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The Citizen

Ellwood seeks “campus that amplifies mission”

By Citizen Staff

The following is an excerpt of an interview with Dean David Ellwood. The remainder of the interview can be found here.

Q: We have heard HKS is looking to undertake a renovation project. Can you tell us more about this?
Over the last year or two, we have brought in a variety of consultants and others. We started with this academic plan that I’ve just described. I have been very slow and reluctant to invest in big building projects; partly because it’s a lot of money.
[However], when we look at our buildings, there are several things that could really be improved. We start with asking what is the entrance to the Kennedy School? Now, last year, we did a survey … and people were asked to talk about where they live and where they came in and what they did and where they went and so forth. And virtually, every single person said [in answer to the question]: How did they get into the Kennedy School? — Down a driveway. This is not the most appealing way to say that this is where we are going to change the world.

We have classroom issues; we have space questions; we have [constraints on places for] food and so forth. You could imagine, the possibility (again, this is well in the future) of elevating the courtyard by one level, enhancing safety and reducing traffic through the driveway. [You] could have an enhanced cafeteria on two levels. You [could have] exciting new classrooms of a much more flexible nature. You can imagine faculty offices that were more arrayed around a center core, much the way the MIT media lab is …

The idea is to have a campus that amplifies our mission; that makes it easier so that we have much more space for students’ interaction to relieve some of the burden on the Forum. It would involve new classrooms; it would involve new faculty offices and it would involve making the courtyard an exciting yard as opposed to a parking entryway, delivery zone…

Q: Was there a discussion of building out toward the river? Is that possible?
That is not possible, but there was certainly discussion about how we don’t make very good use of this. This is owned by the state. It’s John F. Kennedy park and I am quite sure we would never get a chance to access it for building purposes, nor would we want to. But part of the question is, are there ways to open that up so that we have more of a sense of connection to that park? [The river was designed] to be a major entrance.

Q: Is the idea also to expand and to have more classrooms?
Yes, it would be more classrooms, more study space, more eating space, but really matters is less the number of classrooms — though we are very, very tight — then the nature of those classrooms. [We need] a more flexible and more open arrangement that allows us to interact in much more active ways as well as being technologically sophisticated. [For example], if we are having a case on [Tanzania] — maybe it’s going on in real time in Tanzania — we can bring the people from Tanzania, in a virtual sense, right into the classroom.

Q: One question that always comes up with development projects is ‘When?’ Do you have a timeline?
I should emphasize that we aren’t doing anything without university approval and we don’t have it yet. We hope to obtain approval within the next 12 months, but there remains a lot of work to be done within that time frame. In the meantime, we are finalizing our discovery phase, which has helped us to identify our core needs.

Q: What would be the impact on students here?
I think the impact on students here will be modest. It means your reunions will be really nice and that you will miss the difficult period during the building stage when things will be somewhat of a mess.

Q: What has been some of the discussion that has surfaced during conversations regarding the renovations?
…The one thing that I have heard from everybody: if you are going to do it, it’s the last building [we] are going to be able to do within this campus so don’t go small, really think big, if you can. Second, think of a campus, not building. It’s not about building a building. It’s how to make this campus as fantastically workable as possible … And the third would be, pay for it. Do not leave your successors with a big bill. If I can make those three happen, I will do it. If I can’t, we won’t.
Q: Has there been any discussion about how the economy as a whole is struggling? Does the optic of trying to build bigger and newer, during a recession, play into it at all?
Yes, I think there are two elements of this … I can’t remember a time where we have been more desperate for high-quality public leadership. It’s not the optics of the money. The question is, are we going to be much, much better in how we teach and the kind of leaders we produce and the kind of ideas we can take on [with a better learning space]? And if the answer to that is yes, then it is worth it. If the answer to that is no, if it is just that we are uncomfortable because things are tight, well welcome to the world of public service.

There’s a second element of course is, Can we raise the money? And I have just basically said, ‘Well, look, if we can’t raise the money, then we won’t do it. I am not doing it — I don’t want to take from financial aid in order to build a building. That’s just not in the cards. I want to do both. The good news is because people are so concerned about the world, they see the mission of the Kennedy School as unbelievably important. So I am optimistic that we can really raise the money.

Q: Are you optimistic that the school can raise the money?
To raise that money, in some sense, we have to at least answer the question: Is this something that is really going to make a difference in the world? Our donors, by and large, are people that aren’t graduates of ours. So they believe in us because of our mission, not because they are motivated to donate to the Kennedy School.