Harvard Kennedy School was originally the Harvard Graduate School of Public Administration (GSPA), and was founded in 1936 with a $2 million gift (equivalent to ~$30 million in 2010) from Lucius N. Littauer, a graduate of Harvard College. Its shield was designed to express the national purpose of the school and was modeled after the U.S. shield. The School drew its initial faculty from Harvard's existing government and economics departments, and welcomed its first students in 1937.
The School's original home was in the Littauer Center north of Harvard Yard, now the home of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Economics Department. The first students at the Graduate School were so-called "Littauer Fellows," participating in a one-year course listing which later developed into the school's mid-career Master in Public Administration program. In the 1960s, the School began to develop today's public policy degree and course curriculum in the Master in Public Policy program.
In 1966, the School was renamed for President John F. Kennedy. By 1978, the faculty—notably presidential scholar and adviser Richard Neustadt, foreign policy scholar and later dean of the School Graham Allison, Richard Zeckhauser, and Edith Stokey—had orchestrated the consolidation of the School's programs and research centers in the present campus. Under the terms of Littauer's original grant, the current HKS campus also features a building called Littauer.
In addition to playing a critical role in the development of the School's modern era, Neustadt, who at the time served as the Assistant Dean, was also the founding Director of the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP), created in 1966 in honor of President Kennedy. The IOP has been housed on the Kennedy School campus since 1978, and today the Institute puts on a series of programs, speeches and study groups for Harvard undergraduates and graduate students. The John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum in the new Littauer building is both the site of IOP forum events as well as a major social gathering place between HKS courses.
In 2012 the school announced a $500m fundraising campaign of which over $120m was to be used to significantly expand the campus adding 91,000 square feet of space that will include six new classrooms, a new kitchen and dining facility, offices and meeting spaces, a new student lounge and study space, more collaboration and active learning spaces as well as a redesigned central courtyard. Ground breaking commenced on May 7, 2015 and is expected to be complete in early 2018. The school has stated that the new space will be used exclusively to cater to the needs of the existing class sizes and that there will not be a major expansion in the size of the student body.
There are also three separate Master in Public Administration (MPA) programs: a one-year "mid-career program" (MC/MPA), intended for professionals more than seven years after college graduation; a two-year MPA program intended for professionals that have an additional graduate degree and are more recently out of school; and a two-year International Development track (MPA/ID) focused on development studies with a strong emphasis on economics and quantitative analysis.
Among the members of the mid-career MPA class are the Mason Fellows, who are public and private executives from developing countries. Mason Fellows typically constitute about 50% of the incoming class of Mid Career MPA candidates.
The Harvard Kennedy School has a number of joint and concurrent degree programs, within Harvard and with other leading universities, which allow students to receive multiple degrees in a reduced period of time. Joint and current students spend at least one year in residence in Cambridge taking HKS courses. At Harvard, HKS joint degree programs are run with Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, and concurrent programs are offered with Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Medical School.
HKS courses are organized across six areas, called a Policy Area of Concentration, on which they focus their coursework, take a year-long research seminar in their second year, and prepare a master's thesis, called a Policy Analysis Exercise. The school divides the school and HKS course listing into six areas, each headed by a faculty "area chair." The areas and chairs for HKS courses are:
Harvard Kennedy School receives high rankings in the U.S. News & World Report listing of top graduate schools of public affairs. In the 2015 rankings, HKS is ranked third overall, and is ranked first in the subcategory of health policy, second in public policy analysis and social policy. Kennedy's foreign affairs offerings are also ranked at or near the top of Foreign Policy magazine's Inside the Ivory Tower survey, which lists the world's top twenty international relations programs at the undergraduate, Master's and Ph.D. levels. In 2012, for example, the survey ranked HKS first overall for doctoral and undergraduate programs and third overall in the Master's category.
There is an active student life at HKS. Most of the activities are centered on interest-driven student 'caucuses,' the student government (Kennedy School Student Government, known as KSSG), student-edited policy journals, such as the Kennedy School Review and the Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy, a student newspaper (The Citizen), and a number of athletic groups.
Elections for HKS student government are among the most lively of the activities at the School. The KSSG is led by a President, Executive Vice President, functional Vice Presidents (Academic Affairs, International Student Affairs, Professional Development, Diversity and Inclusion among others) and Class Representatives from all the graduate programs of HKS. The KSSG is also responsible for overseeing the interest caucuses at the School.
Kennedy School Student Government Presidents and Executive VPs List
2007–2008: Doug Levine
2008–2009: Ben Polk – Marcos Santiago
2009–2010: Dave Baumwoll – Ryan Andersoff
2010–2011: Imran Alimohammed – Zach Kushner
2011–2012: Sherry Hakimi – Georgeta (Geta) Dragoiu
2012–2013: Rohit Malhotra – Lara Rosner
2013–2014: Jieun Baek – Maggie Williams
2014–2015: Allister Chang – Justin Hartley
2015–2016: Pitichoke Chulapamornsri – Derek Pham
Students can join the Harvard Graduate Student Government, colloquially known as "the HGSG" and formerly known as the "Harvard Graduate Council" or "HGC", is the university-wide representative student government for the twelve graduate and professional schools of Harvard University. The HGSG is responsible for advocating student concerns to central administrators – including the President of Harvard University, Provost, Deans of Students, and Deans for the nearly 15,000 graduate and professional students across the twelve schools, organizing large university-wide initiatives and events, administering and providing funding for university-wide student groups (USGs), and representing the Harvard graduate student population to other universities and external organizations. The HGSG has become well known for creating and executing on advocacy initiatives and events focused on the "One Harvard" movement.
The courtyard between the main Kennedy School buildings is a key attraction for students, who gather there to work on their assignments, have lunch, or relax. During the warmer months, the School frequently sponsors beer and barbecue events which give students the opportunity to socialize. During the colder months, "Quorum Calls" are held in one of the indoor atriums, to celebrate the end of each week of HKS courses with friends.