Campus & Community

Kennedy School Executive Dean Burke Accepts Post at Smithsonian Institution

3 min read

Sheila Burke, executive dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has accepted a post as Undersecretary for American Museums, Programs and National Outreach at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

She will remain in her current position at the Kennedy School until mid-June and will continue to be involved in the Kennedy School, including serving as an adjunct lecturer in public policy when she assumes her post at the Smithsonian Institution.

Dean Joseph S. Nye Jr. said that, given Burke’s dynamic role in the Kennedy School, he was reluctant to accept Burke’s resignation.

“Sheila has been a true leader and a real inspiration to the Kennedy School,” said Nye. “Her people skills, combined with her intellect and her practical public policy experience, have provided a solid anchor for the administration of the School. Faculty and staff will miss her.”

Burke said the decision to accept the new position was very difficult for her and was driven in large part by family considerations. Burke has been commuting daily from Washington, D.C. to Cambridge since she was hired at Harvard in November of 1996.

“I have loved my job here at the Kennedy School,” she said. “I have never worked at a place where I so enjoyed the people I worked with or where I more fully embraced the mission of the institution. Working for Dean Nye has been an extraordinary experience and I look forward to remaining involved with the School. I am really looking forward to my new employment but I know that I leave behind some wonderful and powerful relationships built over the years.”

Burke was hired by the Smithsonian Institution as part of a major reorganization geared to addressing the heightened expectations of the Smithsonian as the country enters the 21st century. She will oversee the wide array of museums, centers, and programs that focus largely on America’s history and its social and cultural heritage, as well as national outreach.

As part of that outreach, Burke hopes to expand the Smithsonian Institution far beyond its Washington, D.C. base through a creative use of traveling exhibits that build on smaller local archives. These exhibits, Burke said, would work to capture the mosaic of the American cultural experience and, through creative placement, make them accessible to more of the American population.

Burke’s purview will include the museums of Air and Space, American Art, American History, Anacostia and the Center for African American History and Culture, Cooper-Hewitt, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Postal Museum. The programs and centers she will administer include the Affiliations Program, Archives of American Art, Center for Education and Museum Studies, Center for Folklife Programs, Center for Latino Initiatives, Program for Asian Pacific American Studies, Smithsonian Associates, Traveling Exhibition Service, and Communications and Government Relations.