Cutting Against The Grain
It's getting to be a pattern. When it comes to hiring and firing administrators who touch the lives of students, thinking about what would actually be best for the students seems to be the last consideration. Two weeks ago Judith Kidd was appointed assistant dean of the College for public service and director of Phillips Brooks House (PBH), a move which baffled not just PBH volunteers but students all over campus. No one seems to be able to explain why the jobs of two accomplished public service promoters, Greg Johnson '72 and Gail Epstein, had to be merged into one and handed to the person students involved in the search overwhelmingly said was the least qualified of all the candidates for the job.
Radcliffe President Linda S. Wilson should have taken a lesson from the uproar that continues to follow this decision. In an announcement last week she revealed that jobs of almost a dozen longtime Radcliffe administrators have been eliminated as part of a restructuring of the College's programs.
Wilson asserts that dividing the College into two parts, Radcliffe Education Programs and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, and hiring a dean to oversee both will help bring Radcliffe into the 1990s. However, if she had stopped to ask the undergraduates who work most closely with Radcliffe, she would have realized that her decisions are disastrous and will actually hurt the progress that Radcliffe has made in becoming a stronger force in the lives of undergraduates.
By dismissing all of the venerable administrators whose positions have been eliminated in order to clear the way for a 'two pronged' Radcliffe--half devoted to research, half devoted to undergraduates--Wilson has taken away some of the strongest resources at the school. In addition to ending such essential programs as the Radcliffe Career Services (and firing its director, a twenty year veteran of the College), she has simply eliminated the job of Dean of Students Phillipa Bovet.
Bovet is the driving force behind the continued relevance of Radcliffe to Harvard undergraduate women. She has been the person to contact for every project idea, the source of funding for every proposal and the coordinator at the center of the network of women's interests which Radcliffe professes to support so strongly.
A new dean will be hired this summer to oversee all programs at Radcliffe and to promote greater unity between the undergraduate and graduate levels. Those in favor of the restructuring have argued that the elimination of the undergraduate dean's office will actually allow more money to be devoted to programs rather than salaries. No doubt the increased funding will strengthen the three opportunities which Radcliffe loves to brag about most: mentorships, externships and research partnerships.
However, while the three 'ships' make up the foundation of a good portion of undergraduate contact with Radcliffe, they will no doubt be promoted at the expense of the myriad other smaller, but just as crucial, programs that the dean's office has supported and knows best. Recreating the College with no dean to specifically promote the interests of undergraduates is a terrible idea.
For instance, the recently formed coalition for women's safety, HASTE, approached Dean Bovet last week about its plan to sponsore outreaches in all of the undergraduate houses. She was eager to support them, and offered to act as their advisor when they achieved recognition as an official student group. The tireless support and consideration Bovet has given student proposals like these over the years has been invaluable.
As different as the Harvard and Radcliffe administrations seem to be, they have been strikingly similar in the last few weeks in the ways in which they have made haphazard staffing changes which will have grave consequences for students who are committed to public service. The administrators' decisions to promote restructuring for its own sake, especially without any regard for the profound effects on the students they purport to serve, should not be allowed to continue.
Corinne E. Funk's column appears on