Logical Progress For PBHA

GUEST COMMENTARY

Harvard University has a long history of supporting and encouraging its students in voluntary work on behalf of people in the larger community. No name in Harvard history is more prominently associated with service to others than that of Phillips Brooks, A.B. 1855, an indifferent student and a failure thereafter as a schoolteacher, who went on to become preacher to the University and, in the words of one of his contemporaries, "the greatest Christian preacher of all ages."

In a time of sectarian divisiveness, Brooks urged unity and common cause in service to humanity. He proposed that the University construct a building, which, he said, "should be generously used for all the various interests of university life, and should unite and strengthen many undertakings which now rather tend to divide the forces which make for good among the students." After Brooks' death in 1893, a group of alumni who followed and admired his teachings raised funds to build Phillips Brooks House.

The President and Fellows accepted "the building and its endowment, upon the trust to maintain and use the building...in such a manner as they, in their discretion, shall from time to time deem best for the religious, charitable, and social interests...in which the best life of the University may, without distinction of sect or denomination, from time to time find expression."

Over the years, there has been tremendous growth in the number, variety, and range of public service enterprises conducted by Harvard students under University auspices, often with the generous support of donors who care deeply about these University activities.

Today, a very large fraction of our undergraduates participate in voluntary service of some kind. Some of their efforts are as simple as the donation of time for cleaning up houseyards or painting fences; some are as complex as running a summer program for children in an urban neighborhood, complete with transportation, provision of meals and guarding the safety of children.

Indeed, many service efforts involve children--for example tutoring them in city schools, teaching them about computers in Harvard's facilities, or showing them the joys of teamwork through music and dance. Some Harvard students contribute intermittently as individuals--for example, working one-on-one with an older person, or writing letters to help free prisoners of conscience, or showing up to serve meals in a homeless shelter. For other students the contribution is through planning, fundraising and organizing a project over many months. Harvard students value the variety of routes into service and this variety should be maintained and encouraged.

As the activities in which Harvard students participate so avidly have grown in number and variety, the arrangements supporting them have also grown in size and complexity. With an eye to the future, a committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences recently took stock of administrative and faculty support for our public service programs.

In August, 1994 the Committee produced a report noting that there are about 13 full-time equivalent staff employed by Harvard in support of public service activities, a number that had increased sharply in just four years. These staff have been divided between two offices, Phillips Brooks House and the Office of Public Service Programs, each with its own administrative director and separate budget. Surmounting awkward problems of coordination, these offices have worked with student organizations that initiate and execute their own programming, including both the student-run Phillips Brooks House Association and the HAND committees based in the residential and non-residential houses, as well as unaffiliated undergraduate organizations such as CityStep.

After extensive discussions with public service administrators, students, alumni/ae, faculty and other close to Harvard's programs, the 1994 review committee made a number of recommendations that are now being implemented.

First, the divided administrative structure is being replaced by a single one, so that a unified staff can work in effective support of all undergraduate public service activities. In the spirit of pluralism and unity exemplified by Phillips Brooks himself, the consolidated office for public service will be physically located in Phillips Brooks House and headed by an Assistant Dean for Public Service and Director of the Phillips Brooks House. Judith Kidd, an experience public service administrator and until recently Vice President of City Year, was recently appointed to the position, to begin on January 1, 1996. (A six-month period of overlap has been planned between the old and new administrative arrangements, it order to ensure a gradual transition that secures ongoing programs.)

The 1994 review committee also recommended that a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences be created to consider matters of public service. This new Committee on Public Service has been appointed on an ad hoc basis, and legislation to establish it as a standing committee will be considered at the December meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Professor Theda Skocpol of the Departments of Government and Sociology has been appointed chair of the committee.

Other members include Ellen Fitzpatrick, Associate Professor of History; Peter Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Minister in the Memorial church; Jerome Kagan, Daniel and Amy Starch Professor of Psychology; Sandra Naddaff, Senior Lecturer on Literature and Master of Mather House; and Harry R. Lewis, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and Dean of Harvard College. Three undergraduates will also sit on the committee, including leaders of the major undergraduate public service organizations.

These changes are designed to secure the future of Harvard's incomparable range of public service programs and to ensure that they are directed efficiently, safely, and responsibly. All kinds of student initiatives in public service will be considered for support, while the educational mission of public service and the very significant investment of University resources devoted to it (currently well over $800,000 per year) will be overseen by a responsible body of faculty and students.

The appointment of a new Assistant Dean and a new faculty-student committee confirm the high value that Harvard College and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences place on the many kinds of voluntary services conducted by our undergraduates.

In recent weeks, some misleading statements have been made that could raise entirely unnecessary fears among student volunteers and people in the Cambridge and Boston communities. In the spirit of reconciliation and for the sake of clarification, let us emphasize several points:

* Harvard will continue its generous (and recently considerably expanded) level of support for public service programs.

* Harvard students have long been able to make operational decisions about service programs, and such grass-roots initiative helps to keep the programs vital. The autonomy of student organizations in such decisions will be nurtured and respected in the future as in the past, to the extent permitted by basic concerns for the safety of all participants and sound financial practices.

* Harvard will support the very successful HAND programs, which link Harvard Houses to Cambridge schools and neighborhoods, through this year and into the future.

Student public service efforts have required in the past, and will require in the future, intricate cooperation among students, administrators, donors, faculty and people in the broader community. On the basis of advice received from many quarters for more than a year, we are confident that there is no deep structural problem or crisis in the arrangements for public service at Harvard. Indeed, during the review of 1994 we were told by many students and others that the support public service at Harvard was working well and did not require a major overhaul. Accordingly the modest changes being made now should not disrupt any existing public service activity or program.

We recognize that students and others may nonetheless worry about the administrative colleges that are underway. We are continually consulting with everyone concerned to ensure a smooth transition. The arrangements for public service in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences were modified only after extensive consultations, and they must function for a time before further adjustments are considered in the light of experience. Public service programs at Harvard will not benefit from never-ending arguments about administration.

We hope that no actions undertaken by any student group will endanger ongoing public service programs, on which the Cambridge and Boston communities have come to rely and which are so important to many student volunteers. No one should doubt the deep and continued commitment of Harvard University to its undergraduate service programs.

We ask members of the Harvard community to join in welcoming Dean Judith Kidd. She is bringing an open mind and rich experience and knowledge in working with both public service and university organizations. She looks forward to working cooperatively with students on the full range of their remarkable endeavors in public service. We trust that all members of the community will join in cooperating with her, and with us, to move into a future that seeks, in the words of Phillips Brooks, to "unite and strengthen many undertakings which now rather tend to divide the forces which make for good among the students."

Members of the Harvard community and the communities that surround Harvard should feel free to contact us with any concerns they may have.

Harry R. Lewis '68 is Dean of Harvard College; Theda Skocpol is Chair of the Committee on Public Service.