2021 World Health Day Keynote, University of Chicago

World Health Day Keynote Address

Center for Global Health, University of Chicago

John Palfrey, April 7, 2021

Thank you, Dr. Olopade, for your kind introduction. Thanks to Dean Gorman-Smith and all of you at the University of Chicago Center for Global Health for inviting me to speak this morning in honor of World Health Day.


It is such a pleasure to serve alongside Dr. Olopade—a member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Board of Directors and therefore my boss. As you would no doubt imagine, she brings deep experience and a unique perspective to our work—which I know many of you get to experience on a daily basis at the University of Chicago. Dr. Olopade’s relationship with MacArthur goes back further: among the many honors she has received during her career, she was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2005 for her work to change the way doctors screen and treat African and African American women for breast cancer.

Dr. Olopade’s influence is felt locally here in Chicago, her current home, and all around the world, including in Nigeria where she was born, and where we at MacArthur Foundation have had an office for decades. On a personal level, she has been such a generous and kind guide to the City of Chicago as my family arrived here a few years ago from Boston. As we have often said at MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Olopade has the biggest heart of any of us on the Board. When she asked me to speak today, I jumped at the chance.

The Center for Global Health at the University of Chicago is leading the way in advancing the field. Your center is addressing health inequities and their root causes through an interdisciplinary lens, in partnership with communities in Chicago and abroad—both of which are especially critical in this moment. Thank you for hosting this day of conversation and commemoration and for all the work you do, every day, to advance global health.

I am excited to kick off World Health Day with you today. Despite all the harm that the COVID-19 virus has caused this past year-plus, I am excited about what this day can mean for us. Never has it been more important than it is this year, more than a year into a global pandemic and the end far from in sight. I am excited because we need to frame and address problems that touch each person in the world—and because the University of Chicago and places like yours make that thinking and doing, big and at scale, seem entirely possible, here in Chicago and all over the world.


Global Health Day has personal resonance for me. I grew up as the child of two parents who were and are devoted to public health. My mother and father are both pediatricians and medical educators in Boston. My parents often talked about the health disparities and the kinds of issues that the pandemic has laid bare. The topics you are studying and dissecting today were dinner table conversation for me and my sister Katy and brother Quentin. My parents have dedicated their lives to taking care of others and instilled in me and my siblings a sense of community consciousness and social justice. As it turns out, the three of us have all ended up in the non-profit and government sectors. At one moment recently, we were all CEOs of non-profit organizations.

One thing I’ll always think of when I think of my parents and their respective careers is that each morning, they got on a city bus and rode down Massachusetts Avenue from the community in which they lived to the hospitals and community health centers where they served. Every day, they gave their best in service of communities in Boston that have been and are underserved. They have at the same time had a clear sense of global interconnection. In my mom’s case, for instance, she started her career focused on neighborhood health in Boston and she is today focused on global health, with projects from Chile to China. I am proud and grateful for my parents’ fine example, and it informs the thinking that I bring to my work every day as president of MacArthur Foundation.


Each year, the World Health Organization designates a theme for World Health Day. It seems fitting that this year’s theme is “Building a Fairer, Healthier World.”

World Health Day is a moment for us to come together and recognize the opportunity for fundamental and systemic change. This inflection point has lessons for the future. We must realize the promise of the moment—to take this opportunity to recommit to racial and ethnic equity, diversity, and inclusion as we recover from a global pandemic that has impacted every corner of the world.

A year ago, none of us could have foreseen the extraordinary death toll we would experience from the COVID-19 pandemic. We must acknowledge the deaths of more than 550,000 people in the United States and the more than 2.7 million lives lost around the world due to COVID-19.

We must also acknowledge the disproportionate harm, felt as a matter of health, job loss, and much more, in historically marginalized communities in Chicago, the U.S., and globally.

Certainly, we have been experiencing dual crises—the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, which are very much intertwined. They have wreaked economic devastation and disastrous health impacts for African American, Latino, and Native American individuals. In communities of color, rates of COVID-19 exposure, illness, hospitalization and death are all higher. Native American, Black, and Latinx people twice as likely to die from COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, racial disparities in police killings have remained unchanged over the past five years, with 164 Black people suffering fatal police violence in the first eight months of 2020, alone. The American Public Health Association has declared police and law enforcement violence as a public health crisis. We have also seen a rise in xenophobia and violence directed against individuals of Asian descent across the nation, culminating in the senseless killings in Atlanta last month.

Police brutality and violence is not limited to the United States. In Nigeria, over the past few years, mass demonstrations have taken place through the #EndSARS movement to protest the corruption and abuse of power by the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad), a branch of the Nigeria Police Force. MacArthur Fellow and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written extensively about this topic on how the police force has terrorized its own citizens.

While these are unprecedented times, the problems we are confronting are not new. Racism is a contagion that existed long before COVID-19.

White people, myself included, have an essential role to play in dismantling the structures and practices that uphold systemic racism. We have to deconstruct our thinking and our practices that have brought us to this point of reckoning, and we have to reconstruct new systems in their place—that goes for individuals and institutions. It is clear that we need new directions in philanthropy to respond to urgent needs and to help communities recover.

If money is medicine, as Edgar Villanueva has written in his book Decolonizing Wealth, how do we ensure that we are using and distributing it to heal the people we seek to serve?  For decades, situational privilege has reinforced grantmaking methods in philanthropy that do not center the leadership of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.

Again, these inequities play out not just in the United States but in fact around the world. The gap between wealthy nations and those with fewer economic resources presented a renewed crisis, as the availability of life-saving vaccines, medicines, and practices has been spread unevenly across the globe. Within countries where the MacArthur Foundation makes grants, including the United Staes, Nigeria and India, we have seen similar disparities play out along lines of gender, social class, and abilities.


