Wendy Sherman Appointed Director of Center for Public Leadership

HKS New Campus
The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in December 2017.

Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, the former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, will lead the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership and become a professor of the practice of public leadership at the school beginning in January, according to a Tuesday press release.

Sherman will continue to serve as a senior fellow in the school’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. As a professor of public leadership, Sherman will head courses and advise students on leadership development. 

“Ambassador Sherman has a stellar track record in the public sector and is known for her deep commitment to principled and effective public leadership,” Dean of the Kennedy School Douglas W. Elmendorf said in the press release. “We are very fortunate that she has agreed to lead our Center for Public Leadership at this crucial time in U.S. and global history.” 

Sherman will succeed former White House advisor David Gergen as the director for the Center of Public Leadership — a role Gergen has held since the center’s founding in 2000. According to the press release, Gergen will continue to play a role in the center and serve as a professor of public service. 


“I also want to extend my profound gratitude to David Gergen for his exceptional leadership as director of the Center for Public Leadership for the past 18 years,” Elmendorf said in the release. “His commitment to the future of public leadership — and to the crucial role that the Kennedy School can, and should, play in creating that future — have transformed the center and the Kennedy School in very important ways.” 

While working as an undersecretary in the State Department — a position that made her the fourth-ranking official in the Department — Sherman served as the lead negotiator of the Iranian nuclear deal in 2015. She was awarded the National Security Medal by former President Barack Obama in recognition of her role in the negotiations. 

Prior to that position, she worked as the director of EMILY’s List, the director of the state of Maryland’s office of child welfare, and the founding president of the Fannie Mae Foundation, the now-closed charitable wing of the housing finance company. 

In her new role, Sherman will be responsible for the Center of Public Leadership’s strategy and collaborations with Kennedy School faculty and students. 

“Effective public leadership is essential for ensuring security, freedom, and prosperity for all people,” Sherman said. “The Kennedy School is a preeminent training ground for public leaders from the United States and around the world. I look forward to directing the Center for Public Leadership and to preparing our students to exercise leadership in a world that faces an array of social, political, and economic challenges.”

Sherman’s appointment comes at a time when the Kennedy School has faced criticism from faculty, students, and alumni over the resignation of top female leaders at the school and what some students have called a lack of gender and racial diversity at the faculty and administrative level. 

Gergen said in the release that Sherman will find a “community” at the Kennedy School that is “enthusiastic about working with her.” 

 “From being the first director of Child Welfare for the State of Maryland to leading the U.S. team in negotiating the nuclear agreement with Iran, Wendy has been a highly distinguished, wide-ranging, and passionate public leader,” Gergen said. “Her appointment will help lift the Center for Public Leadership to a new level of impact by supporting our faculty and preparing a new generation of leaders.” 

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.


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