PBHA and the College Continues the Three-Year Struggle Over the Structure of Public

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 both hiring their own executive director and allowing members of the community to sit-and vote-on its governing board.

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.

Briefly Settled

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.

After threatening that he would not extend the temporary agreement's Sept.1 expiration date, Epps later extended the deadline by 10 days upon PBHA's request.

"We extended the deadline until the 10th, since we are waiting for the cabinet meeting and the board meeting on the 8th," Epps said.

In agreeing to allow non-student voting members to sit on the committee, the College made an exception that is not usually granted to student organizations, an exception which Epps had threatened not to give just months earlier.

The agreement also created the position of Chief Operating Officer (COO) to lead PBHA and oversee its programs, and to act as a liaison between the College and the organization.

The COO was to be chosen and paid jointly by the College and PBHA. The officer would be responsible for reporting to the College-specifically, to Kidd-on safety and some financial issues and to the trustees on other issues relating to PBH programs.

Safety at PBHA has long been a priority of the College. In a critical 1994 Report on the Structure of Harvard College, Lewis said PBHA programs should put more emphasis on public safety.

In June 1996, Kidd said that the quality of PBHA programs directly reflects on Harvard and that Harvard could be held responsible in case of injury.

"It's impossible for a Harvard student organization not to be part of Harvard's insurance concerns," Kidd said. "Even with the best will in the world were PBHA to say 'We accept all liability,' the community at large would not accept this explanation."

PBHA leaders and college administrators said they hoped the compromise would settle the liability issue, with the executive agent reporting to both the College and the PBHA Board.

But the compromise did not survive long.

The first person to serve as COO, Kenneth G. Smith, stepped down May 4, 1997, to lead a Boston non-profit organization.

Smith said that both PBHA and the University spent too much energy on unnecessary attacks during his tenure.

"I hope my departure will be a catalyst for folks to put aside their differences," he said.

According to Johnson, who spoke to the Crimson in May, Smith stepped down due to the difficulty in steering clear of disputes between the College and PBHA.

"It's impossible to be paid half by the University, half by PBHA Inc., report to a University administrator, and [still] be an independent agent," Johnson said.

Yet Professor of Government and Sociology Theda Skocpol, who serves on the Board of Trustees and chairs the Faculty of Arts and Science's Committee on Public Service, blames the PBHA student leaders for the compromise's failure.

In my opinion, the College-PBHA compromise worked very well for the first several months, as long as student leaders were committed to making it work in good faith," Skocpol wrote in an e-mail. "It stopped working only when hostilities were artificially escalated."

And in an e-mail, Lewis also expressed his continued support for the deal.

"I would just say," he wrote, "that nothing was wrong with last summer's agreement as far as the College was concerned."

Hot Time, Summer in the City

In May, PBHA presented a new proposal to its cabinet, the body composed of the leaders of each PBH program that elects the Board of Trustees.

The revised compromise would have allowed the organization to hire its own director and staff, to be held responsible to both PBHA and to the College.

The proposal, which would have eliminated Smith's vacant position and enabled PBHA to hire an executive director, associate director and development coordinator directly responsible to the Board of Trustees, passed the cabinet by a 65-1-1 vote.

The proposal was then backed by a majority of the Board of Trustees in June, when the Board voted 6-5-1 for the move toward greater independence from the College.

But Epps and Lewis quickly made clear that the College would not accept the compromise, refusing to allow someone not hired by the College to run a Harvard College program housed in a Harvard College building.

"People who work in a University building work for the University," Lewis told The Crimson. "They have made several proposals that are not things that we can accept in the context of PBHA."

PBHA student leaders responded by saying the College is continuing to underestimate students' ability to run their programs with autonomy.

"The difference between Harvard and PBH isn't primarily in the language or in the details," said PBHA President Roy E. Bahat '98. "It's in where control is going to lie."

Bahat says PBHA wants to see a "consistent line of authority" running up from the program directors to the top of the organization-something the College, with its insistence on approval of the hiring of a director, would obstruct.

Epps also announced in July that the College would insist upon approving all PBHA hirings, including positions below executive director.

