Following her recent campaign for Governor of Massachusetts, Harvard Government professor Danielle S. Allen is set to return to as director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics for the 2022-2023 academic year.
Allen looked back on her run for office and discussed her future at Harvard in an interview Wednesday, five weeks after suspending her campaign. She had stepped back from her roles on campus during the race to maintain a separation between her political work and the University.
“It really meant I was sort of out of touch with people, and so it's a real pleasure to reconnect and just honestly spend time hearing what people have been up to for the past year,” Allen said.
Allen said she is guided by her “life’s purpose” of furthering American democracy and saw running for office as the way to do so.
“Across all my areas of work, you’ll see me doing the same thing,” she said. “You’ll see me working on democracy in scholarly terms, you’ll see me working on housing, you’ll see me working on justice reform, you’ll see me working on civic education.”
However, asked whether she would seek political office again in the future, she said she will assess the direction her career must take as the needs of the nation’s democracy change.
“There’s a lot of work to do, and over time, I will be reconfiguring my portfolio to get that work done, depending on opportunities and depending on necessities,” she said.
Asked about her bid for the Commonwealth’s highest office, Allen was pragmatic about the need for an early end to the campaign.
“The simple fact of the matter is that in the early parts of the caucus process, we did not succeed in hitting our targets,” Allen said. “And the math was just such that there was not a path to continue pursuing.”
She said Massachusetts “has room for improvement,” reiterating her previous claims that the state’s primary system shuts out non-traditional candidates.
“As it happens, we have the most restrictive ballot access process in the country,” she said. “And it’s time for us to see that and say that and figure out how we can live up to our own standards for an inclusive 21st century democracy.”
Even as she leaves politics and returns to academia, Allen said she will continue working on the same issues she did as a candidate, only from a different angle. She said she sees her role at the Safra Center as another way to help improve the health of American democracy.
“We’re very proud of the work that we do at the Safra Center, making sure that questions of ethics are at the table for every kind of policy making conversation,” she said.
As she comes back to Harvard, Allen already has a plan for the shape her work will take. Aside from her work with the Safra Center, she will teach a class at the Harvard Kennedy School next spring titled “Justice By The Means of Democracy” — a phrase she consistently used in the interview to describe her life’s purpose.
“There's a heck of a lot of work to do helping people really sort of deeply understand what it means to put questions of ethics and core values — human dignity — at the center of policymaking,” she said.
Correction: March 24, 2022
A previous version of this article misquoted Danielle S. Allen. She said she has spent time “hearing what people have been up to for the past year.” She did not say she has spent time “hearing what people have been up to for the past few years.”