As a non-profit institution and as a funder of other non-profits, we at MacArthur Foundation are committed to doing our part to help bring about an equitable, inclusive recovery, with the individuals most affected in the lead to determine priorities and what is best for communities seeking to recover. We have much to learn from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders—in all the places we operate—about how to organize and consolidate our collective resources to meet the moment and fund a movement.

MacArthur has had a long-standing commitment to Chicago, our home city, where we invest in people, places, and partnerships to advance racial equity and build a more inclusive Chicago. Over 40 years we have invested $1.4 billion in more than 1,600 local organizations and individuals—more than any other place in the world.

There are times when those of us with the power and resources are called on to do more. This past year, 2020, was such a year.

Last summer, MacArthur issued “social bonds” to make $125 million in additional grants and investments in people, organizations, and communities. Our goal is to put these funds to work in an intentional, transparent, and accountable fashion toward the reconstruction of new, more equitable systems and structures.

We are taking advantage of historically low interest rates to be able to give out more money in a time of great need. Our first $25 million in grants addressed anti-Black racism, supported Native Americans impacted by COVID-19, strengthened voter education and mobilization, and combatted voter suppression. We also awarded grants to organizations based in India, Mexico, and Nigeria to respond to increased gender-based violence, reduced access to healthcare, fewer safe spaces, and unequal workloads.

The remaining funds will be allocated in support of organizations that can advance an overarching goal of racial and ethnic justice. One area of focus is health equity and access, which includes issues ranging from the disparate views of the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines by race to the mental health and wellness of Black, Indigenous, and other youth of color.

In Nigeria, where we have worked for over 30 years, we are using a gender equity and social inclusion lens with our grantmaking, which aims to reduce corruption by supporting Nigerian-led efforts to strengthen accountability, transparency, and participation.

That means we are looking at everything from:

-Supporting women-led and youth-led organizations with our grantmaking;

-Ensuring that our anti-corruption programming is informed by and reaches people from historically and contemporary marginalized groups such as young people, people with disabilities, women, and people in hard-to-reach communities. We have a particular focus on individuals who have intersecting identities, such as disabled women in hard-to-reach places;

-Offering Gender Equity and Social Inclusion training support to grantees; and

-Setting markers in how we evaluate our grantmaking to hold ourselves and grantees accountable to this priority.

The substance of our grantmaking and investing is as important as our mode of operating. Within the organization, we have embraced the Just Imperative, which is grounded in the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion as we strive to become an anti-racist organization.

Our aspiration is for each member of the MacArthur Foundation—all 180 Staff members around the globe—to feel a sense of belonging and a profound recognition that the Just Imperative is a part of all of our work. We continue to become more diverse as a Foundation and attempt to do the same with the organizations and people we support. We are also a learning organization, devoted to the work of evaluation and holding ourselves accountable for our progress as well as our failures.

This commitment we have made—this Just Imperative—calls upon us to look at everything we do. While some of the obvious steps have been to look at hiring and procurement practices, we are also looking across all our grantmaking, our impact investing, and our approach to investing the endowment itself.

Now is the time to fundamentally transform our systems, structures, and practices and reconstruct something better. Later today, we will announce the award recipient of 100&Change, our global competition for a single $100 million grant to solve a critical problem of our time. The six bold ideas will accelerate social change by ending homelessness, providing oxygen therapy to patients worldwide, restoring our oceans, democratizing life-saving medical knowledge and care, eliminating news deserts, and combating mosquito-borne disease.


What does this have to do with World Health Day? One of the many lessons of COVID-19 is our interconnectedness and our interdependence. We have missed this lesson in the past and we miss it again at our peril. The transmission of disease across geographic boundaries is just the most obvious dimension. The ravages of racism cross geographic boundaries, just as the slave trade joined Europe, Africa, and North and South America—and touched every corner of the world, as one example. Colonialism had and has today the same interconnected qualities. Information systems, trade, economic policy, security—each of these areas and more show us the deep and now permanent forms of interconnection. We cannot ignore these forms of interconnection; we cannot pull back from seeing our common humanity, acting locally, acting regionally, and both thinking and acting globally as we seek to define and solve the biggest problems.

As I close, let me harken back to Dr. Olopade and to my parents and to the approach they all take to their work. The public health leaders I most admire both act and think locally and act and think globally. They take care of people in their own communities and they never lose sight of our shared humanity, our deep interconnectedness with every other person on the planet.

The many learnings and types of reckonings of this past year give me hope for the future. To realize this future, we need to take stock now and understand what lessons we can learn from this once-in-a-lifetime moment—what we hope will be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, anyway. We must deepen our understanding of racial justice in an enduring way. The MacArthur Foundation is committed to realizing the promise of the moment—in solidarity with those whom we invest in and whom we partner with—towards a fairer and healthier world. I look forward to partnering with many of you, shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Olopade, in that work. Thank you.

2021 Klinsky Lecture, Harvard Law School

Klinsky Lecture: Technology in the Public Interest
Harvard Law School
April 2021
John Palfrey

Thank you, Dean Manning, for your kind introduction and for the opportunity to serve as the Klinsky Visiting Professor of Practice for Leadership and Progress in this auspicious year. It is such a treat to be back with all of you at Harvard Law School–and to have been able to teach again this year, fittingly enough, given our topic today, by Zoom. Thank you, Steven and Maureen Klinsky, for being with us today and for your exceptional generosity to our shared alma mater. I cherish this appointment and the chance to be the 2021 Klinsky Visiting Professor. Thank you to Catherine Cronin in the dean’s office, Steven Oliveira and the team in the development office, Urs Gasser and all those at the Berkman Klein Center who have helped to sponsor and put on this event today.

Thank you to Professor Martha Minow who will close us out today–and who had the vision, while she was herself the dean, to imagine this gift with the Klinskys and, I suspect, to shape both this professorship and the lecture series. Finally, thanks to all of you who have joined us and will participate today. In particular, thank you to Isabella Berkley, Madeleine Matsui, and Jess Valenzuela Ramirez, all members of the Harvard Law School Class of 2023–and students in the course I taught this Winter term, entitled Technology and the Public Interest. Isabella, Madeleine, and Jess will be the initial respondents after my remarks this afternoon. I am honored by their presence and willingness to serve this role.

