reflect the significance of the culture, climate, and pedagogical changes that need to occur at the school,” Muhammad said.
Latinx Caucus co-chairs Karla B. Magana Figueroa and Thomas A. Franco wrote in an email that a lack of financial aid at the school also exacerbates its issues with racial diversity.
“While we are working to increase the number of admitted underrepresented minorities, we are also analyzing how lack of financial aid is contributing to the issue,” they wrote.
Elmendorf said the school has need-blind admissions, but struggles to meet students' financial needs.
“We do not meet the need of our admitted students in the way the College does,” he said. “And that is a challenge. It was a priority of my predecessor and is a priority of mine to increase financial aid at the Kennedy School, so more people can come here who don't have the means.”
According to Elmendorf, the Kennedy School has undertaken several new initiatives to improve minority recruitment at the school and to incorporate diversity into faculty hiring practices.
In an effort to attract more minority applicants, the school recently appointed an administrative fellow and a new assistant dean of enrollment services who are working to develop new recruitment strategies. The Kennedy School has also partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Latinx Caucus in the United States House of Representatives to encourage students of color to apply.
“We are actively working to cast a wider net,” Elmendorf said.
—Staff writer Isabel L. Isselbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @IsabelLarkin.