For Better and Worse, Public Service Grabs the Spotlight
Nero won't be removed, Coles challenges the administration, and PBH questions restructuring report.
It was a tough week for those involved in public service at Harvard.
First, the cabinet of Harvard's distinguished public service organization, Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), considered the fate of its secretary.
Next, Dr. Robert Coles '50, a popular professor and best-selling author, said he would leave Harvard if the University does not back a faculty public service initiative he is proposing.
Finally, public service officials sharply criticized a new report that recommended the consolidation of the College's two major service programs.
PBHA ultimately voted not to remove Harvetta E. Nero '96 as the secretary of its board of directors, for alleged violations of the association's vehicles policy.
While driving PBHA vans, Nero was involved in three accidents in three days this July. After the accidents, Kenneth G. Smith, assistant director of Phillips Brooks House, told Nero not to drive except in "emergency situations."
The PBHA board of directors voted at an August 10 meeting to ask Nero to resign because Smith alleged that she drove after he ordered her to desist. Smith and PBHA President John B. King '96-'95 also accused Nero of authorizing uncertified counselors to drive campers in PBHA vans, a charge she denied.
Nero said last week that she decided in her capacity as the director of Academy Homes Summer Youth Enrichment Program that it was her responsibility to obtain first-aid kits prior to a sleepover with her campers, ages 7 to 13. Nero said she drove the van in order to pick up the kits, and was then careful to inform Smith about it.
At a four-hour cabinet meeting Thursday night, association members said tensions were high as board members accused King and each other of repeated vehicles violations and deliberate power-plays.
Some cabinet members faulted Nero for shifting the debate from the association vehicles policy to personal issues. "I think that in those kind of remarks that in those kind of remarks that she's making, she's trying to bring down as many people as possible. Especially John King, since he's the president," said James White '95, a cabinet member and the summer director of the Cambridge Youth Enrichment Program at Jefferson Park.
But other members said Nero was being made the scapegoat for the association's many accidents this summer. Ilyana G. Tavera '96, a volunteer at Nero's program who hopes to succeed Nero as director next summer, called the proceedings against Nero a "witch hunt."
"This aii started because of personal things, in my opinion," Tavera said following Thursday's meeting.
The removal attempt followed a summer during which PBHA drivers were involved in an incredible 24 accidents in association vans. In 12 of the accidents, the student drivers were at fault, said Gene Koo '97, the PBHA vehicles coordinator.
Nero said Thursday night that the effort to remove her resulted from abuses of the association's governance process. "I think all in all the board lost control of the situation," Nero said. "The strength of the structure is that when we lose control, the cabinet can step in."
But it will take more than the cabinet's assistance to secure insurance for the association's vehicles after its poor driving record this summer.
Annemarie Thomas, director of the University's insurance office, and her assistant director, Lee Ann Ross, attended Thursday night's meeting and told the cabinet that it needs to enforce a vehicles policy.
"There are rules for driving the autos," said Thomas, who likened her own demeanor during her presentation to that of "The Wicked Witch of the West."
"The reason that we're developing the rules is because we're concerned about the safety of children," she said.
The association decertified 15 drivers Monday night, and a new list of students ineligible to drive the association's vans was posted yesterday, Koo said.
University administrators have not publicly commented on statements made by Robert Coles, who has taught at several Harvard schools and leads the popular General Education 105.
But those close to Coles believe he is serious about his challenge to the administration: that if Harvard won't support a project to get faculty more involved in public service, he'll take his teaching services elsewhere. A source close to Coles said he may be considering jobs at Duke and Brown.
"Obviously, if things don't work out, I would leave," the professor said Wednesday.
Memos from the University's top two public service administrators, which were obtained by The Crimson this week, sharply criticized the recommendations in the controversial Report on the Structure of Harvard College. The document was recently submitted to Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles for his consideration.
Gail Epstein, director of public service programs for the College, and Greg A. Johnson '72, executive director of Phillips Brooks House, attacked the report's suggestion that the College eliminate their positions and consolidate the University's public service programs under an "Assistant Dean of Harvard College for Public Service and Director of Phillips Brooks House."
Johnson said last week that putting all of the College's student volunteers under one director without additional staff would be overwhelming. As an alternative, Johnson proposed combining the staff of Epstein's office with existing or additional PBHA employees.
"To reduce staff size and to put Harvard's undergraduate public service systems through an artificially fabricated crisis is not [agreeable to myself or Epstein]," Johnson wrote in a memo to Nancy L. Maull, administrative dean to the faculty of arts and sciences and ah author of the report.