We have learned many things, all of us, in this past year-plus of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of many lessons has to do with Zoom. We are all familiar with the “oh, sorry, you’re on mute” and the challenges of Zoom fatigue. We’ve also learned that no one wants to listen to anyone other than the very best lecturer talk for an hour straight on Zoom. I am far from one of the very best lecturers and I will spare you even a half hour straight. The gameplan is that I’ll give more of a sprint than a marathon type lecture, then turn it over to the students to respond, then open up to the questions and comments of the larger community. We’ll end with Professor Minow, who will likely pose a question to the students and perhaps one to me, and then close us out.


My story today is framed by three key dates, each separated by twenty years: 1981, 2001, and 2021.

Forty years ago, in 1981, Steven Klinsky graduated from the Harvard Law School. We are fortunate indeed that he did, or, we likely would not be gathered here today. Steven, I hope you enjoy your 40th reunion this year.

Twenty years ago–2001–was my class year at Harvard Law School. I will linger here not to center myself in the story but to ground us in the heady days of what we then called “the Internet boom.” Professor Charlie Nesson taught a class called “The Exploding Internet.” Jonathan Zittrain, fondly known as JZ, taught the early versions of his famous “Internet & Society:

The Technologies and Politics of Control.” I had the great good fortune to be one of the early students at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society alongside a dynamic, passionate, zany crew who had gathered around what Myles Berkman called “the watercooler” for a new era.

The spirit of the times in 2001 was electric and exciting. It was also dominated by a point of view that the Internet was a new thing, a new space–cyberspace–and something that deserved to be treated differently than everything else that had come before. For many, this point of view translated into a “hands off” regulatory environment for the Internet and everything associated with it. There was a name for it: “cyberlibertarianism.” It had some appealing features to be sure: a radical openness and a sense of possibility, the lure of a new kind of more participatory and global politics, and to be sure great riches for those able to harness it.

The United States Congress and those in the regulatory agencies and judiciary at the time more or less went along with this orthodoxy. In this country at least, regulation of the Internet was kept at a bare minimum. No new major, dedicated regulatory agencies or regimes cropped up, except at the margins and when absolutely necessary. The idea was that innovation in this new space was so promising that we should not risk stifling it–not just through excessive regulation, but really through any regulation at all. The emerging e-commerce powerhouses even managed to keep taxes on sales over the Internet at bay for a while.

The effect of this hands-off approach to regulation of the Internet did exactly what it was meant to do. Witness Amazon today. It resulted in an historic boom in businesses dedicated to the Internet, social media, data, hardware, software, hosting, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning … and on and on. At least off the bat, the vast majority of these companies were founded in the United States. While countries like China have given rise to worthy competitors in many fields, the United States remains the undisputed leader in virtually all aspects of the Internet, digital media, and computing early in this new millennium.

And it made a small number of people, mostly men, mostly highly educated, mostly White and Asian, fabulously wealthy–more so that at any point in history, perhaps with the exception of the 19th century’s Gilded Age.


Warning signs emerged quickly in the ensuing years. Not everyone was enamored of a totally “hands off” policy for the Internet, digital media, and data-heavy technology industries. Scholars from around the world pointed out the dangers and shortcomings of the United States policy regime. European states and the European Commission broke sharply with the United States, though created bridges through safe harbors to allow European citizens to use the US-based services. Authoritarian regimes, including Iran and North Korea, sought to create their own, balkanized version of the Internet. China erected its “great firewall” and an elaborate regulatory regime, long on state involvement and investment, short on protections for individual speech and privacy rights.

Scholars, too, questioned the wisdom of cyberlibertarianism. Harvard Law School and Berkman Center–now Berkman Klein–scholars, too numerous to mention all by name, deserve citation here, for sure, as do many who work elsewhere. JZ, for instance, wrote “The Future of the Internet–and How to Stop It” in 2008. Susan Crawford left a partnership at Wilmer Hale to join the legal academy, calling attention to the “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.” Ruth Okediji, Terry Fisher, Lawrence Lessig, and many others pointed out the dangers of an intellectual property regime that favors only some at the expense of the public interest. Yochai Benkler and a team of researchers have exposed the role of political and media elites in spreading dis- and misinformation on social media platforms. Urs Gasser pointed us to the extraordinary array of scholarship and practice outside the United States, in the process creating a network of centers that spans more than 100 institutions and connects with and holds up the distinctive thinking of those on nearly every continent. I could go on but that would take too long–you get the idea.


And now to 2021. In early January, an intrepid group of about 70 Harvard Law School students met over Zoom for an intensive two weeks together to study these issues in the present day. You can probably imagine where this story is headed.

It was only a few days into the course that a mob stormed the United States Capitol, seeking to put a stop to the full and fair election that was to bring Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House. Smack in the middle of our class, a group of largely White people took up arms against our country’s Congressional leadership in an effort to stop the certification of the election of the first African-American and Asian-American woman to one of the highest federal offices. While this insurrection mattered to everyone, it had special meaning in the context of our course.

We threw out the carefully planned syllabus for a few days to talk about what the insurrection meant to us–as people devoted to the study and practice of law and as human beings. These terrifying events, unfolding in front of us, held out the chance to talk about race, power, injustice, and social class among many other things. It was a time of high emotion, disproportionately felt by some members of our class and our society.

More specific to our course, these unsettling events in early January also afforded us the chance to talk in real-time about the decisions policy makers and company owners had to make. For starters: should Twitter take down the Tweets of the then-president that urged on these insurrectionists and ban him, while still in office, from further communications to his millions of followers on the platform? People who are in charge of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites had to decide whether to exercise their unprecedented power. Through this Harvard Law School class, we had the chance to debate this very choice–just as it was happening. We heard from a guest to the course, Peter Currie, who served until recently as the lead independent director of Twitter about the nature of this decision facing Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg and their colleagues.

