On the Other Hand ... PBH-Did the CSCR Tell All?
(The author is the graduate secretary of PBH and a graduate student in the History of American Civilization.)
IT HAS SEEMED, until now, the better part to make no public response either to the report on PBH of the Committee on Students and Community Relations or on the unpublished remarks of several of its members. However, Mr. Bryce has decided to offer the "completely open and frank statement" of the subcommittee report and his commentary. Since I accept the good faith of the members of Mr. Bryce's subcommittee I can only question their competence to evaluate PBH. The report and Mr. Bryce's comments contain serious inaccuracies and almost complete misunderstanding of our finances, and an argument that moves forward largely (though assuredly unintentionally) through implicit criticisms, undocumented assertions, and outright condescension.
Is it "open and frank" to, in Mr. Bryce's words, "refrain from publicizing many internal difficulties and contradictions that we stumbled upon," particularly in regard to money? No member of PBH was ever presented with these difficulties. The subcommittee report also suggests that PBH misused the original Faculty of Arts and Sciences subsidy for central administrative costs instead of for consultants. A brief look at the PBH correspondence with Dean Ford, of which the subcommittee had copies, would have made clear that the original subsidy was always earmarked for such items as postage, automobile and travel expenses, and other central costs including professional consultants. Similarly the subcommittee report could only suggest that we establish consistent expense categories and accounting periods because the subcommittee members never troubled to read the documents they requested or to listen to our responses to their questions. It is shabby in the extreme to imply fiscal sloppiness at PBH when you do not understand its finances and have not asked for further explanation of them. If the subcommittee had requested it they could have had the annual audit. But here, as elsewhere, they did not bother to present their criticisms to us fully and openly. Instead they embodied their understanding of a complex institution in a hastily written document that they could not even make available to us (because it was being hurried together?) the morning before the deliberations of the full Committee.
Mr. Bryce and his Committee indulge in another easy and unsubstantiated criticism. They suggest that the PBH Faculty Committee ought to bestir itself to greater activity and to remedy its ignorance of PBH. I do not understand how the charge can be made, given the membership of the PBH Faculty Committee. But the most irrefutable response is to point out that the PBH Faculty Committee meets monthly with the executive officers of PBH; that, in addition, at least nine of the members consult quite regularly with individual programs, committee chairmen, the officers, and the graduate secretary. I know of few other analogous Faculty committees as active or as helpful to the daily activities of an organization. Mr. Bryce's elevated scorn, as well as that of several of his fellow Committee members, is offensive and based on ignorance. Because the Dean of the College has been unable to be an active member it does not follow that such has been true of the remaining members.
The most serious criticism I have of the subcommittee of the CSCR is the role it allowed itself to play. Several times we attempted to show them that, despite their protestations of sympathy and support, they could not be suitable advocates for PBH before the full Committee. All of us who appeared before them were disturbed by their insistence on examining, down to the telephone bills, the minutiae of PBH's finances and their consequent inability to understand and to discuss the larger issues we wished to raise. Mr. Bryce's comments, as well as the subcommittee report, make amply clear that:
The primary concern of the subcommittee was to produce a money-saving recommendation for the Dean, not to make the best possible case for PBH; and
They persisted in examining PBH in isolation from other academic and extra-curricular activities that possess in Mr. Bryce's horrified term the "carte blanche of permanent subsidy." Throughout their proceedings we were treated as pensioners to the University obligated to justify, at each step, that we have a legitimate place here. Do the following suggest that we were taken seriously: the exhortation to PBH to "get its head together," the reduction of our budget because we could not place all the students who came to PBH this Fall, and the condescension of asking us questions as though we had never thought of them, questions self-evident to any self-critical and vital organization?
The most troubling aspect of the whole process was the fact that the meeting of the full Committee at which the recommendation was decided was closed, except for a brief period of questioning directed at the vice president and the chairman of the Faculty Committee who were the only representatives of PBH permitted to attend the meeting in any capacity. We cannot see any reason why this meeting should not have been open throughout its deliberations. The secrecy of the proceedings was unnecessary and further conducive to the whole procedure of never stating criticisms directly to us. As it now stands it only seems that the Committee felt critical of many aspects of PBH not stated in the subcommittee report. Mr. Bryce's CRIMSON article again implies, "openly and frankly," the existence of criticisms not made public.
The Committee's decision that we receive $10,000 as a temporary subsidy for 1971-72 merely affirms the already existing understanding with the Dean of the Faculty. Thus, PBH has spent nine months of its scarce administrative time going through a process that leaves us exactly where we began.
What exactly did we ask for? Mr. Bryce suggests we were guilty of "idealistic fiscal musings" in a time of financial stringency. We asked first that we be considered for a permanent place in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences budget. We never suggested that we expected a carte blanche. We were never given the opportunity even to put forth a specific request as to amount and use. I would like to suggest a few pertinent comparisons.
This year about 500 undergraduates volunteered through PBH. In the course of four years about one quarter of the undergraduate body volunteers at PBH. Other undergraduate organizations, ones both smaller and larger than PBH, receive some sort of permanent budgetary consideration from the University. The Department of Athletics has, of course, an enormous budget for physical plant, personnel, and materials against which our request looks paltry indeed. The Harvard Dramatic Club also has permanent budgetary status, again in the form of physical plant, professional personnel, and support for production costs. If given the chance, we will again ask for permanent support for certain predictable costs and no more. The subcommittee and Mr. Bryce chose not to recognize the self-imposed stringency of our program and administrative budgets.
I think it is important for the Harvard community to confront the issue that underlies this discussion-should PBH receive support from the University at a minimal and reasonable level? The report of the subcommittee and the recommendations of the CSCR display an indifference both to the kinds of educational opportunities PBH offers and to the role it plays in a variety of settings outside the University. PBH has no policy of excluding or of discouraging undergraduates from volunteering. The contrary is the case. The subcommittee or members of the full Committee never sought to explain why our membership was highest precisely when we were most professional. We do not believe it is responsible at any level to send out volunteers into unfamiliar field settings without some training, some ongoing supervision, and a well-administered program. Undergraduates administering PBH programs must work forty hours or more weekly. PBH depends annually on the supply of experienced and committed volunteers returning who are willing to put in this time. They determine how many places can be made available and how many new programs can be started. In response to those who have suggested we have become too professional I would answer that we are not nearly "professional" enough in the sense it is used by the CSCR. It is irresponsible to recommend amateurism as a positive value in working with other people who are in trouble in some way. The various communities PBH works with do not exist to provide undergraduates "fields in which to play." It is not the responsibility of PBH to serve the undergraduate community in any such slack manner as the subcommittee would apparently have it.
It may well not have been the intention of the CSCR to jeopardize the further operation of PBH. But that is the effect of their decision and of the prospective cut in the building budget. No single implied or explicit criticism can be better helped through these financial cut-backs. Their stringency is great enough to make it natural, if perhaps mistaken, for people at PBH to feel they are being punished and placed on probation. The Committee on Students and Community Relations has served itself, PBH, and the Harvard community badly. It is they who should support their criticisms and make their case.