Joshua G. McIntosh G’12: Navigating Complexities, Transforming Higher Education

A new chapter unfolds as Syracuse University School of Education graduate Joshua G. McIntosh G’12 starts 2024 as Executive Dean of John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, bringing with him a wealth of experience and a trail of successes.

Thumbnail of Josh McIntosh.For more than a decade, McIntosh has charted an unconventional course in higher education, focusing on administration, operations, and organizational transformation, rather than a traditional student affairs path. His mantra, as he puts it, is to immerse himself in roles that are “messy, complicated, creative, and in need of strengthening.”

Transformative Challenge

McIntosh believes his greatest assets lie in helping institutions strengthen their operational and organizational platforms. For example, among his past roles, he has supported the merger of Syracuse University’s offices of Greek Life and Student Activities, overseen the master plan for Housing and Residence Life at Harvard College, and established a counseling center at Bates College.

Between 2014 and 2023, McIntosh served as Vice President for campus life at Bates College, a private liberal arts college in Maine known as one of the “Little Ivies” (an unofficial group of small, academically competitive private liberal arts colleges in the Northeast). He is most proud of two efforts during his time there, standing up the counseling center and leading the college’s COVID-19 public health management initiative: “When I arrived at Bates, there was no counseling center, and health services and sports medicine were in need of significant improvements.”

“Leading transformation of health care on [Bates College’s] campus and creating access with an equity and inclusion lens was in many ways the work with the most impact on the student experience.”

McIntosh says he found health care and counseling an interesting, complex, and transformative challenge. “It was an especially interesting task because I had no expertise in health care,” he admits. And despite recalling the orchestration of the college’s response to the pandemic as a “nightmare,” he embraced entering the highly regulatory world of health care because it allowed him to use creative thinking. “Leading transformation of health care on campus and creating access with an equity and inclusion lens was in many ways the work with the most impact on the student experience,” he adds.

McIntosh defines his work as always being in incredibly stimulating and creative spaces and as balancing a school’s administrative, operational, and financial platforms. “It’s been different jobs, with different titles, but the common threads remain,” he says, noting there are always a variety of stakeholders to please. “From faculty, staff, students, and, for some undergraduates, their families as well, higher education is a very complex environment.”

Proven Dedication

Now at back at Harvard, new challenges await, which McIntosh finds exciting.

As Executive Dean of the Kennedy School, he will be the school’s Chief Administrative Officer and report to the Dean. He’ll oversee a broad range of activities in financial operations, facilities, human resources, information technology, communications, the library, research administration, security, and executive education.

The challenge, McIntosh says, is two of these areas are completely new to him: research administration and executive education. “It’s what caught my eye,” he says. “It’s the complexity of the environment, coupled with the subject matter I need to learn that I find most motivating and stimulating.”

McIntosh also looks forward to supporting the Kennedy School’s research. He will coordinate closely with the directors and executive directors of the institution’s research centers to ensure effective support of all activities. “Some of the best thinkers and scholars of our time are here and will be addressing current issues from gender to human rights to international affairs to climate change,” he notes. “These are our current and future problems, not just as a country but globally.”

In announcing McIntosh’s appointment, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School Douglas Elmendorf says, “With his experience as a strategic leader and proven dedication to the mission of higher education, Josh will be a tremendous asset to the Kennedy School. I’m delighted that he will join our community and help advance our mission of improving public policy and leadership.”

What sets McIntosh apart is his ability to build and lead strong teams. “I understand how the pieces all fit together and how different stakeholders want different things,” he observes. “Oftentimes, these can be in conflict with one another. So, where I think I can be most useful to the Kennedy School is to work across its many stakeholders to advance a shared set of priorities once those become crystallized.”

Broad Foundation

McIntosh launched his career in higher education at Syracuse University, after earning an undergraduate degree from Elon University and his master’s in College Student Development from Appalachian State University.

After Syracuse, McIntosh held management and leadership positions as Associate Dean of Harvard College, the undergraduate liberal arts college of Harvard University, before moving to Johns Hopkins University, where he collaborated closely with the President and Provost on strategic priorities and oversaw seven departments.

“I was lucky at Syracuse to not only have really good teachers but ones that are really good human beings.”

Across that time, he earned his doctorate in Higher Education from Syracuse’s School of Education.

McIntosh credits Syracuse with providing a foundation for understanding the complexity and mission driven work of higher education. “It’s hard to work across an organization if you don’t understand the different elements of it because you typically just view what’s important or what seems material through your own lens, which can be very limiting,” he says. “So, the broad foundation from Syracuse was incredibly important for me to understand the complexity of higher education institutions.”

He found that Syracuse, too, connected him to great people and support. “I was lucky at Syracuse to not only have really good teachers but ones that are really good human beings,” he says. He also honed his communication skills both through coursework and in completing his dissertation. This, he says, greatly helped him cultivate the ability to build reasoned, persuading arguments.

“You cannot overstate the importance and value of effective communication, interpersonal skills, and the ability to work with people who hold different points of view with competing interests,” McInstosh observes, adding this is especially true in the realm of higher education where multiple priorities and personalities collide.

Looking back over his career, McIntosh says he cherishes his ability to hire, recruit, and further develop solid teams. “The teams piece, as well as my ability to work with a number of dimensions of the enterprise to get important work done, is probably where I’ve been the most successful.”

McIntosh’s journey has been marked by deliberate choices, calculated risks, and a passion for transformative change. In his new role at Harvard Kennedy School, he stands poised to make a consequential impact, helping to shape the future of higher education as he goes.

By Ashley Kang ’04, G’11 (a proud alumna of the M.S. in Higher Education program)

Learn more about the School of Education’s doctoral program in Higher Education, or contact Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment Speranza Migliore.