We studied the lack of access to broadband while school had moved to Zoom–just as our students’ Harvard Law School experience had gone entirely online for this January term. We discussed what it meant for 1 in 5 students in Chicago not to have access to broadband and sufficient computing equipment to participate in school once it had gone all virtual early in the pandemic. We debated the merits of universal broadband access and other means of closing the gaps in access to our digital network in an era in which health information, access to justice, and access to an education hangs in the balance. We had a chance to debate these topics alongside Nicol Turner-Lee of the Brookings Institution, who has made the case for universal broadband access for decades, and with Sal Khan, who aspires to make a world-class education available for free to everyone, anywhere. As an aside, the Klinskys, too, are helping make a high-quality, low-cost college-level education possible using the Internet through one of their other philanthropic efforts.

We had the chance to debate the question with which I started–whether the Internet should be subject to greater regulation than it has been for over twenty years. In the midst of this “Great Deplatforming”–as in fact the social networks did ban the former president–we took up the big picture question of whether the United States-led cyberlibertarian regime is in fact the right one in 2021. We heard our guest Jameel Jaffer, Harvard Law School graduate and director of the Knight Institute, describe the complex interplay between the protections of the First Amendment and the rights of the private platforms to decide who can publish what online. And we heard from Spencer Overton, Harvard Law School graduate and director of the Joint Center, about what technology policy has to do with voting rights for people of color and others from marginalized communities.

Today, in 2021, each of these issues is on the table for consideration by the Biden-Harris Administration, the United States Congress, and the federal judiciary. The best way to regulate social media and the algorithms that increasingly assist humans in making essential decisions, the possible reform of the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230, the call for universal broadband access–each of these issues that we had a chance to debate are live considerations for legal and policy reform here in the United States and around the world.


I did not, during the class, say all that much about my own point of view on these matters. I take the position that students are best served by working out their own ideas to the greatest extent possible in the context of a course without being steered too hard by their teachers.

That said, if they cared to know my personal views–what law scholars might call my “normative priors”–my guess is that the students worked much of it out by following the breadcrumbs I left as I set up the syllabus, chose the readings, invited the guests, and moderated the conversations. I will conclude these remarks by lifting the curtain on these perspectives a bit.

My view is that the 2001-era absence of regulation does not make sense today, if ever it did. The cyberlibertarian approach favored people one would expect it to: individuals who already had power and capital, a group overwhelmingly White and male (and in this case, Asian), the venture capitalists and technologists, the big firm lawyers and the Wall Street bankers with a technological aptitude and bent. The system has been much less good for just about everyone else. We need a regulatory regime for technology that puts the public interest first, with equity and inclusion as a design principle, not an afterthought.

Of the current debates that we took up in the course, I believe that access to broadband should be treated just as we treat electricity or the telephone system. It is far past the time that we can think of this system as anything other than an essential utility. The problems of the last mile in rural areas or the yawning gaps in cities like Chicago, where I live, need to be solved in a hurry, after years of foot-dragging.

I agree with those who believe that the social media companies had every right–perhaps an obligation–to deplatform the former president and others who were spreading misinformation about a properly conducted election and much else besides. I do not think the First Amendment does or should stand in their way. I share the worries, though, about the power we are leaving in the hands of a very small group of billionaires, who happen to be all men and all White. And I worry a lot about the fate of our country’s journalism and media sector in an era dominated by gigantic and ever-more-powerful social media companies. That is a lecture for another day.

Perhaps most controversially, I agree it is time that we amend Section 230 of the
Communications Decency Act. This key provision of United States Internet law is considered sacrosanct by many in the technology field–and is the cornerstone of the cyberlibertarian philosophy. This provision, written into law in 1996 as part of a massive overhaul of the telecommunications regime, was meant to promote Good Samaritanship by those running the emerging Internet platforms. It has a funny dynamic to it: on the one hand, it ensures that the platform providers are not held liable for the bad acts of their users. On the other, it is meant to give them protection if they choose to act as Good Samaritans, to offer a helping hand.

It is true that this extremely wide and deep safe harbor has led to the growth of Internet companies, to robust competition, and to much innovation. It has also led to many bad acts and to many companies turning the other way when law enforcement or aggrieved parties come calling. In the name of preserving their safe harbor, many companies have done far too little to protect those who have been harmed.

It is time, I believe, that the law should be amended to extend meaningful protection to all, not just some. Urs Gasser and I made such an argument when we wrote Born Digital, a book which came out in 2008, in the interests of child protection. I agree too with the arguments put forward by Danielle Citron (a 2019 MacArthur fellow, incidentally) and Mary Anne Franks about individuals who are too often harmed by this absence of a regulatory regime–mostly women and people of color. I even might be persuaded to agree with a brilliant legal scholar, who happens to be here today, who recently suggested in a seminar I attended that Section 230 should not be amended but needed to be scrapped altogether, and for us to start again. We’ll see.

I believe it is time to create new digital institutions in the public interest. Ethan Zuckerman has called this digital public infrastructure. In EthanZ’s view, building explicitly from the work of Newton Minow from the 1960s to the present day, we should treat digital infrastructure as public goods, not purely as profit-maximizing enterprises. I agree. I think of the Digital Public Library of America–creating a public option when it comes to access to digital materials and eBooks–or Wikipedia as extant examples, with much more to be built and built out. Imagine a cloud computing system that is not held in private hands, a social network that truly protects personal information, digital media platforms that transform news and information the way NPR and PBS have transformed the landscape for radio and television, and so forth.

It is time for us to reimagine the knowledge and information needs in a democracy, before it is too late, and build the institutions to meet those needs. Across education, journalism, libraries–we should imagine and build new digital infrastructure for the public good. This is the progress and leadership I’d love to see in our field.

