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President-elect Joe Biden Nominates Harvard Affiliates to Top Executive Positions

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UPDATED: December 8, 2020, at 5:09 p.m.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. nominated several Harvard affiliates to serve on his cabinet, including former assistant professor Janet L. Yellen, Harvard College alumni Antony J. Blinken ’84, Vivek H. Murthy ’98, and Medical School professor Rochelle P. Walensky.

Biden selected Janet L. Yellen to serve as U.S. treasury secretary. Yellen served as chair of the Federal Reserve Board from 2014 to 2018, as vice-chair of the Federal Reserve Board prior to that, and as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors during the Clinton administration. Yellen is Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley and was an assistant professor of economics at Harvard from 1971 to 1976.

University Professor and former chair of the Economics department Benjamin M. Friedman ’66, who joined the Harvard faculty during Yellen’s time as professor, wrote in an email that Yellen was an “outstanding choice” for treasury secretary.

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“She knows the relevant economics inside and out, she has enormous experience running public policy institutions, and she’s one of the most articulate people I’ve ever met in explaining economics to both economists and others,” Friedman wrote. “The first and third of these qualities were already evident when she was our colleague here at Harvard, and her experience in the years since amply shows the second.”

Current chair of the Department of Economics Jeremy C. Stein worked alongside Yellen at the Federal Reserve Board from 2012 to 2014.

“She is an extraordinarily talented and accomplished policymaker: she has a deep understanding of the full range of issues, is a clear and tough-minded thinker, and an excellent communicator," Stein wrote in an email. "She was an outstanding Fed chair, and I expect her to be similarly outstanding Treasury Secretary."

Similarly, University of California, Berkeley Business Dean Ann E. Harrison wrote in an emailed statement that UC Berkeley was “proud and excited” for Yellen’s appointment.

“As a brilliant economist with great personal humility and empathy for the people behind the statistics, Janet Yellen embodies the best of Berkeley,” Harrison wrote. “She also carries on a proud tradition of UC Berkeley women in economic leadership roles."

Another of Biden’s selections, Blinken, will serve as the U.S. Secretary of State. Blinken was a former resident of Kirkland House.

“Kirkland House is thrilled that Antony Blinken has been nominated as President-elect Biden’s next Secretary of State,” Kirkland House Faculty Dean David J. Deming wrote in an email. “We are very proud to claim him as one of our own, and to add him to the list of Kirkland alums who have had distinguished careers in public service.”

Blinken previously worked for the Obama administration as Principal Deputy National Security Advisor and then as Deputy Secretary of State from 2015 to 2017.

While at Harvard, Blinken concentrated in Social Studies, graduating magna cum laude. His thesis, entitled “The Formulation of East-West Policy in West: A Case Study of the Trans-Siberian Natural Gas Pipeline,” became his first book, published three years after his graduation.

Anya E. B. Bassett, director of undergraduate studies in Social Studies, wrote she was “excited” about Blinken’s nomination in an email.

“I did look up his thesis title when I was in the office last week, and it definitely suggests a future career in International Relations,” she wrote.

Biden is also expected to nominate Dr. Vivek H. Murthy ’98 as U.S. Surgeon General, according to the Washington Post. Murthy held the office under Obama and currently serves as a co-chair of the COVID-19 Advisory Board for the Biden-Harris Transition team.

Medical School Dean George Q. Daley ’82 praised Murthy’s work and leadership in an email.

“The pandemic has laid bare the critical importance of leadership that is informed by evidence and guided by compassion and concern for equity in promoting public health,” Daley wrote. “Vivek Murthy embodies these ideals, and we look forward to his return as surgeon general with great enthusiasm and pride.”

Biden also appointed the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital, Rochelle P. Walensky to serve as the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Politico. The school did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night.

Daley wrote in an emailed statement that Walensky, a Harvard School of Public Health alum, a "superb choice."

“Dr. Rochelle Walensky is a superb choice to lead the CDC given her frontline clinical expertise and deep research background in infectious diseases," he wrote. "I am confident in Dr. Walensky’s ability to helm the agency, to steer the U.S. past the devastating COVID-19 contagion, and to forge our country’s preparedness for future pandemics.”

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at kelsey.griffin@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at raquel.coronelluribe@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.

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