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Save the Urban Field Service

Brass Tacks

By Steve Laxenberg

IN JANUARY 1970, Maurice D. Kilbridge, dean of the Graduate School of Design, circulated a flyer entitled "Save the Urban Field Service". He should have saved his time and energy. For despite Kilbridge's insistence for over two years that he and the GSD are firmly committed to an Urban Field Service, the GSD's lack of financial and political support has forced the discontinuation this year of the UFS.

For the past two years, the UFS--a community-oriented planning consultant group--has received funds solely from the GSD. Masis M. Seferi, director of the Field Service, refused to accept any projects this year, claiming in a memorandum to Kilbridge that the limited UFS budget made it impossible for the UFS "to continue in a responsible and effective manner," and asked him to end the program. Kilbridge scoffed at the idea. "The Field Service is an integral part of the GSD. It was here long before Seferi, and it will be here long after she leaves," he said.

Kilbridge's commitment, both financial and academic, has a hollowing. He expects the UFS to provide poor community groups with semi-professional architectural services while operating on a shoestring budget. Kilbridge's "commitment" is not to the spirit of the UFS, but to the GSD's public image; to Kilbridge, the Field Service is just one more example of Harvard's "community-oriented" Design School.

The Field Service program, which began operations in February 1968, was set up "to provide technical help, without fee, to groups not able to afford regular professional services." Although the main thrust of the program was to furnish poor community groups with technical assistance, the UFS also was structured to give. GSD students academic credit for field work.

THE ZENITH of the Field Service's effectiveness came in the 1968-69 academic year, under Chester W. Hartman '57, its first director. Hartman had become involved in the project when William A. Doebele, professor of Advanced Environmental Studies and associate dean for Development, approached him in late 1967 with the possibility of organizing a community-oriented planning group. Doebele had already secured a $25,000 grant from the Stern family and asked Hartman to formulate the service's objectives and establish a criteria for selecting students to participate in the program.

The UFS handled 20 projects in its first two years', with over 100 students taking advantage of the comblned opportunity of outside field work and academic credit. Hartman supervised one project, and the rest were directed primarily by paid outside architects. Hartman acted as UFS director in addition to his duties as an assistant professor; he maintained that without the assistant professorship, the UFS director has no political base to implement the Service's objectives.

The Stern fund ran out in 1969, and the UFS was forced to pound payment for financial support to continue operating. Its funding proposal to the Ford Foundation was rejected. Seferi said earlier this week that foundations are reluctant to set aside funds for working expenses. "The big foundations want to fund new operations," she said. "They're changing priorities, and the UFS didn't meet the new criteria."

After all efforts to find a new backer failed, the GSD picked up the Field Service's expanses. Since 1970, the UFS has been funded solely by the Design School's unrestricted income. The limited money has forced a cutback in outside supervisors and projects. Last year, Seferi accepted only six projects, and directed five of them by her. The sixth was handled by a non-salaried outside architect.

BUT THE UFS has had more than financial problems. In late 1969, Kilbridge, who had been named acting dean in July, announced that the GSD had decided not to renew Hartman's contract as an assistant professor. Hartman immediately appealed, charging that he was dropped from the faculty for personal and political reason.

Hartman's appeal touched off a controversy that has sent ripples of discontent surging through the GSD. His case is still unresolved--Hartman and the School have been unable to agree on the composition of the appeal board.

The former director has always contended that the political nature of the UFS and its work with radical community groups angered the traditional architects at the GSD. He claims that most professor fear the UFS because it attracts politically active students. In the September 1971 issue of Architectural Forum. Hartman wrote; "Put bluntly, there will be substantial opposition to UFS-type work from a large and substantial number of faculty members who dislike the politics underlying community-based work."

Members of the GSD faculty--and Kilbridge as well--deny that the UFS is a political issue. The GSD's policies contradict this statement. Students have found it difficult to get credit for Field Service. In some years the UFS option has been "omitted" from the GSD catalogue, and first-year students only learn of the existence of fieldwork in the GSD curriculum from disillusioned second-year students.

The Hartman affair added to the GSD's growing reputation of a "school with problems." faculty--Kilbridge said last month that the GSD has been fighting the "undeserved" reputation for three years.

BUT KILBRIDGE HIMSELF is partly responsible for creating the image that the GSD is beset with problems. Before leaving the GSD, Hartman wrote a memorandum in late 1969 criticizing the School for its non-support. Kilbridge responded with the "Save the UFS" leaflet, in which he implied that Hartman had plotted to end the UFS. "I have learned of a whispering campaign against the UFS. Since I believe the UFS in one of the finest programs in this school. I will not allow it to be destroyed by any person or group for self-indulgent reasons," the flyer said.

Kilbridge has stuck consistently to his conspiracy theme. Seferi wrote two memoranda-in September 1971 and September 1972-than reiterated the problems outlined in the Hartman memo. Kilbridge ignored her suggestions, replying that "she is battling the UFS because her contract is not being renewed.

Kilbridge's efforts to oust Seferi may succeed, but it won't make much different. Without any project this year Seferi has all but ended the Service. The GSD's hollow commitment may continue, but it will support a Field Service more worthy of that kind of backing--a Field Service that exists only in name.

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