Most important, I believe it is time for a new, dynamic, more diverse, inspired group of young people to join the field of technology and the public interest. I have every confidence that these newcomers will help to build the new, digital institutions that will serve the many, not just the few. I am excited to see what they will do to design, build, regulate, and remake structures and a system that badly needs it–in the interest of a more just and inclusive economy and our very democracy. Thank you.


Now let’s turn to the best part of this “lecture,” a chance to hear from three students who, I hope, may be among those who decide to take up these issues in their professional lives one way or another. (No pressure!)

Each of these students made their mark in our star-crossed, impossibly timed course this January. For those not currently in the Harvard Law School community, this course was part of the January Experiential Term. Over Zoom, it is hard to make something truly “experiential,” so we improvised–as we’ve improvised in nearly every aspect of life this past year. We talked about matters of doctrine and policy as a throughline to the course, but it was really about what it means to become a lawyer–the kinds of things our students can go on to think about and do after law school. In addition to bringing in guests from inside and outside the legal profession, we required students to write a self-reflection on whether their application essay to HLS still made sense to them, required them to solve a technology policy problem in a team, and do all of this online.

To help us understand this story from the student perspective, I am pleased to introduce three exceptional people: Isabella Berkley, Madeleine Matsui, and Jess Valenzuela Ramirez. I’ve asked them to comment as they see fit on my lecture, on the substance of the course, and on their experience as Zoom-only 1Ls this year. I’ve invited them to be candid, to share whatever they feel is important to know, even if it may contradict what I’ve said or throw shade on the course or the experience they’ve had so far in law school. I’m eager to hear what they have to say, no matter what, about this intersection of technology in the public interest and the experience of learning the law entirely via the technology of Zoom.

Isabella, please start us off.

International Women’s Day 2021

I was very pleased to be able to join Hafsat Abiola, CEO of Women in Africa, to celebrate International Women’s Day for 2021. The video is posted. My fellow panelists were His Excellency Prof. Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria and Dr. Hassan El Shabrawishi, CEO of AXA in Africa. It was good to be able to represent “men supporting women” in Africa along with some key partners of our work at MacArthur Foundation in Nigeria.

Recent books I’ve learned from (Fall 2020)

In my previous job (at Andover), I created a list of a few books every term that we would offer to the faculty as “community reads” on what we called the Head of School’s Bookshelf. We set up a bookshelf in the HOS office and distributed as many copies as faculty would like to read. I’d post that list here on this blog. In a new job (at MacArthur Foundation) and during this pandemic, I realized I missed that tradition. It had the effect of making me reflect on a few of the books I’d read recently.

In the same spirit as the old HOS Bookshelf, as of Fall 2020 in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, here are a few books from the last few months that I particularly got something from:

Ronald Deibert, Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society (House of Anansi, 2020) — broad reflections on the present and future of networked technologies, social media, and civil society from the director of the Citizen Lab and professor of political science at University of Toronto (built off Prof. Deibert’s CBC Massey Lectures)

Howard Gardner, A Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of the Multiple Intelligences Theory (MIT Press, 2020) — a personal account of the life of the mind of a major Harvard professor and public intellectual (a former MacArthur Foundation fellow)

Cecilia Muñoz, More Than Ready: Be Strong and Be You . . . and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise (Seal Press, 2020) — a moving, inspiring memoir from one of America’s top policy experts (also a MacArthur Foundation fellow)

Allissa Richardson, Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones, & the New Protest #Journalism (Oxford University Press, 2020) — a scholarly overview of some of the critical issues related to race, social justice, and movement-building that sets a frame for better understanding today’s politics and media landscape, from professor and journalist now based at USC Annenberg

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2020) — an important, timely reflection on race, economics, and other forms of hierarchy mostly about America and slavery but told through the broad lens of three cultures — described in NYT Book Review as “the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far” and “an instant American classic”

New book coming out: The Connected Parent

With my friend and collaborator Urs Gasser, I have a new book coming out this fall — The Connected Parent: An Expert Guide to Parenting in a Digital World. It’s a close cousin of our previous book, Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age.  In this new book, we apply the findings from our 15 years or so of studying young people and how they use technology to a book that offers advice to parents raising kids these days.

It’s always fun to anticipate the arrival of a new book!  It comes out in October, 2020.  In the meantime, join our Facebook community.

Thirtieth Anniversary of Andover’s GSA and Trans Rights

This weekend, the Andover community celebrates the thirtieth annual weekend gathering of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (G.S.A.).  This important milestone merits attention and reflection.  The G.S.A. has played a central role in supporting students (and adults, for that matter) of all genders and sexualities on campus at Andover.

This week also marks the publication by the New York Times of a memo obtained by the Trump Administration about a proposal to “define out of existence” transgender persons.

I stand with the editors of the Phillipian, Andover’s independent student newspaper, in their opposition to this policy.  They note, correctly, that this proposed policy “has cast a shadow over the celebrations” of the G.S.A.’s thirtieth anniversary.  In this week’s paper, the Phillipian editorialized:

Regardless of this legal statement issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, we hope that the members of the Andover community will continue to support and love each other, and accept everyone for their unique identities and backgrounds. Andover is a community thoroughly and perpetually committed to diversity, and no announcement or any administration will change that commitment. In the face of these alarming news headlines and government-issued statements, the Andover community must recommit to its values of Non Sibi, compassion, and kindness, and never succumb to the pressures of fear, difference, and hate.

My friend Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, also published an article on this proposed policy that made me think — as all Joi’s writing does.  I’m with Joi when he writes:

And so, in the face of an appalling and nonsensical step backwards in government policy, I’d like to offer my support to all trans, gender non-conforming, and/or nonbinary members of the Media Lab and MIT community. More broadly, I’m calling on leaders of academic communities to speak out on this issue and be very clear that they see, they support, they affirm, and they will protect trans people in their communities.

This proposed policy is inconsistent with our belief in not only bringing Youth from Every Quarter to Andover but also in supporting them during their growth, no matter their gender or sexuality.  It is also inconsistent with Andover’s Statement of Purpose in which we affirm our commitment to “a deeper awareness of the global community” and our non-discrimination policy affirming that “we do not discriminate on the basis of gender, gender identity, gender expression…and sexual orientation.”  We affirm the full humanity and diversity of our students and all those in our adult community.

This issue of equal rights for all is not only a matter of federal law and policy.  Those who live in Massachusetts have a chance to weigh in on this topic on Election Day — November 6, 2018 — as well.  The topic of transgender rights is on the ballot as Question 3.  The official description of all ballot questions appears on the Secretary of State’s website.

Adolescence is a complicated time no matter who you are.  Those young people who are questioning their gender and sexuality deserve support, affirmation, and love, just as all students do.  No federal or state policy can change that in our community.

Remarks at Richard T. Greener Quadrangle Dedication

Richard T. Greener Quadrangle dedication
September 29, 2018
John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy

Welcome students and parents, faculty and staff, trustees and alumni to the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle.

Thank you, Linda Carter Griffith, for blazing your own trail as the first Assistant Head of School for Equity, Inclusion and Wellness—not only at Andover but among independent schools anywhere.

Thank you, Ava and Thaddeus. Your words remind us why this work is so vitally important and exactly what this ceremony symbolizes.

Rejji Hayes ’93: Your commitment to the ideals of equity and inclusion strengthens our resolve to act with courage and urgency on behalf of each of our 1,144 students. We felt the impact of your leadership at the 50th anniversary of AfLatAm last spring, when more than 400 alumni returned to campus to celebrate a foundational source of these efforts.

Building on the work of generations and guided by the priorities of the Knowledge and Goodness campaign, we join today to mark the history of Andover’s connections with underrepresented communities and highlight our commitment to equity and inclusion.
None of this would be possible without the vision of a singular donor. As much as we would like to put this person’s name in lights, we are respecting their wish for anonymity.

Please join me in a round of applause for the incredibly generous donor who made today’s dedication possible.

With humility and purpose, this individual asks us to reflect and act upon a founding principle of our school in the name of Richard T. Greener, Class of 1865. Our benefactor states:

We honor one man to represent all those who have enriched the Academy through the diversity of their thought and backgrounds and those who, for generations to come, will help Andover live up to its ideal of youth from every quarter.

With enthusiastic support of the Board of Trustees, we have the great privilege to honor the trailblazing work of Mr. Greener, a scholar and teacher, lawyer and diplomat, whose service during the post-Civil War era both inspired progress and ignited debate.
All that he stood for – argued for and educated others about – embodied the ideals of equity and inclusion to which we aspire today.

With Samuel Phillips Hall rising above us, the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle holds a special place in our Andover lives. Just three weeks ago, the senior class and I took part in the Vista Walk, a tradition begun by my predecessor, Barbara Chase. The early morning walk toward the steps of Sam Phil marks the first day of classes. The next time we share that walk, we will be joined by the entire faculty on June 2, 2019, Andover’s 241st Commencement.

This gathering space shines with natural beauty and historic significance. Last spring, students gathered here to protest gun violence. In 1989 a student demonstration, led by Brian Gittens ’89, ultimately led to the school’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

As we dedicate our most iconic patch of land, the trustees and I are excited to share that an additional gift will establish an endowed fund to advance equity and inclusion programs in Mr. Greener’s name.

It is truly gratifying to know that our extended Andover community believes as deeply as we do in the importance of these initiatives that benefit both the adults and students on our campus.

In fact, philanthropy in honor of Mr. Greener dates back to 1989 when a scholarship was established in his name. Seeking to support underrepresented students of color, the Richard T. Greener 1865 Endowed Scholarship has made a difference in the lives of more than a dozen Andover students spanning three decades.

Two Andover alumni and Greener Scholars were present in spring 2016 when Harvard recognized Mr. Greener with a portrait on display in Annenberg Dining Hall. One of those alumni, Robert Rush ’14, and his mom, Arlette, are with us today.

We’re also delighted to have our current Greener Scholar joining us—senior Jamille “Jami” Taveras ’19 of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  In a letter to the donors who established her scholarship, Jami reflects on the opportunities that have, in her words, “propelled her education and redefined what it means to go for things I want in life.”

Our admission team meets thousands of bright and motivated students with a host of talents and interests. But in simplest terms, they are looking for young people of integrity and promise who have the most to contribute to Andover and the most to gain from this diverse community and immersive education.

Jami is exactly that student.

Like most of her peers, Jami’s schedule is packed with academic rigor and extracurricular passions. Fluent in Spanish and proud of her Latina heritage, Jami is co-president of the Spanish Club and on the board of Alianza Latina. She co-founded the Criminal Investigation Club to bond with other students who share a passion for science, math, and psychology. And, yes, in addition to analyzing fingerprints, they do watch episodes of CSI!

Jami wrote:

It feels good to know there are a lot of people on my side, lifting me up and taking pride in my success.

Judging by what we know about Mr. Greener, my hunch is that he, too, would be proud of students like Jami, and Robert, and all those who have come before them.
Consider what Mr. Greener shared with his Andover classmates when he returned to campus for his 50th reunion in 1915. Reflecting on his diplomatic service in Vladivostok, Russia, at the height of the Russo-Japanese War, he said the following:

“I felt all the time that the institutions with which I had been connected—Phillips Academy and Harvard—had demanded something of me in character, intelligence and in worth.”

Richard T. Greener was an intellectual force and a visionary leader whose character blossomed at Andover. The qualities he displayed as a student were instrumental years later as he navigated civil rights issues and international conflicts. These are the kinds of qualities we see in our students today—rigor and purpose in their work, shared values of knowledge and goodness, respect for differences.

