PBHA Board Easily Passes Compromise With College

* Public Service Group Will Remain in Yard Building

Harvard's largest public service organization will keep its home in the corner of the Yard.

Despite the opposition of the group's president, the Board of Trustees of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) voted Wednesday afternoon by a margin of 12 to 2 to approve a compromise that will keep PBHA within the University indefinitely.

The vote, which settled a three-year dispute, came three days after a weekend retreat at which about 60 members of the student cabinet met with PBHA past presidents and Board members-including Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III and Assistant Dean for Public Service Judith H. Kidd-to discuss the group's administrative structure.

PBHA was trying to determine what role, if any, the University should play in hiring an executive director and staff for the organization.

The College and some members of the PBHA student leadership supported a compromise entailing a joint search for an executive director.

Others, including President Roy E. Bahat '98, believed PBHA should insist on the right to hire and pay for its own staff.

In a straw poll, about 40 of 58 cabinet members expressed their support for the compromise.

"The Cabinet asked for a normal relationship with the University that will best support its programs and the Association," read a press release issued yesterday by the Board.

The vote was necessitated by the Wednesday expiration of a temporary compromise approved by the parties in June 1996.

The 1996 compromise-agreed upon for a 15-month trial period-had been set to expire Sept. 1, but was extended 10 days by Epps to allow Board members to consult the student cabinet.

The new agreement, which took effect immediately, extends several key provisions of the 1996 compromise.

First, the Board-composed of students, administrators, alumni and community members-is now the permanent governing body of PBHA.

Second, the administrative head of PBHA-now to be named executive director rather than chief executive officer-will continue to report to Kidd on matters of safety and financial integrity, and to the Board (of which Kidd is a member) on programmatic issues.

The executive director will be selected by a joint search conducted by a small committee, to be designated in late September at the next meeting of the Board.

A Step Forward

According to yesterday's press release, the trustees decided to vote for the compromise after concluding that it was "a positive step towards PBHA's goal to run professional programs that make a difference in the communities of Boston and Cambridge."

Bahat, who had spoken out for months against the compromise, said yesterday he was not surprised by the Board's decision, and pledged to work toward its successful implementation.

"The decision to accept Harvard's proposal was made through a fair and democratic process, and my job is to work to make the decision of the Board a successful reality," Bahat said in a statement.

Bahat said it would not be possible to determine whether the Board made the right decision in accepting the deal for about five years.

"I don't think that you can characterize this as a win or a loss," he said in a telephone interview. "It will be a victory if in five years we've done it, we've made PBHA the kind of organization that in our dreams it can become."

Mike W. Ma '98, vice president of PBHA and the most vocal student supporter of the deal with the University, expressed more confidence that the Board had made the correct decision.

"I can finally get a good night's sleep," Ma said. "I find it rewarding because I think PBHA will finally have the latitude to make the decisions that are in the best interests of its programs, and stop bickering."

But Ma said he was disappointed by Bahat's decision not to sign the agreement. Instead, Ma and PBHA Treasurer Judy Hung '99 will do the honors.

"When the president of the organization refuses to put his name to an agreement that the Board decided overwhelmingly [to approve], it shakes my faith in the office of the presidency," Ma said. "I'll expect and demand the full cooperation of all officers and trustees."

Bahat reiterated his pledge to work on behalf of the agreement, but declined to comment on his decision not to sign.

Epps declined to comment on the deal, referring questions to a press release issued by the Board.

Prior to the Board meeting, both Epps and Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 expressed their support for the agreement.

It Ain't Over

The College agreed in the deal to hire additional PBHA staff-including an assistant director and a development director-and the students agreed to give administrators a say in the selection of the organization's director.

Moreover, the shift to the title of executive director is a significant concession to the Board, said a source close to PBHA who wished to remain anonymous.

"That's a very big deal in my mind, that title," the source said. "[The College] didn't want there to be a turf war between this person and Judith Kidd; they have recognized that this person is the head of PBHA and not Judith."

This agreement, like the temporary one that preceded it, puts the director of PBHA in the position of having to report to both College and Board-a position some have said is inherently untenable.

But Bahat said the pitfalls can be avoided if students and administrators make a conscious effort to work together, starting with the search for executive director.

Ma agreed that much of the hard work lies ahead.

"This agreement is not the answer in itself," Ma said. "What it does is solve half of the struggle-the structure on paper. It changes dramatically when you put the people in."

Pleased-and Tired

Andrew J. Ehrlich '96-'97, former president of PBHA and an observer at the Board meeting, said he is extremely pleased with the Board's vote.

"I think everyone gave something, but not too much," he said.

Ehrlich said there is a lot of pressure on both students and administrators to make the deal last.

"I think this really has called the question for the indefinite future," he said. "People are tired of arguing about this, frankly."

Anne L. Peretz, a PBHA Board member who has been involved with the organization for 15 years, said she is ready to move on.

"Unless something goes radically wrong, I don't think we'll have to think about it again," she said. "I don't want to think about it again."

According to Peretz, the Board would only be led to reconsider the compromise should the University "interfere dramatically," such as by not allowing the organization to hire additional staff.

But that scenario, she added, seems unlikely.

"My hope and belief is that that won't happen," Peretz said.

Ehrlich said further confrontations are unlikely as long as the College respects the authority of the Board.

"The College needs to respect the integrity of the Board's decision-making," he said. "The dean of the college needs to let the assistant dean and the Board do what's best programmatically."

As a former leader of the cause of PBHA's independence, Ehrlich said he understood the concerns of those student leaders who voted against the compromise.

But, he said, this agreement will be good for the organization on balance.

"I am extremely sympathetic to the desire of student leaders to maintain PBHA as a student-led, community-oriented organization," he said. "I've been through years of fighting for that. But I think that this agreement preserves the character of the organization."

"The students need to accept that Harvard may not be an inherently malevolent force," Ehrlich added.

On to the Next Level?

Bahat said the discussions about the future of PBHA revealed a shared goal among all those involved: bringing the organization to the "next level."

"One thing that emerged from the discussions is that everyone on both sides of this vote feels pretty much the same way about where PBH needs to go," Bahat said.

That "next level," Bahat said, entails providing individual program leaders with the financial, safety and administrative support so they can focus their energies elsewhere.

Ehrlich is confident that the "next level" can be attained, with the Board having been made permanent.

"When this generation is gone," he said, "I have a lot of faith in the trustees' being effective advocates for the organization."CrimsonMelissa K. CrockerA NEW BEGINNING: PBHA President ROY BAHAT'98 welcomes students to the public service organization's open house.