“I think it would be a really bad idea, either way, to take into account ideological diversity when making hiring decisions,” says Mr. Ellwood, himself a Clinton appointee who worked on welfare reform in the 1990s. “That said, I speak often about how critical it is that people hear from diverse voices.”
Mr. Obama’s picks come from three main areas on campus: five from Harvard Law School, four from Harvard Kennedy School and two from the economics department of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Lawrence H. Summers, a former president of Harvard who most recently worked as a campuswide professor, heads Mr. Obama’s National Economic Council.
“In general, we think this is terrific,” Mr. Ellwood says. “What makes the Kennedy School unique is not only do we provide strong scholarly background for how you think about problems, we also have people that have actually been there, so it’s not just theoretical, pie-in-the-sky thought processes. The powerful ideas that are generated at the school make a difference.”
Across campus, Howell Jackson, acting dean for the law school — he’s holding the space vacated by Elena Kagan, Mr. Obama’s pick for solicitor general — expresses a similar view.
“This is an unusual moment,” Mr. Jackson says. “It’s terrific for us that so many of our colleagues are getting this opportunity to serve. It’s great for our law school, and it’s great for our students to have these role models.”
Harvard allows all professors up to two years’ leave time for government service or other reasons, and professors must reapply if they go beyond the two-year mark. Mr. Jackson says a research university, such as Harvard, typically sees as much as a third of its professors outside its teaching rotation, so the school is well-equipped for the recent departures.
“If the past is any guide, most of them will come back after two years,” Mr. Jackson says, noting that all five law school appointees have agreed to return to speak on campus at some point next semester, schedules permitting.
Both Mr. Ellwood and Mr. Jackson acknowledge that uprooting rock-star professors can cause a bit of an upset (particularly in the law school’s area of environmental law with the departures of Cass R. Sunstein and Jody Freeman) but on balance, it’s a good thing for students.
“It makes people proud to be at a school where so many people were asked to join the administration,”says David K. Kessler, president of Harvard Law School’s student government. “I think that’s tempered a little bit because students were looking forward to learning from these professors.”
Mr. Ellwood says student frustration over a lack of pre-notification that their professors, some of them academic advisers, would be leaving is understandable, but it’s an uncontrollable problem.
“When someone is under consideration, they are often one of several candidates under consideration,” Mr. Ellwood says. “Administrations don’t want it being discussed. They are very, very strict about secrecy, and you can lose a job if you are seen as someone who is leaking. They pretty much demand that they are the ones who announce it.”
Mr. Ellwood says he initially predicted anywhere from two to six departures and expects one or two more may be in the works. Thus far from the Kennedy School, Mr. Obama has hired Ashton B. Carter, an international affairs professor and former assistant defense secretary under Mr. Clinton whose portfolio includes crafting military strategy during the North Korean crisis and removing nuclear weapons from former Soviet countries. For Mr. Obama, Mr. Carter will serve as an undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
John P. Holdren, who taught environmental policy at Harvard and accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his organization’s work on limiting arms proliferation, will advise Mr. Obama on science and technology issues. A former head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Mr. Holdren has seen his nomination stall on Capitol Hill over concerns among conservatives about Mr. Obama’s agenda for fighting climate change.
Human rights activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power is on leave from her professorship at the Kennedy School and will serve as Mr. Obama’s senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council. A fiery critic of U.S. inaction on global genocide, Ms. Power stumbled and resigned from the Obama campaign after she told a Scottish newspaper that Mr. Obama’s then-rival Hillary Rodham Clinton was “a monster” whose ambition for the presidency knew no bounds.
Even though he has raided Harvard, Mr. Obama’s not leaving the school high and dry. Next month, David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager for last year’s hard-fought elections, will be a visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.