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: