It's answer time for the powers-that-be in Harvard's public service crowd. After a three-year debate between Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) student leaders and University administrators, the question of whether the organization will become independent from the University is closer to being answered.
The question has aggravated administrators, students and alumni who care about public service at Harvard. Although this problem was resolved temporarily by contracts and compromises over the past three years, it has never been answered.
But this week, after a weekend PBHA retreat, a recent meeting of the organizations's Board of Trustees and the expiration of a year-long agreement with the College, some say a resolution one way or another cannot be far off.
The dispute over the status of PBHA-Harvard's largest public service organization-became heated in 1995 when then-new Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis'68 began to restructure public service at Harvard. With the controversial departure of the popular executive director of PBHA, Greg A. Johnson '72, and the creation of the position of assistant dean for public service, the problems between the administration and the non-profit corporation grew.
Lewis folded several responsibilities into the new position in an attempt to streamline public service programs and, some said, bring them more tightly under the administration's wing.
Students were further disturbed when Lewis selected Judith H. Kidd, formerly of the City Year program, as the new assistant dean in November 1995.
Kidd's selection riled PBHA's student leaders, who had been given four candidates to interview for Kidd's position; Kidd was the last choice of many of the PBHA representatives.
Following Lewis' selection of Kidd, calls for PBHA's independence began to mount. Student leaders-namely outspoken PBHA President Andrew J. Ehrlich '96-'97 feared that Kidd's selection would signal the beginning of diminished student autonomy for PBHA programs.
On Dec. 7, 1995, a rally in Harvard Yard drew about 700 students and numerous community leaders in support of the autonomy of the public service organization.
Lewis chose not to attend the rally, citing a prior commitment, which further angered by some PBHA student leaders.
In the quest for autonomy, PBHA leaders considered
But in April 1996, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III sent PBHA a letter that, according to Ehrlich, threatened to force PBHA out of the Phillips Brooks House building-which it leases rentfree from the College-if it took either of the two steps.
Then, that June, students and administrators reached a hard-fought compromise over the structure of the organization.
The agreement, which was to be tested over a period of 15 months and was originally marked to expire on Sept. 1, 1997, established a new Board of Trustees. The Board made up the governing body of PBHA and consisted of PBHA supporters, students and College representatives.