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Harvard Kennedy School to Name Professorship After Polarizing Diplomat Henry Kissinger ’50

The Harvard Kennedy School is home to the public policy and government studies. HKS is searching for a tenured academic to join the school as the Henry A. Kissinger '50 Professor of Statecraft and World Order.
The Harvard Kennedy School is home to the public policy and government studies. HKS is searching for a tenured academic to join the school as the Henry A. Kissinger '50 Professor of Statecraft and World Order. By Addison Y. Liu
By William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Kennedy School is searching for a tenured academic to join the school as the Henry A. Kissinger ’50 Professor of Statecraft and World Order, a position that will permanently honor the polarizing American diplomat.

The Kennedy School announced the new professorship two weeks after Kissinger died in November 2023. One of the most influential figures in U.S. foreign policy in the 20th century, Kissinger drew criticism for his controversial foreign policy decisions.

Some HKS students expressed concern about the school’s decision to honor Kissinger, a man who has been labeled a “war criminal” and described as responsible for atrocities committed around the world.

HKS student Zubair Merchant, who serves as the Kennedy School Student Government Executive Vice President, said HKS should “distance itself from him and his vile legacy.”

“It’s hard to fathom why HKS would further memorialize one of Harvard’s most well-known, nefarious alumni,” Merchant said.

A spokesperson for the Kennedy School declined to comment on criticism over the professorship.

The position was developed by former HKS Dean Graham T. Allison ’62, a lifelong friend and former student of Kissinger.

Allison praised Kissinger in an interview on Tuesday, calling him “the most distinguished Harvard graduate of his era.”

Allison said he established the professorship because he is “thankful for Henry and people like him.”

“It’s because they built an international security world in which I have been able to live my whole life without a great power war, without nuclear weapons,” he added.

Several students, however, criticized Kissinger's history of polarizing decisions made during his time as Secretary of State, including the carpet bombing of Cambodia in the 1960s and 70s.

“He’s obviously a polarizing figure, controversial because of his involvement in expanding the Vietnam War,” said Kazi N. Ahmed, a master’s in public administration student.

MPA student Khaled M.M.A. Emam Jr. acknowledged that Kissinger is “not the first controversial person” to be the namesake for an HKS professorship, but cited Kissinger’s record in the Middle East as cause for additional concern.

“As person who came from the Middle East, I think the impact that Mr. Kissinger left on the U.S.-Middle East policies was not that positive to name a professor after,” Emam said.

Allison acknowledged that “there’s a great deal of controversy” over Kissinger’s career in foreign policy.

“Mistakes that he made, and mistakes that he’s accused of that perhaps he didn’t make — that’s absolutely for sure,” Allison said.

Allison added that Kissinger, as with any public figure, inevitably made mistakes alongside his accomplishments.

“There’s no proposition here that this has been a perfect life,” he said. “There are instances in which people end up having to do things — either doing things or even having to do things that other people would have serious reservations about — that they’re often criticized for.”

Boris Houenou, an MPA student, said it “could be fair” for HKS to consider naming a professorship after Kissinger, citing Kissinger’s “big contribution” to the fields of political science and international relations.

“You can like it or not – everyone should agree that he’s done a lot to move national security,” Houenou said.

The professorship was endowed by hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, who Alison said “was a friend and huge fan of Henry’s.”

Allison said while the position has not been filled yet, the Kennedy School has stopped accepting applications since over 100 “great candidates” have applied. He said he hopes for the deliberation process to finish by the end of the spring term.

“Pretty soon we will be inviting candidates to come and visit,” he said. “We’re hoping to come to a conclusion to kind of be voted on by the Kennedy School faculty.”

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at william.mao@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at dhruv.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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