"Each case will be considered the normal way," he said. "The decision is made based on the quality of the argument and the actual need."

Last week Epps said the question of hiring additional staff was laid on the table by both sides in the hopes of reaching a compromise on the hiring of the director.

But the dispute over hiring has also raised questions about the authority of the Board of Trustees. Although the Trustees have legal responsibility for the governance of PBHA, the College has retained the right to approve all the Board's decisions.

"The whole issue challenges the board's autonomy and control," Bahat told The Crimson in August.

For its part, the College has proposed a compromise that would permanently recognize the Board of Trustees as PBHA's governing body-the Board has been operating on a trial basis-and would create a Board of Ombudsmen to mediate disputes between PBHA and the College.

The executive director of PBHA would be selected by a joint search and would ultimately be hired by the University.

As of last week, Epps said he was still hoping the students would accept the College's offer.

All Talk

Improving communication between the interested groups has been a stated goal of both parties.

"What PBHA and Harvard are both working for is a sound structure where the executive director will know who they're working for," Bahat said. "We're trying to make the responsibility shared rather than split."

Should this communication break down, the other long-term options for PBHA include leaving the University, staying and accepting its demands and spinning-off some programs while leaving others affiliated with Harvard.

"At this point, the entire PBHA student leadership faces a crucial decision: either accept a modified, continuing working relationship with Harvard and get beyond the constant bureaucratic haggling, or decide to rebuild outside of Harvard," Skocpol wrote. "The latter decision will certainly be harmful to many programs. But continuous political bickering is not good either."

Individual program leaders have expressed mixed sentiments on whether they would stick with PBHA in the event of a split from the College.

Some, citing the importance of autonomy for public service programs, have said they would stand with PBHA against the University.

But other program leaders have noted that some PBHA programs are more integral to and dependent on the umbrella organization than others, and that their programs could get along well without the Association.

If PBHA does choose to go ahead with the hiring plan that most of its student leaders have rallied behind in recent months, the College has said the organization would lose many of the privileges it has received from being a student organization, such as its building in the Yard and $2 million in annual funding. Additional fund-raising support-a $10 million PBHA capital campaign-has been put on hold by the College.

In addition, there has been mention of a possible legal challenge over the organization's name, should PBHA attempt to retain its moniker.

But by last week, the patience on the part of the administration had apparently not yet been exhausted, and the Sept.1 deadline was extended.

But both sides continue to pledge that they want a lasting compromise.

"I hope that we can find a middle ground," Bahat said. "I really do hope so."

Bahat said the haggling over administrative structure-the fight for PBHA's autonomy from the University-has been trying for all involved, and that the students want to get back to "the business of running good programs."

"I really am trying to bring this to an end," he said. "This hasn't been fun for anybody

In her e-mail, however, Skocpol expressed doubt about the commitment of some PBHA leaders to forging this agreement.

"This just goes on and on, because some student leaders still refuse to work with College administrators who have done their best to be cooperative," Skocpol wrote. "The course of perpetual haggling and political uncertainty has been extremely harmful to PBHA, and the longer the mess continues, the more harm will be done."

Epps said the College hopes that PBHA will accept its proposed compromise and that the organization will remain in Phillips Brooks House.

"We are hoping that they will accept our proposal," Epps said. "I certainly hope [they do] because we would like to keep the Association a student organization."

Regardless of what happens this week, Bahat said students should not be concerned about the immediate status of PBHA programs, and that the impact of the current deliberations may not be felt by individual programs for five years.

"We'll try to continue running our programs, and the University can try to help us," no matter how the negotiations work out, Bahat said. "We will work 24 hours a day to make sure that happens."

Skocpol also assured students that the year in public service will be a good one.

"Regardless of what PBHA does, Harvard remains committed to studentrun public service programs of many sorts, and they continue to flourish...[with the] framework coordinated by Dean Judith Kidd," she added. "I expect another excellent year for student public service overall."Crimson File PhotoAUTONOMY NOW: PBHA Cabinet members vote in a meeting earlier this year; the organization is currently striving to obtain autonomy from the College.