By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: First day of classes at Harvard

The beginning of the semester is stressful not just for students, but for faculty as well, even longtime faculty members like myself. (Unbelievably to me, this month it is 30 years since I joined the Kennedy School faculty, where I have spent my whole career except for two stints in government.) After the relative quiet of the summer, with few meetings and jeans/tee shirts, it's back to meetings, appointments, classes and wearing a tie.

I taught the first session of my section of the required public management course for our first-year master's students on Tuesday. (The course has just been moved from spring to fall term, so these are brand-new students, which is a very nice experience.) To introduce students to studying management and leadership, we studied a fascinating case of an Indian physician (recently deceased) who used the revenues from a paying eye surgery hospital in Madurai in south India to fund a free clinic that provides cataract surgery to poor people in Indian villages who are going blind.

What is amazing about the case is how the protagonist is more or less equally at home articulating a very inspiring vision to employees and also delving into small operational details of how to keep costs down, get blind people from rural villages to the urban-located hospital, and so forth. He is somebody who could talk about Gandhi and McDonald's hamburgers virtually in the same breadth. A rare, and very admirable, set of skills! And a really good role model for our students.

My forty-something Taiwan executive education students, enthusiastic and hardworking, have now more or less settled into the U.S. time zone. On Wednesday, they will do a lunch presentation for Kennedy School students on changes in economic relations between Taiwan and China under their new President, Ma Ying-jeou, who has tried to warm up relations with China. Almost 60 students have signed up to come listen -- it will be interesting to see if any mainland China students ask provocative questions.

I also sat in on a meeting with the Dean and Academic Dean today on possible topics for the students' "Spring Exercise" next May, which is when the entire first-year class works on some "big" problem (preferably something of interest to non-U.S. as well as U.S. students), preparing a briefing for a senior government official. Earlier topics have included bioterrorism, AIDS in Africa, and global warming.

Any suggestions for a topic for this year from blog readers? I have taken over this year as co-director of Spring Exercise.

If we choose a topic a reader has recommended, I promise we will credit the proposer when we introduce the topic to the students in May. However, I won't be able to reveal the topic in this blog in advance, because this is a secret until the day Spring Exercise starts!

Post a comment on this blog or send an e-mail to and we will post it for you.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Sep 10, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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