UPDATED: December 24, 2017 at 1:40 p.m.
Longtime Harvard donor and journalist Win McCormack ’67, the owner and editor-in-chief of the New Republic, has endowed a new professorship at the Harvard Kennedy School in an attempt to ultimately improve political discourse across the nation.
Archon Fung, the academic dean of the Kennedy School, will be the first person to hold this position, formally titled the Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professorship of Citizenship and Self-Government. Fung, who joined the Kennedy School faculty in 1999, currently serves as the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship. His research focuses on democratic governance.
The Kennedy School announced McCormack’s endowment of the position in a press release Monday. In the release, McCormack said he hopes the new position will help to foster a political environment at the University—and in the United States—that promotes civil discourse across party lines.
In an interview Friday, McCormack said he thinks the endowed professorship is especially needed given the current political climate in the country.
"The Constitution was set up to acquire consensus and compromise, and we have a political party that currently rejects the idea of consensus and trying to reach consensus and compromise," he said. "That would be the Republican party."
While at Harvard, McCormack studied Government and lived in Kirkland House. He graduated cum laude.
In an interview Wednesday, Fung said he is thrilled to assume the professorship and that he thinks this endowment will greatly aid his future research. Fung said McCormack’s gift will allow him and his colleagues at the Kennedy School to more effectively examine democratic policies and institutions around the world.
Fung also said he thinks this endowment marks a sign of support for the entire Kennedy School and its mission.
“A lot of philanthropists these days in foundations and private philanthropy are more eager to fund specific project work that feels more like an investment that they could see a return on in the next year, whereas endowing a professorship is a different proposition,” Fung said. “[University President Drew G.] Faust puts it this way: It’s much more belief in the mission and purposes of the institution, rather than a transactional thing.”
McCormack’s endowment comes at a time when it is “especially important” to be researching democracy, Fung said. He pointed, in particular, to the current political environment in the United States, as well as in Western Europe.
He said that, though he thinks there used to be a broad consensus around what constituted “center-left and center-right values” in the United States and Europe, he thinks that—across the past two years—political triumphs achieved by people he called “insurgents” have upset that balance.
“What we’ve seen in the last year or two in Europe and the United States and other places—but especially in Europe and the United States—is the unexpected political victories of insurgents who upset the center-left and center-right political parties and politicians,” Fung said.
In the press release, Douglas W. Elmendorf, the dean of the Kennedy School, broadly agreed. Elmendorf said he hopes McCormack’s gift will help remedy what he called a current lack of consensus in domestic politics.
“Dysfunction in the United States and elsewhere has made it more difficult for policymakers to address our challenges in a constructive fashion, and progress toward democratic governance has stalled in many regions of the world,” Elmendorf said in the release. “Mr. McCormack’s generosity will allow Harvard Kennedy School to redouble our efforts to improve the effectiveness of democracy around the world.”