IF HARVARD wants to maintain the good community relations that it owes to Cambridge--a city from which it extracts more services than it replaces--then it must be open in formulating and presenting its development plans. Harvard must be willing to bargain in good faith and be receptive to community input on University decisions that affect surrounding neighborhoods. But Harvard's policy has not been one of candor. The University has not been all that frank or intelligent in its dealings with the community.
Harvard's handling of community affairs over the Kennedy Memorial is probably the best recent example of botched community relations. The University, by failing to detect mounting opposition to the museum in time to negotiate with the Library Corporation to keep the archives in Cambridge while moving the museum elsewhere, may cause a situation where the archives and the planned Kennedy Institute are lost to Harvard.
Some of Harvard's neighbors have taken it upon themselves to see that such misjudgments, as the one Harvard made on the community feelings about the Kennedy museum, do not develop again. These leaders have recently been pressing for the formation of a visiting committee that would check into the activities of the government and community affairs office and the Planning Office. This visiting committee would, in some respects act as other established visiting committees. It would interview as many people as often as it could in all neighborhoods surrounding Harvard to see if they believe that Harvard has treated the community fairly. The committee would then present its report on community feelings directly to the Board of Overseers and the President and Fellows, as required of all University visiting committees.
By reporting directly to these groups, the visiting committee would already be circumventing a major obstacle that has plagued recent community relations. In the past the president has often been denied access to community views because the government and community affairs office has exercised control over the neighborhood people he gets to see. But the visiting committee would go above the government and community affairs office, confronting Bok and the Overseers with firsthand community opinions. The visiting committee would also provide the Fellows and the Board of Overseers with information that these bodies are normally unable to obtain because of their distance from Harvard and their infrequent meetings.
The neighbors' proposal is good, but it should go further. This visiting committee--unlike other visiting committees--should be made up in part by representatives from every area in Cambridge, not just wealthy alumni. Staffing the committee with people loyal to each neighborhood would go much further than existing channels do in finding out how most of Cambridge views Harvard.
A visiting committee with representatives from all neighborhoods surrounding Harvard would be able to make the positive criticism that Harvard's community relations people sorely need. Such a visiting committee might have been able to discover mounting dissatisfaction with a Kennedy museum, Harvard housing policies, or general expansion plans in time to warn President Bok and the community relations people so as to avoid the present tension between--Harvard and the community. And this visiting committee might find that the government and community affairs and planning officers are not paying attention to the community or causing undue suspicion, or it might feel that someone could be doing a better job, and it could recommend-personnel changes as it sees fit.
If such a proposal for a visiting committee is to be put into action the Board of Overseers' subcommittee on institutional policy will probably make the decision, and it will have to take the next step.
The subcommittee should recognize that a visiting committee on community relations is necessary to solve problems and suggest solutions for how the University can best deal with its neighbors. The subcommittee should recommend at its May II meeting that such a visiting committee be formed.