I’d like to close with a final word from Mr. Greener’s address to his Andover classmates. His reflection, more than 100 years ago, rings true today as we aspire to become a more inclusive and equitable Andover.

If one have not the disposition in him, it makes no matter what school he is trained, he will not be a success. It is the desire to prove oneself worthy of all estate and lead his comrades on.

On behalf of the Phillips Academy Board of Trustees, I dedicate the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle and ask that we all prove ourselves worthy of this important endeavor.

Thank you.

Start of School 2018

The New York Times published a terrific Magazine this Sunday on education.  The cover reads: “Teachers just want to teach but the classroom has become a battleground.”  I’m not sure that’s exactly “news” this fall but it is absolutely true.

Two of the articles in particular were worth reading and reflecting on as we start our new school year.  The first, “Can Good Teaching be Taught?” by Sara Mosle, tells the story of a struggling school and its persistent, hard-working first-year principal Cynthia Gunner.  The reporter follows Gunner as she goes classroom-to-classroom to inspire, hold accountable, and assist the teachers in her school.  The answer to the opening question is “of course” but the finding is also that it’s much easier said than done.  It’s hard not to be fired up by the work of this principal and the importance of her efforts.

The second that caught my attention was “Watch What You Say,” about the (former?) Friends Seminary teacher Ben Frisch who made a Hitler joke last school year.  This story, told by Jonathan Mahler, is especially sensitive to Frisch’s position and that of his supporters; the voices of those who initially called for Frisch’s removal — other than that of the Head of School Bo Lauder — are essentially silent.  I wonder if those who initially were so upset about the remarks by Frisch have changed their minds, whether they were reluctant to go on the record at this stage, or whether another reason attaches. The hard over-arching question has to do with how to ensure free expression can thrive in schools while also supporting a diverse group of young learners effectively.

It is just these questions that I sought to address in a book last year, Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education (free, open access edition here.  I won’t second-guess here the decision of another school, where I don’t know all the facts, but acknowledge instead that these cases are never easy for students, teachers, administrators, and families in close-knit school communities.  We do need to get better at figuring out how to resolve them.  I was intrigued by the emphasis in the article on the Quaker process.

Both articles in the NYT Magazine demonstrate the importance of deep, long-form journalism to explore tricky issues in-depth.

Celebration of AfLatAm@50 at Phillips Academy

John Palfrey

Opening Remarks – Celebration of AfLatAm@50

April, 2018

Good evening.  Let me please begin by thanking Emily Ndiokho, Class of 2018, for her leadership tonight in MC-ing this event and also for her leadership throughout her time at Andover.  As president of AfLatAm this year — in fact, the 50th president of AfLatAm — as a CAMD scholar, and all-around wonderful leader on campus, Emily deserves all of our thanks and praise.  Let’s please have a round of applause for Emily.

I am delighted to welcome all of you — Andover students, alumni, current and former faculty and staff, and honored guests — as we launch the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the AfLatAm program. More than 300 alumni have traveled to campus to celebrate this milestone and—as importantly—to engage in discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion at our school and in our society at large.  I am particularly excited to hear tonight’s keynote address by Hafsat Abiola, class of 1992 and one of the very best speakers I’ve ever heard.  We are all in for a treat tonight!

I’d like also to take a brief moment to thank our colleagues who have worked so hard on this event.  There are too many to name everyone, but in particular I’d like to acknowledge LaShawn Springer, CAMD dean; Linda Carter Griffith, Assistant Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness; and Jenny Savino from the Office of Alumni Engagement.  Their teams and colleagues have worked so hard to put this event together.  I’d like to acknowledge also the support of our current and former Trustees, who stand behind and make possible all we do here at Andover, five of whom are here tonight: Gary Lee, class of 1974 and Allison Picoctt, class of 1988, who are current board members, and three former board members: Chris Auguste, class of ’76; George Smith, class of ’83, and Rejji Hayes ’93.  Thanks to each of these trustees here tonight.

In its 240th year, Andover is animated by many of the same ideals that were set forth by the Phillips family in the 18th century.  Among those ideals, we take very seriously the charge that the school would be “ever equally open to Youth (of requisite qualifications) from Every Quarter.”

Of course, when our founders codified these words in the Constitution of Phillips Academy in 1778, the ideal was far from our aspiration for today’s modern school.  We don’t know exactly how Samuel Phillips and his co-founders truly defined “every quarter,” but they almost certainly meant white boys from local families.  What we do know is that they likely envisioned a school that would admit sons of the working classes, not just the wealthy – they described it as a “public free school” and the very first class of students included a boy who traveled from Jamaica.

Though our founders’ vision of the quarters from which youth might come to Andover would fall far short of what we embrace today, I believe that the real genius of those few words written down hundreds of years ago is their inherent challenge: that we should be “ever equally open.” This requires each new generation to strive to find students from every conceivable background as we seek to educate the future leaders who will change our world for good.

Andover is a place—a vibrant, living community. But it is also an idea. And in both spheres—that of the real and that of the ideal—it is imperfect, always changing, always seeking truth.

Fifty years ago, steeped in social movements that had impacted our country and our campus for decades, the Af-Lat-Am program emerged as both a marker of change and a beacon of hope to lead us further toward a greater inclusiveness. Those student and faculty pioneers strove for a greater understanding of the experience of African Americans and LatinX students, and a greater appreciation of how much more complete Andover could be when we continually strive to be “ever EQUALLY open to Youth from EVERY Quarter.”

Andover’s Need Blind Admission Policy, now in its 11th year, is one cornerstone of this commitment. Need-blind admission stands out as Andover’s single most important financial priority. Currently,

  • Nearly half of our students today receive financial aid.
  • Andover has awarded $22 million in scholarships in this year

We are extremely proud to be the only school of our kind that is need blind.  No other school can claim a financial aid program as comprehensive as ours. And it is the modern path by which we ensure access for all. These are important steps and we should be proud and grateful for the many people who have generously made it possible.

