Message from the Executive Director

Image of FellowsFrom its earliest days, the Center for International Affairs (CFIA) included Fellows, practitioners of international affairs, near the core of its community. Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean McGeorge Bundy stated in a 1962 report on the Center that founding Director Robert Bowie “began this program in the strong conviction that the study of great issues of international affairs requires thoughtful exchange between the academy and the marketplace.” While “the marketplace” may be a curious name for what we might just as well call, “Fellows,” or “the world,” the point was well understood. As Bowie, himself, said in endorsing the presence of Fellows, “Much of the significant data is not accessible to research by conventional means. [Such information] resides largely in the minds of those who have been responsible for administering programs while technical and social revolutions were daily changing the presuppositions.” Founding CFIA Associate Director Henry Kissinger offered his own somewhat cautious view to Bowie in an early internal memorandum: “The civil servants can give perspective to the others. They are not likely to do creative work themselves, although they would profit from the training.”

In any case, for whichever the reasons, “mature public servants of scholarly proclivities”—the wording, now more felicitous, from Bundy—have been part of this community for fifty-six years.

But much has changed. The Vietnam War damaged the reputations of many academics who served as policy advisers, and so their enthusiasm for involvement in the practical decision making that emanates from world capitals diminished. At Harvard, the establishment of the John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1966 and its transfer to its current home in 1978 initiated the draining of some of the more public-policy-minded faculty who worked around Cambridge Street to nearer the Charles River. Finally, over the past few decades the very nature of social science research has become less directly designed to address immediate policy problems, as it is aimed, more, to grapple with analytical issues that may not be directly relevant to policy.

In this atmosphere of affection, yet caution and divergence, what is a Fellow to do—and how can the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs respect the voice of practitioners in the best possible ways?

A few years ago, a faculty task force led by current Acting Center Director Jeff Frieden, saw it this way, inter alia:

  • Involve Center Faculty Associates much more directly in the recruitment and selection of Fellows;
  • Ensure (thereby) each Fellow’s ability to pursue independent scholarly inquiry; and
  • Allow Fellows flexible terms of appointment of weeks or months or of one term, in addition to traditional academic-year appointments.

Subsequently, the number of Fellows in our midst has decreased, purposely, and Center faculty and staff have emphasized ever more strongly the independent work of each Fellow, putting less emphasis on the Fellows Program, per se. The Fellows’ time is spent more directly in scholarly endeavors and somewhat less so in off-campus study tours and comparing “tales from the field.”

A great contribution long offered by Fellows to the community—and now reinvigorated—is the mentoring of undergraduates. A majority of the students of Harvard College are, after all, not destined to academic careers, and the Fellows’ experiences and career trajectories genuinely fascinate some. Structurally, then, a robust program of research assistance, undergraduate to Fellow, is thriving, to great mutual benefit. Some of these relationships last for a fruitful year. Others carry on for many years beyond the Harvard residence of both.

Fellows also commonly offer not-for-credit workshops to undergraduates on issues of contemporary importance to international relations. To bridge the often significant misapprehensions between young civilians and military officers, Fellows from the US military services annually provide a series of insightful introductions to military doctrine and professional norms. Other workshops in recent memory have covered responses to humanitarian crises, Turkey’s relationship with the EU, the synergies between faith and politics, and the international dimensions of civil wars.

And what of Fellows’ research? One must admit that Henry Kissinger’s “They are not likely to do creative work themselves” resonates long after its initial contention. Of course, creative work has been produced. For many years we have trumpeted Crispin Tickell’s prescient Climate Change and World Affairs (1977) as a groundbreaking contribution of a Fellow to international scholarship and Diego Hidalgo’s The Future of Spain (1996), which set standards for Spanish debate about its future that are still salient today. And, needless to say, Fellows have written dozens of influential policy papers while here—and policy papers, once they have departed, that have been deeply informed by their learning in the academy.

But is that research? Does the work of Fellows commonly take a social science question, then utilize rigorous social science methodology, and marshal data toward a conclusion that moves the frontiers of scholarly knowledge? Well, no, but perhaps that is what makes scholars scholars and Fellows…“the world.”

Image of 2014-2015 FellowsRinging in my ears, still, are the words that Robert Bowie uttered at a Fellows’ conference and reunion in November 1995. He said, simply, that his design in assembling the Fellows from all over the world at Harvard was “to encourage empathy.” (I admit that there are those who said that was not at all the voice of the crusty, challenging Bob Bowie, Center Director, but rather that of Bob Bowie, wise man in retrospect.) He was insistent about this, however, on more than that one occasion, stating that if the convening power of Harvard University could “encourage empathy,” the Center, simply, should. Learning? Yes. Mentoring? Why not? Moving the frontiers of knowledge? When possible. But to build bridges between scholars and practitioners, between students and international affairs specialists, and from Fellow to Fellow so that they might meet in an official place someday and practice empathy? It would seem a valuable endeavor to be achieved by an elite university worthy of its status.

And so the structure remains, bearing the weight of an occasional stress test and the worry of periodic deep probes, reacting creatively to questions regarding the place of practitioners in a locus of basic research. To the Center, the Fellows are a perhaps necessary provocation to be relevant to real-world problems and decision making. To the Fellows, the Center is an exhortation to be thoughtful and studious. I believe that this University—not to mention “the world”—is so much the better for the struggle.

Steven B. Bloomfield
Executive Director

Photo Captions

Top: From left to right—Bunroku Yoshino of Japan, Counselor for General Affairs in the Economic Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Soemarman of Indonesia, Secretary General of the Ministry of Home Affairs; Il‑Kwon Chung of the Republic of Korea, Ambassador to the United States, General in the Korean Army, and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and A.D. Pandit of India, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Works, Housing and Supply in the Government of India—were Fellows of the Center in 1960–1961. Photo credit: Harvard University Archives, Call # UAV 605Box 97 Frame #25 GP 78

Bottom: 2014–2015 Fellows. Photo credit: Martha Stewart