Ambiguous Agreement Creates University-PBH Tension
President Bok told his House masters last fall that from what he could see, undergraduates had lost some of their traditional interest in public service. Pre-professionalism, Bok said, had eroded Harvard students' dedication to less-fortunate people in the area.
In response, College administration quickly organized a new Public Service Program, which would help meet community needs through a series of House-based groups. They promised that the program would operate in cooperation with the existing student-run community outreach organization, Phillips Brooks House (PBH), while broadening undergraduates' options for doing off-campus non-profit work.
But this week the University's apparently well-intentioned desire to increase student volunteerism hit a snag. Leaders of the 800-person Phillips Brooks operation charged that the College had broken a pledge to hire a PBH officer to coordinate the new University-sponsored program. Without that specific link, said PBH President Ellyn Kestnbaum '83, the two groups would waste time and energy duplicating each other's efforts.
Dean of the College John B. Fox Jr. '59 responded that Harvard had never promised to hire a PBH nominee for the directorship of the Public Service Program, adding that the administration had worked hard to avoid the potential problem Kestnbaum envisioned.
By week's end, Kestnbaum and others had backed away from their initially strident position, saying that the College had not made a firm promise and that only an ambiguously worded agreement was in question. She added that PBH officials have been working closely with the University's choice. Ann M. Wacker, in order to avoid future conflicts.
However, Kestnbaum reemphasized her concern that the new program will not have enough resources and staff to follow through on the projects they initiate, as PBH now does. "PBH has the staff to nurture a relationship with the community by preparing the workers and following up to make sure that the community is happy with the program," she said earlier this week.
Kestnbaum added that she fears the outside community may confuse the new fledgling public service group's programs with PBH efforts. Saying this has already happened once, she noted that such confusion might have been avoided had the University allowed PBH's graduate secretary to coordinate the new program.
But Fox, who chaired the committee which created the new program, said he does not believe the public service group would interfere with PBH's already founded programs. Earlier this week he compared the two groups to intramural and varsity football teams, saying. "They don't interfere with each other, do they?"
The original controversy stemmed from a difference in interpretation of a statement made in the report of the committee that established the new public service program: "...it might be best to have the Director and the Graduate Secretary be the same person."
Kestnbaum said she and other PBH officials interpreted this statement as a firm commitment on the University's part, but Fox noted that it left the question open-ended.
Fox also cited a letter he received from Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and chairman of the PBH faculty committee, "applauding" an "open search," and said this indicated that PBH concurred with the decision.
However, Kestnbaum noted that while Gomes wrote "it is probably in the best interest" of both groups to maintain a separation at the governing level (faculty committee), he added that "a shared administration of separate programs is in my view not only possible, but desirable."
Despite the original disagreement, the two groups are now working together. John Stern '82-4. a member of PBH's steering committee, said yesterday. "It is not the optimal situation, but we're working with it and living with it," he added.
Once the University-sponsored program gets into full swing, undergraduate secretaries in each House will be responsible for dispatching volunteers to different Cambridge and Boston communities. This year the University will subsidize the program with $2000 from a special discretionary fund at Bok's disposal. It will continue supporting the project for three years, after which time College officials say the program must either become self-supporting or disperse.