Yet access alone is not enough. Diversity alone is not enough.  These commitments are necessary, but they are not sufficient.

A few years ago, we embraced at Andover a strategic plan that called for a renewed focus not just on diversity but on equity and inclusion.

To lead our work in this area, Linda Carter Griffith – LCG to our students and families – began a new leadership role—the first position of its kind for independent schools—as Assistant Head of School for Equity and Inclusion (her title has since expanded to incorporate wellness).  Linda’s work focuses on supporting all members of the Andover community so they can achieve their full potential.  She brings the experience of a devoted teacher and seasoned administrator to this senior position at our school.

Why is LCG’s role and work so crucial?

From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Staten Island to Charlottesville, our country continues to struggle to come to grips with the enduring presence and legacy of white supremacy.  From every vantage point, we must all look anew at the history and structures of our institutions and the degree to which we have an extraordinary amount of work to do.  That includes at Andover.

Each year, Andover welcomes more than 1,100 students to campus with as many distinct experiences and points of view.  Emily and her fellow students come from nearly every state and 45 countries.

In a world marked by global unrest and political discord, we rely on the principles of equity and inclusion to guide our thinking and actions. Linda’s leadership has been incredibly important to our community.  Through partnership with the Community and Multicultural Development Office, student groups, and other faculty across campus, we’ve devoted ourselves as a community to probing matters of ideology, gender, identity, citizenship, and race.  Guest speakers have challenged us on politics and policy; students have joined the #NeverAgain movement advocating for tighter gun control, #MeToo to advocate for gender equality and an end to gender-based violence, and a host of social justice activities.

We can’t and we don’t shy away from those issues that challenge us to hear—and better understand—one another.  I truly believe that this is how we will grow and learn as a community.

Our commitment to equity and inclusion is fundamentally about keeping our promise to every student who comes here. It is our goal to ensure that everyone is valued equally and has an equal chance to thrive at Phillips Academy and beyond. I couldn’t be more excited about the young people at Andover today, nor more pleased with the strength of our faculty. Even as we remain deeply grounded in our founding values of 1778, in 2018 we are learning and growing as an institution in ways that directly benefit every student.

Where does this lead us? Guided by our core values, Andover will continue to thrive and struggle and lean into tough issues — issues on which members of our community are bound to disagree. And I hope that each of you will play a pivotal role in this.

This reunion, AFLATAM@50, is very much a celebration of our past—of student leaders who pressed us forward, of faculty and staff who worked tirelessly to address inequity—but it also is a commitment to the future and to the necessary, difficult, and extraordinarily important work that must still be done.  I look forward to continuing on this important journey with all of you, with our faculty and our staff and our students.  Thank you.

Head of School Bookshelf, 2017-2018

Each term as head of school at Phillips Academy, I’ve put out a series of books for the faculty to enjoy.  Colleagues are free to keep the books, pass them along to others, or bring them back to the bookshelf in the head of school’s office.  I choose titles that relate in one way or another to the mission of our school and conversations underway on our campus.  I thought I’d post the list for all three terms at once this year:

Spring, 2018 main selections:

Julia Alvarez (Abbot Academy ’67), In the Time of the Butterflies (Algonquin, Reprint edition, 2010)

Mary Beard, Women and Power (Liveright, 2017)

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing (Vintage, Reprint edition, 2017)

Chris Hughes (Phillips Academy ’02), Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn (St. Martin’s Press, 2018).

Alex Soojung Kim Pang, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (Basic Books, 2016)

David Schwartz (Phillips Academy ’72), The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of The Nuclear Age (Basic Books, 2017)

Bonus choices for Spring 2018 (a few copies of each set out for faculty):

Danielle Allen, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (Liveright, 2015) (we bought 1000+ copies to share with all on campus interested in reading it in advance of Prof. Allen’s May 9, 2018 All School Meeting, one in the year-long series of discussions of citizenship)

Malinda S. Blustain and Ryan Wheeler, Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology (University of Nebraska Press, 2018) (Congrats to the team at the Peabody!)

Michael Lewis, Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life (W.W. Norton, Reprint edition 2008)

Craig A. Miller, This is How it Feels (CreateSpace, 2012) (trigger warning: about surviving suicide; mentioned by Riverside Trauma Center suicide prevention trainings on our campus.)

Winter 2018 Main Selections:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (One World, 2017)

Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacometti Bono, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character (Templeton Press, 2015) (h/t to faculty member Allen Grimm who gave me an inscribed copy)

Julie Lythcott-Haims, Real American: A Memoir (Henry Holt, 2017)

Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) (editorial comment: I think it is safe to say that this book has not resonated as fully with our faculty as many of the other titles I offered have.  I thought the perspective of a Republican US Senator on raising young people in this country was worth offering all the same.)

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel (Random House, 2017)

Eli Shafak, Three Daughters of Eve (Bloomsbury USA, 2017)

Winter 2018 Bonus Selection:

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) (this book appeared on a previous HOS Bookshelf as careful watchers of this space will recall; Prof. Rankine spoke at Andover in January as part of our MLK, Jr., Day celebration)

Fall 2017 Main Selections:

Danielle Allen, Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. (Liveright, 2017)

Robert Gottlieb, Avid Reader: A Life (FSG, 2016)

Ian Haney Lopez, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class (Oxford University Press, 2015, rev. ed.)

John McPhee, Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process (FSG, 2017)

Jessica Shattuck, The Women in the Castle (William Morrow, 2017)

Fall 2017 Bonus Selections:

Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Scribner, 2016) (why: previously on HOS bookshelf; brought back with additional copies given her visit to campus early in the Fall)

Erwin Chemerinsky & Howard Gilman, Free Speech on Campus (Yale University Press, 2017) (why: alternate take on the book I just wrote)

Sigal Ben-Kamath, Free Speech on Campus (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017) (why: ditto)

I also put out copies of the book I wrote, called Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education (MIT Press, 2017).