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The search for the next director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics has narrowed to an initial shortlist of four finalists, according to five people familiar with the student deliberations.
The finalists — former U.S. Representative Val V. Demings, former Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx, former U.S. Representative Stephanie N. Murphy, and interim IOP Director Setti D. Warren — sat for interviews earlier this year with current and former IOP Student Advisory Committee members.
Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf continues to search for a successor to former IOP Director Mark D. Gearan ’78 after he unexpectedly departed in August 2022 to serve a second stint as president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Foxx emerged as the clear favorite among the students after interviews with all finalists were completed, according to four people familiar with the deliberations. Despite demonstrating some unfamiliarity with the IOP, Foxx won students over with his enthusiasm for the role, the sources added.
Students ranked Demings’ candidacy as the weakest among the four candidates because of a perceived lack of clarity in her vision for the IOP, according to four people familiar with the deliberations.
HKS spokesperson Sofiya C. Cabalquinto declined to comment on the finalists or a timeline for the search.
Foxx and Demings did not respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday.
Murphy and Warren were both seen as viable candidates in students’ evaluations, ranking between Foxx and Demings, sources said.
Murphy did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
In an interview with The Crimson last month, Warren said he “would love to be the next director” of the IOP. Warren reaffirmed his desire to remain in the role full-time when asked about his candidacy Thursday afternoon.
All four finalists have served in elected office and boast resumes with lengthy careers in public service.
Foxx served as the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, before he was tapped to join President Barack Obama’s cabinet in 2013. Last spring, Foxx was a contender to lead the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Biden administration.
Demings, a four-term U.S. Representative from Florida, unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in last November’s midterm election. Prior to entering politics, Demings worked in law enforcement for 27 years, becoming the first woman to serve as chief of the Orlando Police Department.
Warren served as mayor of Newton, Massachusetts, from 2010 to 2018, before he was hired as executive director of the IOP in 2021. After Gearan’s departure last summer, Warren was named IOP interim director.
Murphy, a three-term U.S. Representative, served as a member of the House’s Jan. 6 Select Committee and opted not to seek reelection last November to spend more time with her family. Before running for Congress, Murphy spent four years as a national security specialist for the U.S. Department of Defense.
In a December 2022 interview, Elmendorf explained that — unlike faculty appointments — the search for the next IOP leader does not involve a formal committee. Instead, Elmendorf is consulting with Kennedy School affiliates, undergraduates, and members of the IOP’s Senior Advisory Committee before making the final selection.
“We want a leader of the IOP who is very comfortable with senior public figures and very comfortable sitting in a dining hall, talking with students,” Elmendorf said in December.
“For the right person, that combination is just amazing,” he added. “But there are plenty of people for whom only one half of that would work.”
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