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Spotlight: James Schlesinger

James R. Schlesinger
Department of Defense

Spotlight: James Schlesinger

Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Winter 2011-2012

Author: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

 

Belfer Center Director Graham Allison spearheaded the campaign to create a Harvard professorship in honor of James Schlesinger to honor his lifetime of extraordinary achievement and his service as a model public servant. Schlesinger's long list of responsibilities includes his current role as chairman of the Belfer Center International Council. Here, Allison reflects on Schlesinger the man, and on how an institution like Harvard comes to honor him.

Why will there now be in perpetuity a James R. Schlesinger Professorship of Energy, National Security, and Foreign Policy at Harvard? There was no such position last year, or a decade or one hundred years ago. But there will be one hundred years hence.

Why does Harvard have no Franklin Roosevelt Professorship of Government? No Theodore Roosevelt Professorship?

The inconvenient truth is that the reason why—and the only reason why—is that donors gave Harvard money to establish the one, and not the others. Most students and faculty members at the University take for granted the opportunities Harvard provides. Few stop to ask why there is the greatest private library in the world (named Widener), a home for a Kennedy School of Government (named Littauer), or classrooms and conference spaces (like the Malkin Penthouse and Wiener Auditorium).

Nature did not create these structures. Harvard presidents, deans, and bureaucrats did not create these learning environments with their own resources. Specific donations of dollars from the donors for whom these buildings, professorships, and scholarships are named made possible these benefits faculty and students enjoy.

To return to the main storyline: the creation of the James R. Schlesinger Professorship of Energy, National Security, and Foreign Policy.

Who is Jim Schlesinger? As I noted at a dinner in October celebrating Schlesinger and the donors whose generosity made it possible to create this chair, Jim is a “great American; a great son of Harvard; a great patriotic American;” in the vocabulary of Gilbert and Sullivan, “the very model of a modern public servant.”

At that dinner, I described Jim’s impact: “Jim Schlesinger has the unique distinction as the only individual who has served the United States as Secretary of Defense, Director of CIA, and Secretary of Energy. What better symbol of a commitment to apply the best of the mind to the most difficult challenges of energy, national security, and foreign policy?”

I also pointed out that “in perpetuity” at Harvard means a long time. Harvard was founded 150 years before the United States became an independent country. It is the oldest continuous human institution on the territory of the North American continent today. The first endowed professorship in America was established at Harvard in 1721, the Hollis Professorship of Theology. For almost 300 years, holders of that professorship have been conducting research and teaching. “In perpetuity,” means that a decade from now, and a century from now—assuming the world continues in something like its current form at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government there will be a James R. Schlesinger Professorship of Energy, National Security, and Foreign Policy, advancing the frontiers of policy-relevant knowledge about these critical issues.

John F. Kennedy’s line about success having “a thousand fathers and mothers” is certainly true in the case of the creation of the Schlesinger professorship. A project initiated more than a decade ago languished until several years ago when Mary Beth Pearlberg (director of development at Harvard’s Kennedy School), Fred Glimp(former director of development at Harvard), and I, along with several others, were stirred by an individual sometimes called the “Chinese wind.” That refers to MeiLi Hefner, the Chineseborn wife of Robert Hefner (an outstanding energy entrepreneur and great admirer of Schlesinger). MeiLi, Robert, and the others energized each other in a determination to move the campaign across the goal line. Les Goldman (an associate of Schlesinger’s from Schlesinger’s days at the Energy Department), who had been present at the beginnings, joined the effort. An early gift from Frank Cilluffo that had grown over the years thanks to the prudent investments of Harvard Management Company meant that the amount to be raised to meet the $4 million required was much smaller than it would otherwise have been. A number of major supporters of the Belfer Center stepped up in response to a call for “seven stalwarts” who each gave $100,000 to finish the effort. These include Louis AppellRobert BelferLes GoldmanPeter PetersonAlfred and Robert TaubmanHerbert Winokur (and myself).

The celebratory dinner in Washington included many highlights. Jim Schlesinger told a wonderful story about the encounter between Pat Moynihan (then a Senator, formerly Harvard professor) and Danny Rostenkowski (a Chicago-based chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee) that cannot be recounted in print. Robert Hefner related a number of personal stories summarized aptly by his conclusion that Jim is for him, as for so many of those who have been inspired by him, a “hero.” Les Goldman offered a menu of adjectives that he suggested applied to the Jim he knew, each of which struck responsive chords with most members of the audience.

Ash Carter (a former director of the Belfer Center), who had just come from his swearing in ceremony to become deputy secretary of defense, offered a toast to Jim as his mentor and model in the application of “an objective, analytic mind to the most difficult challenges of public policy.”

After dinner, in an unscripted initiative, one of Jim’s daughters reminded the group that he had often serenaded his children with verses of “Fair Harvard” and urged Jim to rise for this occasion. While he remained sitting, he did his own version of the verse that concludes, “Till the stock of the Puritans die.”

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.

For Academic Citation:

Allison, Graham. "Spotlight: James Schlesinger." Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Winter 2011-2012.

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