President Neil L. Rudenstine is refusing to comment directly on a statement by one of Harvard's most renowned professors that he will leave his job if Rudenstine and the University won't back a new public service program.
In a statement released late Monday night, the University acknowledged that the president had spoken with Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities Dr. Robert Coles '50 about the program. But the statement stopped short of promising to support it.
"President Rudenstine's record in supporting public service is clearly established.... He welcomes the support of public service by the faculty and encourages their suggestions for new programs," the statement said.
"President Rudenstine has had a series of discussions with Professor Coles and many other individuals about public service," the statement said. "Those discussions are ongoing and are best continued in a private forum."
Last week, Coles said he had presented a proposal to the president asking for University backing for the project. The professor wants to get more professors involved with undergraduate students working in youth enrichment summer programs run by Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).
"I'm hopeful things will work out," Coles said. "Obviously, if things don't work out, I would leave."
Coles teaches the popular class General Education 105: "The Literature of Social Reflection." This fall, his course has an official enrollment of 544, making it the fourth largest at the College.
A source close to Coles said the professor has had discussions with officials at both Duke and Brown. The source said he was not sure whether Coles was seeking full-time positions there.
But Brown's dean of the faculty, Briat Shepp, said yesterday that he is not aware of any plans to offer Coles a tenured position.
"He's certainly not been talking to me," Shepp said. "I've heard no rumors."
At Duke, however, Coles already has a faculty appointment. Since January 1992, he has been Walter Hines Page Professor of the Practice of Documentary Studies in History, according to E. Roy Weintraub, acting dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at the Durham, N.C., university.
Coles has not commented on the possibility of a full-time move to Duke.
But Weintraub said last night that while that University has not offered to expand Coles' teaching duties there, Duke would gladly give him tenure.
"Over a number of years Duke has been interested in [increasing Coles' teaching duties], and I know that there have been a number of conversations," Weintraub said. "I would hope that in the future his role could expand."
Weintraub said Coles has taught a popular class at Duke for the past two spring terms.
"It's in the course schedule, and we're expecting him here this spring," he said.
Joe Wrinn, director of the Harvard News Office, said the University will make no further comment on Coles or his proposal at this time.
As he did last week, Wrinn affirmed the administration's respect for Coles, a Pulitzer Prize winner who has written more than 50 books, Including Children of Crisis and The Moral Life of Children.
Coles has said that he wasn't giving the University a "threat" by publicly stating his position.
But Coles stated clearly that if his request is rejected, Harvard will lose his services as a teacher and researcher.
"If it didn't work out...I would try to find a place and a situation where it would work out," he said.
Last night, Coles said he agreed with Rudenstine's assertion that talks about a faculty public service initiative should continue in private.
"My response to that is that I agree with him," Coles said. "I am hopeful about it."
Coles said the president has been supportive of his plan to involve Harvard faculty in Phillips Brooks House (PBH) community service projects during the upcoming summer.
"I have been extremely pleased with the president's interest in that summer program, and in no way did I feel the need to challenge him about it because he has been enthusiastic from the beginning," Coles said.
Coles said he visited PBH service projects with Rudenstine and PBH Executive Director Greg A. Johnson '72 last summer.
"[Rudenstine] has personally visited those projects and he cares deeply about those projects and the students and the people they serve," Coles said. "I have every hope that we are going to get it institutionalized because that has been his hope from the beginning."
Unlike Harvard, Duke has a community service program involving student volunteers and faculty.
Weintraub said the initiative, which involves the three schools in the North Carolina research triangle, is associated with Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, where Coles works when he is in the state.
Coles said yesterday that he hopes any faculty-student service initiative at Harvard will be in place by next summer.
"If we were going to have a summer program," he said, "I would think that by next summer it would become obvious what we're going to do.