This is graduation week at Harvard, which means all the lawns are perfectly manicured, buildings are carefully scrubbed, and Harvard Square is teeming with former graduates in town for reunions. And of course it means it is raining...
As MPAID faculty chair, I make a short speech to the families of MPAID graduates. Here is an excerpt:
A decade ago, Harvard and the Kennedy School took a big gamble by launching a new degree program, called the MPA in International Development. The gamble was that if we put together a really rigorous and challenging program in international development--a program with no equal anywhere else--we would be able to attract 65 or so students we would be proud to have in our midst and as our graduates.
We set very ambitious goals for the program. Our aim was no less than a new career path in development. We emphasized both high-level technical training (which is typically the province of Ph.D. programs in economics) and professional, multidisciplinary training (which is the province of master's programs in international affairs or public administration).
We wanted the MPAIDs to combine both types of strengths—to have “hard minds and soft hearts.” Hard minds because development is too important a profession to leave to fuzzy thinking, and soft hearts because development is impossible to achieve without empathy for the people whose lives we are trying to improve.
We wanted to train professionals who were skeptics, but not cynics: that is, always questioning the conventional wisdom, but without the defeatist attitude that says nothing works and public action cannot achieve public ends.
One of my favorite stories is one that I first heard from E.F. Schumacher, whom some of you may know as the author of “Small is beautiful.” It concerns an economist, an architect, and a physician who are traveling together in a train. They fall into a conversation about which one of the three professions is the oldest and therefore the most honorable. The physician says, well of course medicine is the oldest profession. Look, at the very beginning God made Eve out of Adam's rib. This was an act of surgery, was it not? The architect says, hold on, before there was Adam and Eve, the earth and the planets had to be constructed. God made the earth out of chaos. This was an act of architecture. The economist turns to the other two and says: "And where do you think chaos came from?"
Well, we wanted to train professionals who could not only imagine what a better world might look like, but would also help create it—though better institutions, better programs, better policies.
For us, this gamble has paid off handsomely. We could not have hoped for graduates that better embody the ideals of the program--academic excellence, commitment to development, leadership.
In my case, the festivities are attenuated somewhat by the fact that these ceremonies also mark the completion of my duties as MPAID faculty chair. On Thursday, I hand out diplomas. On Friday, I am a free man!
As any reader of this blog knows, I have nothing but good things to say about the MPAID program and, more importantly, about the students in the program. But times of transition are also times for stock-taking, so I have been thinking about where we have been falling short and how we can improve the program even more.
So here is where I wish we could have done better... [the next three paragraphs accidentally deleted]
As for the future, the MPAID program will be in very good hands, so I am not losing any sleep over it.