Christine Heenan to Depart

Harvard’s communications vice president moves to Gates Foundation.

Christine Heenan

Updated 10-1-124, 10:00 p.m.

Christine Heenan, vice president for public affairs and communications, will step down from that post on January 31 and move to part-time, advisory status through the end of the academic year as she begins a transition into her new role as senior communications adviser at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in Seattle. According to the University announcement, Heenan will work with the Gates Foundation’s chief executive officer, Susan Desmond-Hellman (who was chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, before moving to the foundation effective last May). Desmond-Hellmann said in the statement, “We have almost ridiculous ambitions as a foundation: solve polio, get rid of inequities, work on poverty globally. So the most important thing for me is to have additional talent, and Christine is certainly a great talent to help us focus on the world’s biggest problems.”

President Drew Faust appointed Heenan to her current post in mid 2008; she had previously been director of community and government relations at Brown University, and was then founder and president of Clarendon Group, a communications and government-relations consulting firm. Her Harvard portfolio includes:

  • federal, state, and local government relations (an area of particular importance given declining support for sponsored-research funding in Washington, and, locally, the University’s ambitions to expand the campus on its landholdings in Allston);
  • community relations; and
  • communications and media relations (extending, of late, to strategic planning, digital outreach, and deeper involvement in alumni and capital-campaign communications).

She has been a close adviser to Faust, who said in the news announcement:

Harvard has been greatly fortunate to benefit from Christine’s remarkable strategic sense and energetic leadership these past six years. With the talented team that she has ably built and led, she has guided Harvard communications ambitiously forward into the digital era, overseen the transformation of the Harvard Gazette, strengthened essential relationships with neighbors and key officials in our host communities, and vigorously advanced the interests of higher education and research in Washington and beyond. On these matters and more, she has been a constant source of good counsel, creative vision, and spirited collegiality for all of us in Massachusetts Hall, for the deans and the governing boards, and for colleagues across Harvard.

[Contents of following paragraph added 10-1-14, 10:00 p.m.] William F. Lee, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, also reflected on Heenan's service:

Christine has had an enormous impact on Harvard and the manner in which we communicate with our widely varying constituencies. She understood—and taught the rest of us—that the world of communications in the digital age is fundamentally different and was creative and innovative in ensuring that Harvard adapted to the new world order. She is a leader who both has vision and knows how to execute. She will be missed greatly.

Heenan’s planned transition and then departure from the University follows that of Dan Shore, vice president for finance and chief financial officer since 2008, announced during the summer and effective yesterday (he joined a technology start-up). With Faust in the eighth year of her presidency—and with the financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing changes in Harvard’s budget and administrative processes now largely history, and the University well advanced in a huge capital campaign—it is perhaps a natural time for some members of her senior administrative team to look for their next opportunities—and experience at Harvard has its value for other institutions. As an earlier example, A. Clayton Spencer, who had been vice president for policy since 2005, before Faust became president, in late 2011 accepted the presidency of Bates College, and took office in mid 2012.

Read the news announcement here.

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