In a major blow to the Harvard Kennedy School, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, has abruptly resigned from her longtime advisory role at an institution founded to honor her father’s legacy.
Kennedy, the former ambassador to Japan, was one of two board members to step down from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics advisory committee. Days after Kennedy’s resignation, Kenneth M. Duberstein, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, also resigned.
Neither Kennedy nor Duberstein responded to requests for comment, but their sudden departures suggest that tensions between the committee members and Harvard’s administration reached a boiling point, according to sources at the school.
Kennedy penned a letter to Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf last week reluctantly tendering her resignation.
“When I enter HKS, I am reminded of my mother, my uncles and my brother, who all served on the [senior advisory committee],” Kennedy wrote in the letter obtained by the Globe. “I share their belief that inspiring the next generation of leaders to enter public service is the best way to honor my father’s memory.”
Kennedy noted that the bipartisan advisory committee has for five decades “worked closely with the Dean and the Director in a relationship of mutual respect and constructive collaboration. Recent developments have convinced me that I can no longer play a constructive role at the IOP.”
On Wednesday, the Kennedy School confirmed their resignations and thanked Kennedy and Duberstein for their service.
“Caroline’s role at the Institute of Politics will always be prized and remembered," Elmendorf said in a statement. “I am extremely grateful for the extraordinary dedication and commitment she has shown to Harvard Kennedy School over many years."
Elmendorf noted that Kennedy’s longtime involvement in the Institute of Politics helped inspire and made a difference to hundreds of students and to the school’s staff.
Duberstein, who was chair of the advisory committee and a member since 1996, served with “exceptional dedication,” Elmendorf said in the statement. "We greatly appreciate his absolute commitment to encouraging students to enter public life and for his tireless efforts to strengthen the IOP to support and inspire those students.”
The two resignations were first reported by The Washington Post. That newspaper, citing unnamed sources, reported that there had been tension between Kennedy and Elmendorf and that Kennedy and her allies on the committee felt that Elmendorf was not collaborative and micromanaged the institute’s affairs.
Sources at the Kennedy School also said that Duberstein and Elmendorf have disagreed in recent years over the extent of Duberstein’s involvement and his role at the institute.
Advisory boards throughout Harvard are filled by influential donors, but the university has stressed that giving money doesn’t allow funders to dictate the management of individual schools and the institution.
Still, the advisory committee of the Institute of Politics has traditionally been more independent. For years and until his death, former Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy headed the committee and helped guide the institute. Ted Kennedy, brother of the late president, famously never missed a meeting, and even when he was sick participated by telephone.
But after a series of leadership shuffles and recent controversies, Elmendorf has become more involved, sources at the Kennedy School said.
In 2017, the institute designated Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst who was sentenced to 35 years in prison after providing WikiLeaks with access to classified documents, as a visiting fellow. The move led to a public backlash and at least one high-level resignation at another Kennedy School center. It forced Elmendorf to rescind the Manning invitation.
The institute also faced an outcry when it name President Trump’s former press secretary, Sean Spicer, as a fellow in 2017.
For now, the institute’s board includes two members with ties to the Kennedy family. Joseph Kennedy III, a US representative from Massachusetts, the grand-nephew of President Kennedy is on the board, as is Heather Campion, the former chief executive of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation.