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The Wilson Report

Brass Tacks

By William R. Galeota

PERHAPS the most significant feature of the Wilson Committee's report is that the Administration felt it desirable--almost obligatory--to give some accounting of its relationship with the surrounding community. In the past only a small group--chiefly the administrators assigned almost haphazardly to the job--cared about what the University did in the City.

Now, that order of affairs appears to be vanishing. As the committee notes, a "crisis," however unsatisfactorily defined, is acknowledged to be enveloping American cities, and interest in the conduct there of all institutions is decidedly on the upswing. By the appointment of the committee, Harvard acknowledged the importance of this concern. And even if not all of the committee's recommendations are formally implemented, it is probable that the various units of Harvard will, in the future, weigh more carefully possible consequences of their actions on the City.

Those changes in the University's relations with the community that result from the Wilson report will likely come about in such incremental, often almost invisible ways, for the report itself is a carefully balanced document--one which rejects any radical changes in the University's attitude toward the City. As one committee member put it: "We said that we're doing quite a bit as an educational institution, and not as much as we should as a corporate institution, but we rejected the idea of the University as the Savior of Western Civilization."

In fact, the most important change which the committee recommended--creation of a central administrator charged with community affairs--is one that may appear trivial to most observers. Yet the committee was all too right when it wrote:

In almost every area to which our attention has turned we have repeatedly encountered one fundamental problem: the absence of some central authority within the University that is fully equipped to respond to demands, anticipate problems, formulate policies, and co-ordinate University efforts with respect to matters that implicate the community. There is, in our opinion, no change more fundamental than improving the organizational capacity of the University to deal with its environment.

SOMETHING more than James Q. Wilson's interest in bureaucracy lies behind this conclusion. In fact, because of the small number of administrators and the absence of any formal chain of command among them, often one does not know what the other is doing (not to mention that no one knows what the Med School is doing until they read the Boston papers). Last summer, for example, the Real Estate Office contracted to sell two houses to a local real estate agent, even though another office had proposed--albeit some time previously--to sell the houses to a neighborhood association. After tempers had flared, the officers of the association finally concluded that the entire episode had been caused by a breakdown in the internal and external communications of the University.

Such episodes, often ridiculous in retrospect, are inevitable in any large organization, but Harvard has always made a virtue of the decentralization that tends to create them. It may be hard to draw a line between the academic de- centralization which the Wilson Committee, following Harvard tradition, finds beneficial and the increase in central administration for community affairs which it suggests, but their conclusion appears inevitable.

President Pusey, however, apparently remains a devotee of decentralization. At a press conference following the release of the Wilson report, he acknowledged the need for "more bodies" concerned with community projects, but hinted that he was not favorably disposed toward the committee's plan for restructuring the central administration to put one man in charge of a better organized external affairs structure. Thus it appears likely that whatever administrative changes occur will be only quantitative, possibly compounding the confusion that already exists.

This, in turn, would tend to hurt the implementation of other recommendations of the committee, particularly since many of them are only guidelines, calling, for example, on the University to work more closely with M.I.T. and the Cambridge City government to increase low-income housing in the City. Even if the University accepts such a recommendation in principle, it may well amount to nothing unless specific University officials can act both as authoritative voices of the University when dealing with outside agencies and as advocates for overcoming unintentional inertia within the University. In effect, Harvard probably needs a few officials of stature planted as a permanent Wilson committee within its administrative structure if it is to follow the path indicated by the committee.

MANY, perhaps most of the committee's recommendations are indeed broad (or to those who don't like them, vague). There are several reasons for the inexplicitness:

* In a necessary decision, the Wilson Committee sacrificed depth for breadth and speed. The 96-page booklet issued this week is labeled a preliminary report; a supplementary report, to be issued at the end of the academic year, may include more specific recommendations coming out of Faculty and student discussion of the original report.

* The committee found that one of the easy ways of generating specific recommendations didn't work in this case. In effect it concluded that Harvard had few policies which it should be told to stop because of their deleterious effects on the community. Few of the problems plaguing Cambridge and Boston could be traced directly to Harvard policies, the committee said, arguing that most resulted from both Harvard and non-Harvard causes and that Harvard's contribution was often merely its presence in the City--not its policies.

* The University is primarily an educational and research institution and must--both for pragmatic and legal reasons--devote most of its limited resources to that end, the committee concluded, ruling out ambitious schemes to re-allocate Harvard funds to outside projects having little immediate value to the University community.

WHILE THE Wilson committee was still working on its report, the University took steps to enact some of the proposals the committee report later contained, including the appointment of a planner to aid neighborhoods adjacent to the University and the establishment of pre-job training for disadvantaged workers seeking Harvard jobs.

Once fully implemented the training program and other plans for job recruitment of blacks and other disadvantaged persons may well prove to be the most successful proposals of the committee, following as they do one of its implicit guidelines: concentrating on projects which provide substantial benefits for the University as well as aid to the community. The committee notes that, although Harvard has traditionally enjoyed a buyers market for labor, it now has increasing difficulty in finding workers, particularly the blacks now demanded by various departments of the University. Financial constraints will probably continue to keep Harvard's pay scales lower than those of many private industries, the committee writes, and so "Harvard, to get the employees it needs, may have to shift the basis of its appeal somewhat from immediate money inducements to the opportunity for pre-job training that will increase skills of applicants."

These, and other of the committee's recommendations, particularly those concerning the Cambridge housing situation, are not entirely new. They have been discussed in the Administration previously; some had become informal policy, while others had vanished in the bureaucratic maze. The committee's stamp of approval may now have given some an extra boost.

Just how substantial that boost is and how sustained the University community's new awareness of its relations with the city will be is is hard to tell. Compiling a report is only a first step--a significant step to be sure--toward altering the University's actions in the community. In issuing the report, Wilson and his committee called for Faculty and student debate of the subject. That debate will probably prove more important than the report itself.

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