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Roger Porter: From CBG to the West Wing and Back


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Roger Porter, IBM Professor of Business and Government at CBG

The Center for Business and Government conducts research on a broad range of public policy issues, with an eye towards positively impacting public/private sector relations and training the next generation of leaders in all sectors of society. Professor Roger Porter embodies that mission, joining the Harvard faculty in 1977. He is an accomplished writer and public policy advisor, and one of the most beloved professors at the University.

For as long as it has been in existence, Porter has been a cornerstone of CBG. He occupies the founding faculty chair, the IBM Professorship in Business and Government. He served as the Center's fourth Director from 1996-2000, when he actively sought to more thoroughly engage the Boston business community into the Center's activities. He was integral in formulating CBG's initiatives on regulatory policy, trade policy, and on the intersection between business, government, and education as well as examining comparative business-government relations with the Kansai Keizai Doyukai Program, a working relationship with a major Japanese business organization. He serves as faculty chair of the Business and Government cluster and annually teaches courses on business/government relations.

Beyond his direct contributions to the Center for Business and Government, Porter has engaged students, conducted research, and served as a White House economic adviser to three Presidents. In all, he aims to synthesize the "ideal" and the "real" - to develop and explore systematic theories while recognizing the importance of the reality of policymaking. As Porter says, "My 11+ years in the West Wing provide a backdrop of experiences that have grounded my thinking about issues and policy options in the reality of the inner workings of policy making. I endeavor to incorporate a healthy dose of both the theoretical and the practical in each course I teach and in my research."

In addition to his course on the business-government relationship in the United States, Porter teaches one of the University's most popular courses, cross-listed in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, on The American Presidency. He chairs the Kennedy School's Senior Managers in Government Program as well as teaches in a variety of other executive programs at the School. The notable disparity in background and experience among his students has become one of the shining aspects of Porter's experience as a professor at the Kennedy School. "One of the great things about the Kennedy School is the opportunity to teach outstanding students - younger and experienced alike - including current high level officials in our Executive Programs," said Porter. "The blend of U.S. students and very able students from outside the U.S. allows both to learn a great deal from one another."

The diversity in people, perspectives, and topics of study at the Kennedy School and Harvard has enlightened Porter's research as well as his teaching. He is the author of several books on economic policy and numerous papers and chapters. Porter's recent work explores the challenges of the multilateral trading system in the book Efficiency, Equity and Legitimacy: The Multilateral Trading System at the Millennium; the President and the formulation of education policy; and economic decision making in recent Administrations. He's currently working on a paper in anticipation of the 100th Anniversary of the West Wing in November on how the West Wing has shaped the Presidency and presidential decision making.

"My research covers a broad range, from budgets and entitlements to trade policy and education, from presidential decision making to comparative business/government relations and the management of large organizations. In that way, it is a lot like the research and mission of the Center for Business and Government," added Porter. "CBG and the Kennedy School are full of insightful, engaged, and committed people genuinely interested in tackling the major challenges we face as a society today. The most frustrating part of my work is that there are far more interesting things in which to become involved than there are hours in a day."

-Kate Dodson

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