Eight Years Later, Smooth Sailing for Dean Kidd

Kidd streamlines office, pushes communication in first term

Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd still has cardboard boxes on the floor of her University Hall office.

They contain the vestiges of her time as director of Phillips Brooks House (PBH).

And while visible, they’re pushed aside, ignored in favor of the overflowing tray of student affairs business, which sits on her desk. She only gets to the contents of that tray, she says, after business hours, when meetings have ended and most students have headed to dinner.

Despite the workload, she speaks enthusiastically of her new job. She settled in quickly and made rapid strides to accomplish her goals.

But those cardboard boxes probably contain memories of a very different beginning, when she arrived at Harvard and PBH more than eight years ago.

Her first year as associate dean seems tame compared with the volatile situation Kidd originally encountered, when she was installed as head of public service in 1996.

Seven and a half years later, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 named Kidd an acting associate dean after a dramatic restructuring of the College bureaucracy last spring. In her temporary post, she remained director of PBH.

Then Kidd became a full-time dean in November, ceding the responsibilities of her initial Harvard position.

Finally secure in her office in University Hall, Kidd has streamlined and clarified the procedures of the student activities office and looks ahead to institutionalizing change in the extracurricular system.

“This is the right job at the right time,” Kidd says. “I’m not going anywhere.”

A PERILOUS START

Kidd first came to Boston in the 1980s to take a job at Boston University. After a stint as manager of corporate contribution at Bank of Boston, she continued meshing business and public service. In 1992, she became vice president of development, and later acting co-chief operating officer, at a non-profit called CityYear. The organization seeks to bring together diverse groups of young adults for community service projects.

While there, Kidd established the fundraising department of the non-profit. “Judith was a consummate professional,” says Charlie Rose, vice president and dean of CityYear. “She really helped CityYear go from a start-up to building an institution.”

Kidd presided over an increase in the CityYear budget from $2.47 million to $14.55 million, due in part to a $7-million grant from the brand-new government Americorps program.

But as CityYear grew, its record-keeping practices lagged far behind. In 1995, accounting discrepancies led the government to recall $250,000 it had granted the program.

“The bookkeeping was totally inadequate,” says Kidd, who had to re-document all of the hours paid for by government funds.

Months later, seeking to reenter higher education, Kidd found herself with a job offer from Harvard. The environment she encountered in Cambridge was as turbulent as the end of her stint at CityYear.

About a year before Kidd’s arrival at Harvard, then-Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and then-Administrative Dean of the Faculty Nancy L. Maull spearheaded a “Report on the Structure of Harvard College” which called for stronger oversight of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).

PBHA, Harvard’s largest student-run group, is an umbrella organization for public service efforts. Though run independently, PBHA is overseen by the director of Phillips Brooks House (PBH), an arm of the College which coordinates public service staffers and advises independent student public service groups.

While the 1994 Lewis-Maull report went a long way to spur a reorganization of PBH and its oversight of PBHA, other factors contributed. After a series of accidents involving PBHA vans and allegations that then-Executive Director of PBH and PBHA Greg A. Johnson ’72 was leveraging the value of PBHA’s public image to get more funding, the College restructured PBH and appointed Kidd.

In 1996, Kidd became assistant dean of public service at the College and director of PBH.

“The place had become so large and dynamic that it needed some organization that made sense,” says Johnson, who was involved with PBHA from his time as a student until 1996. “But the University really just wanted to control PBHA.”

The change provoked such anger that a crowd of between 750 and 2,000, depending on estimates, gathered in the Yard on a cold December morning in 1995 to protest.

This was the firestorm that met Kidd when she assumed her post one month later.

Kidd was blasted for lacking the hands-on experience in public service that some felt the position demanded.

“She was going to be loyal to the people who hired her, period,” Johnson says.

A student who was involved in the leadership of PBHA at the time and asked not to be named says the situation Kidd entered was “impossible” because of the tensions between PBHA students and the University Hall administration.

“She got the job because she was willing to say to the Harvard administration, ‘I believe your point is right,’ and students were furious,” the student says. “She was not that concerned with their fury—she had a point of view and tried to make it a reality.”

Kidd says entering Harvard at that time was difficult.

“You always prefer to start from a basis of trust and excitement rather than anger,” Kidd says. “I didn’t feel the attacks on me were personal...PBHA did not want that level of oversight, and therefore they were going to be angry no matter who was put in that position.”

And as Kidd tried to carry out the reorganization planned for PBHA, the adversarial relationship between the students and Lewis’ office worsened.

“It was on the edge of a knife for three years,” the student says.

But Kidd said she remembered the unique structure of PBHA as she continued in her post.

“One thing you learn when you come to Harvard is that Harvard’s model of public service is student-run. And you accept that or you don’t come here,” Kidd said in 2000.

Gradually, as the members of PBHA at the time of the brouhaha graduated, the pressure on Kidd mostly—though not completely—dissipated.

“It’s in the back of people’s minds; it’s not yet completely gone,” says Public Service Network Director Meg B. Swift ’93, one of the two people who have assumed Kidd’s former duties at PBH. “I think it’s faded into the background.”

KIDD IN THE HALL

When Kidd packed up her PBH office and moved about 500 feet across the Yard to University Hall, she brought along with her the management skills and higher-education experience that had won her the PBH position in the first place. But she left behind much of the controversy that had beset her previous posts.

This year, Kidd took on supervision of the Office for the Arts at Harvard (OFA), the Office of Career Services (OCS), the Harvard Foundation and the Ann Radcliffe Trust in addition to continuing to supervise PBH. Lewis oversaw these organizations during his deanship.

Kidd’s computerized schedule is covered with multi-colored blocks representing her meetings with University Hall colleagues, representatives from offices she supervises and students.

Kidd was appointed to keep the student affairs facet of the College administration running smoothly while Gross focused on the curricular review. She said at the beginning of the year that her top priorities were increasing the frequency of Committee on College Life (CCL) meetings, where student extracurricular groups and policies are discussed, and bringing a more collaborative spirit to her office.

Kidd said last year that the infrequency of CCL meetings precluded effective and efficient monitoring of student group matters.

A year later, the CCL has met six times—triple the frequency of last year—and now has a policy of disseminating materials a week before meetings so members can consider issues in advance.

That change came after a controversial decision to approve H Bomb Magazine, a publication focusing on sex that includes nude photographs of undergraduates.

For that issue—the most contentious the CCL has faced this year and one about which Kidd received “thousands of [phone] calls”—the committee was able to peruse possible content and information about the magazine only the morning of the meeting.

Kidd also expanded CCL membership to include more students and representatives from the organizations she oversees. This, Kidd says, makes the committee better informed and spurs communication between the various groups she supervises.

For their part, several directors of those organizations say they feel involved and well-represented in University Hall.

“I’ll tell you honestly that when the management changes first came into place a year ago, I was worried, ‘What does it mean about the arts that we’re now reporting here instead of there?’” OFA Director Jack Megan says. “Those concerns have evaporated. We have someone who engages actively in thinking about the arts...and fosters an environment in which there’s very open dialogue among students, administrators and faculty who are on that committee.”

Kidd’s colleagues say increased communication was crucial to earning the respect of other officials in her first year.

“There’s more connection with departments for students involved, and a better understanding of what the programs that students are running are really about,” Swift says. “She works very closely with those that report directly to her.”

SIMPLIFYING A BUREAUCRACY

Soon after she began, Kidd immediately undertook the streamlining of the student activities office, which is responsible for supervising extracurriculars and guiding the process of starting new ones.

“The learning curve is huge,” Kidd says. “I feel as if however ragtail we looked in the beginning, we’ve been able to do what students needed to get activities going.”

To serve as the face of the student activities office, Kidd hired Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin. Thomas A. Dingman ’67, a longtime associate dean of the College, calls McLoughlin a “very good appointment.”

McLoughlin and Kidd set to work formulating a process to clarify expectations and procedures for student groups.

The two revised the student activities section in Harvard’s Handbook for Students, and rewrote the forms for requesting beverage authorization teams and registering student organizations in order to make the procedures more transparent.

“She’s worked relentlessly to get more process in place and give good help” to students wanting to start new clubs, Dingman says.

Kidd also plans to reevaluate how and why the College approves student groups, focusing on eliminating redundancy and wasted resources—the same goals she had years ago for PBHA.

“I remain frustrated...do we have any threshold at all to be recognized as a student activity?” Kidd says. “I want more clarity. By letting people start new groups, rather than work within established structures, I’m not sure we’re teaching the right lesson.”

As the Hilles Library conversion moves into its next phase, Kidd will be part of the group implementing recommendations to add student space in the building. She will also work with students to organize a potential AIDS benefit concert which could feature big name acts like Alicia Keys, Dave Matthews or U2’s Bono, she says.

OCS Director William Wright-Swadel says Kidd’s goal-oriented focus on procedure is a “hallmark” of her leadership style.

And Megan says, “[Kidd] is one of these crackerjack managers. She’s just incredibly organized and very solution oriented.”

A ‘GUIDING PRINCIPLE’

Despite Kidd’s focus on organization, students and administrators alike point to her “genuine” concern for students as the real driving force behind her actions.

“She’s just got a real human side, a capacity for really empathizing and thinking through issues from other perspectives,” Megan says.

“Dean Kidd to me is someone who in every role is very student-centered,” Wright-Swadel says. “She spends a great deal of time and energy to make sure she listens to, speaks with, and interacts with students in everything she does.”

McLoughlin says that beyond her effective management, Kidd’s “guiding principle” is a commitment to her undergraduate constituents.

Students who have sought her help this year say she has been instrumental in ensuring that they achieve their desired ends.

In particular, Kidd has sought out a relationship with the Undergraduate Council—another of her stated goals in September—and established periodic meetings with council presidents and the chairs of the council’s Student Affairs Committee.

“The U.C. is a juggernaut,” Kidd says. “They know more about which committees exist than I did.”

The year’s two major concerts, Guster and Busta Rhymes, were catalyzed by a clear shift in the attitude in the student activities office, says Justin H. Haan ’05, chair of the council-affiliated Harvard Concert Commission.

One of Kidd’s top priorities was improving social options on campus, Dingman says, and Haan, who is also a Crimson editor, says Kidd didn’t display the same resistance to concerts that previous administrators did.

“Dean Kidd was essentially what made these concerts happen,” Haan says. “She’s been incredible...it really couldn’t have happened without having someone like her in that position, who really cares about having these things come to fruition.”

McLoughlin says Kidd voluntarily expended student activities office money to bring the Gordon Track and Fitness Center—the venue for the Guster show—up to code for the concert.

“She didn’t get anything out of it other than seeing the U.C. get a great concert,” he says.

And even with smaller endeavors, Kidd has focused on facilitating student goals.

When Joseph T.M. Cianflone ’07 attempted to start a film production company this year, he says he initially encountered crippling opposition, both from would-be faculty advisers and from administrators who refused to grant them the go-ahead to film on campus.

“Dean Kidd was incredibly receptive and amazingly helpful with the set-up process,” Cianflone says. “She was really good at putting us in contact with administrators, and making rules flexible where they needed to be. We would have hit a dead end.”

—Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached at kkaplan@fas.harvard.edu.