“(Re)-building” community is at the centre of Mark Hallerberg’s Acting Presidency.
“Please, talk to one another. The pandemic has meant that we now spend far too much time alone or without the social connections we hold near and dear. Let’s bring our heads and hearts together as individuals and as part of the Hertie family as we anticipate the brighter days that lie ahead.” When Acting President Mark Hallerberg wrote his message to the Hertie School community early in the Spring Semester of 2021, “(Re)building community”, as he calls it, was at the top of his mind.
After nearly a year of online classes, research, events and socializing, the School, like others around the world, was finally emerging from the pandemic – a crisis that has challenged the very essence of university life – communities that come together for the free exchange of ideas. “In-person contact is simply human,” Hallerberg says. “I missed that human dimension. But at the same time, we have to think about what we learned. Going forward we will have many more activities in person, but we will also selectively do things online. We want the best of both for a better student experience.”
Community is a thread that binds many of the projects Hallerberg is currently chaperoning – from the return to in-person classes to supporting the School’s ongoing diversity and inclusion initiative, broadening ties with global and European partner institutions, building connections with the research community in Berlin and finding ways that students, faculty and staff can serve the broader community outside the Hertie School.
Particularly close to his heart is an initiative he calls “Our Place in Berlin”. “We often look to our partnerships abroad – Brazil, India, across Europe and many, many others. But we have a place here in the city as well,” he says. Last year, the School held a successful drive with alumnus and current Hertie PhD researcher, Sahil Deo, to raise money for oxygen in Pune, India. Hallerberg would like to build on this spirit locally. “I'd like to appeal to our community for ideas about something we can do together, to think about how we can serve our community here in Berlin.”
Hallerberg’s place in Berlin
The Californian found his own place in Berlin in 2007, when he moved from Emory University in Atlanta as one of the Hertie School’s earliest faculty members. But he was no stranger to Germany. A political economist, he had studied at the Freie Universität Berlin in 1993 and spent nine summers at the University of Bonn doing research while working on his PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2000, Hallerberg spent time at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne and then in 2005 as a guest at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. At both places, Hallerberg encountered Henrik Enderlein, the Hertie School’s most recent past President, who tragically passed away this year from cancer at the age of 46. It was Enderlein who convinced Hallerberg in 2006 to come to Berlin and join the newly founded Hertie School.
As Professor of Public Management and Political Economy, he has held various leadership posts at the university, serving as Director of the Master of Public Policy and Master of International Affairs programmes, as Dean of Research and Faculty, and as Deputy President from September 2020 to February 2021, when Henrik Enderlein stepped down and Hallerberg became Acting President. His research focuses on fiscal governance, tax competition, financial crises and European Union politics. In 2019, Oxford University Press published his most recent book, Principles of International Political Economy, written with Jeff Kucik of the University of Arizona and Bumba Mukherjee of Penn State.
Most recently, he wrote, “Pandemic Leadership: Did ‘Scientists’ Lock Down More Quickly?”, with Joachim Wehner of the London School of Economics, which asks a pandemic-related question: Were leaders with a science background better at tackling the COVID-19 than others? Some public commentators have concluded that leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry, had a better grasp of the pandemic’s implications and thus were quicker to react, Hallerberg says. But their research found such generalizations should be approached with caution.
Another COVID-related project is to examine how world leaders framed narratives around the crisis, using data to examine speeches, tweets and comments – research he’s conducting with Slava Jankin, Professor of Data Science and Public Policy and Director of the Hertie School Data Science Lab and Amrita Narlikar, President and Professor of Political Science at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA). At the same time, he’s been collaborating with Kai Wegrich, Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy, conducting interviews with Brazilians who started public innovation labs, aiming to discover what sparks such labs and how they create impact.
Looking ahead to the German federal elections in September 2021, Hallerberg is working with Hertie School faculty to combining academic research and outreach for real-world impact. The idea is to develop public sector reform recommendations for the next German government, which will replace Angela Merkel when she steps down after 16 years as Chancellor. “The goal is to have a series of briefs that address issues the next government will face – regardless of which party is in charge,” says Hallerberg. The briefs tap into faculty expertise, like whether Germany needs a ministry for digitalisation, or Germans’ attitudes toward foreign policy.
Habitat for inquiry
Collaboration and building up research networks is a prime focus for Hallerberg – whether through the School’s participation in the Global Public Policy Network (GPPN) of international policy schools, the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA), the eight-member CIVICA alliance of European social science universities, or the School’s joint research clusters and PhD offerings (SCRIPTS and DYNAMICS) in Berlin with the Humboldt University, the Freie Universität or the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) and others.
“I’m currently working on a project as part of the Berlin Excellence Cluster SCRIPTS,” he notes. Together with Amrita Narlikar, he’s looking at the implications of China’s global infrastructure Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). “We call this the Challenge to the Challenge,” Hallerberg says. “The idea is that that is the BRI represents some sort of challenge to the liberal script. Our challenge is to see how different countries from the Global South to the European Union react to China‘s challenge, focusing on trade and finance.”
Amid all of the research and “(re)building”, Hallerberg still manages to do some teaching – also within the School’s expanding networks. In the fall, he’ll be co-teaching an online course on the history of globalisation and capital movement in Europe with the CIVICA network. For master’s students at Bocconi University in Milan, Sciences Po in Paris, LSE in London and Hertie School students, the course examines the four freedoms in the Treaty of Rome: capital movement, labour, goods and services. “We don’t always consider their history,” Hallerberg says. “What can developments in 19th century tell us about their importance, for example?”
Looking ahead, Hallerberg says he is inspired by the agility that students, faculty and staff displayed over the last year. “I was impressed by their ‘can-do’ attitude and enthusiasm, which I really appreciate – not just the administration and faculty, but how our students really took up the challenge,” he says. “I think we're in remarkably good shape. We've got a record number of incoming students, we've got a sense of moving forward in terms of our new Master of International Affairs, which we recently reformed and has been particularly popular. And we've got this new Master of Data Science for Public Policy, where applications far exceeded our expectations. It’s an exciting time.”