Before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last week, Dean Kim Clark had already experienced personal loss. On Tuesday morning, he was in New Mexico preparing to attend his father-in-law’s funeral when he learned of the terrorists’ action.
In an interview with The Harbus, Clark gave his thoughts on the tragedy and its effects on the HBS community.
As he listened to the news reports, he said he “wasn’t really worried about the school. He had “confidence in the people at the school…to respond based on their judgment.”
And respond they did, according to a pre-prepared emergency response plan that established basic procedures for campus security, as well as additional measures, such as the memorial service on Tuesday afternoon, that seemed appropriate.
After the funeral, Clark established contact with campus and provided additional guidance to his staff, but he had to remain in New Mexico until Saturday, as all airplane traffic was halted around the country. During that time, he was in contact with leading HBS alumni directly affected by the tragedy, including top officials at United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as key alumni advisers to the school.
In its continuing response to the tragedy, Clark said the school will be sponsoring discussion forums, supporting independent student groups, and providing a web-based resource center for information and knowledge about the events, people and places associated with the attacks and their aftermath.
Through all of his comments, he was optimistic that the tragedy would strengthen the bonds that develop between members of the HBS community. “It’s been wonderful to see the amazing humanity that has come into action over the past week, both on campus and in New York,” he said.
Interview with the Dean
by Harbus Staff
HARBUS: How did you hear about the attack? What was your first reaction?
KC: I was in New Mexico for the funeral of my father-in-law, and I was getting ready to go to the service. At first I thought it was a movie when I turned on the TV, and then it turned out to be real. It was just stunning.
I really wasn’t worried about the school. Students, faculty, and staff were just fantastic. I had confidence in the people in the school…to respond based on their judgment.
HARBUS: What did the “emergency response plan” that was implemented consist of?
KC: Part of the Emergency Management System is a series of different levels of alertness. We went into a much higher state of alert after the attacks. This involves plainclothes police officers on campus, a communications system that keeps in touch with Boston and Harvard police, and some limits on deliveries on campus, all without interfering with normal campus operations.
We’ve already had a couple of sessions to review the plan and update it.
This is a residential campus, so it’s like a town, where people live and depend on the community for sustenance, security, food, and so forth. When something happens, our plans respond with that in mind. The notion of closing the school has a very different connotation than if we were a commuter school. For 1,000 people on campus, this is home.
HARBUS: What lessons have you learned over the past 10 days that surprised you?
KC: When something this tragic and this big happens, it tends to strip away complacency, the taking of things for granted, the day-to-day fa‡ade that we build around our lives. What are exposed are the things that really matter to you, and the true nature of people’s characters.
HARBUS: What did you tell the faculty when you met with them?
KC: I told them how grateful I was for all of the work they’ve been doing and provided details about the security measures, counseling options, and the information resources that were being made available to the community. I wanted them to understand the importance to students and faculty of getting back into the classroom and creating the system of regular disciplined study, participation, and attendance that is the hallmark of the school. We really felt that structure was important. At the same time, we had to recognize that circumstances required us to be flexible and provide other resources for the people who needed it. We are likely to see a number of our alumni who have lost their lives, as well as an impact on the US economy, which will affect the school.
HARBUS: Have the events spurred any new ideas regarding curricular change for the future (e.g., about the role of leaders in crisis situations)?
KC: We are going to hold a forum on the events that will focus on their meaning and impact. We’ll have some faculty involved. We’re also supporting student groups that want to get together to talk about the situation. We will continue to encourage the various courses to bring something into the curriculum that addresses these issues. We expect that the LEAD course will deal with some of these issues.
HARBUS: You spoke with several influential alumni who were affected by the attacks. What were the topics of the conversations?
KC: I had a series of alumni whom I called, most of whom are close to the school. I wanted to express my concern for them personally, and to express my support to them as a school, since many of these people are in very difficult situations.
I spoke to Don Carty ’71, CEO of American Airlines, and Rono Dutta ’80, the President of United Airlines. They’re in very tough situations, and I wanted to express our support. They talked about the challenge of coping with the human side of this as well as the terrible impacts on their businesses.
I spoke with a number of people in the financial community and learned some amazing things.
A partner at Goldman Sachs told me of remarkable acts of generosity and kindness and concern that were just amazing, given that it was Lower Manhattan. It’s a different place now. In the past, people built this fa‡ade around themselves. They had this sort of grumpiness or maybe it was just a fast pace of life. But it’s changed. People realize there are a lot of precious things that they should stop and take care of.
HARBUS: Someone suggested to me that the environment on campus will be `somber’ for the rest of this year. Do you agree with this?
KC: I don’t think somber is the right word. Maybe a little more reflective, a sense of what’s really important in life. Perhaps a little more seriousness. I think what will probably be true…is that in this kind of time, this community will really pull together. The students that are here today will forge relationships with each other, not just in sections, but beyond. They will draw a lot of strength from that during the year.
They will also begin to recognize that this event in particular has reinforced for me the importance of what we’re doing. The importance of having people in the world who care enough about making a difference that they’re willing to put their lives on the line.
I think there will be a sense of real meaning during the year. We’re going to work hard to make that happen.
Just one story: A guy in California who graduated a couple of years ago got a phone call from a section mate to let him know what had happened. The first thing they did was find out what happened to the people in their section via email, because they knew a lot of the people in their section worked in New York. It’s just one real anecdote of the strength of those bonds that are forged in Soldiers Field. And this year’s bonds are probably going to be stronger.