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Perkins Takes the Helm at HIID

By Amy E. Schwartz

A year and half ago almost no one had heard of the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID), whose 20 faculty fellows were quietly researching agricultural development programs in Kenya, trying to improvement in Mali, and sending teams to dig wells in the Sudan from the sixth floor of a tastefully modern office building on Cambridge St. But last winter, when President Bok offered the institute's directorship to Arnold C. Harberger, a University of Chicago economist who had been a consultant to Chile's repressive military regime, a storm of student and faculty protest went up, Harberger declined the position, and suddenly everybody had heard of HIID.

Now the flood of attention is over, most wounds have healed, and the institute has reverted to its customary low profile with apparent relief. "Basically," says an HIID fellow who was vocal in his opposition to Harberger, "last spring we had a lot of trouble, and this spring we've all gone back to work."

Much of the new serenity appears to stem from the leadership of Dwight H. Perkins, whom Bok asked to become HIID's director in April--only a few days after Harberger had declined the position, and only a few weeks after Perkins resigned from the chairmanship of the search committee that recommended Harberger in the first place.

Colleagues say Perkins, a former chairman of the Economics Department who has been a faculty fellow at the HIID since 1968, has improved HIID's image and strengthened its links to other divisions of the University.

"We tended to be formally part of Harvard, but fairly isolated in some ways." John W. Thomas, an HIID fellow and member of last year's search committee, says, adding. "We have been exceedingly fortunate, even more fortunate than I realized at the time."

Because of last spring's furor, Perkins says, his first task as director was to convince the institute's "key people" to stay on. How much discontent there was, he won't say--"Let's just say that everybody's reasonably happy now, and no one did leave. . . I certainly didn't want to purge anyone."

For some institute fellows, the Harberger flap remains an emotional issue. Glenn P. Jenkins, an HIID fellow and lecturer in Economics who strongly supported Harberger's appointment, declines to comment on the affair, saying it is "still too painful to talk about."

But other institute fellows, such as Michael Roemer, who was also a Harberger supporter, have allowed the institute's day-to-day work to block whatever unpleasant memories may be left. "This was the most important thing in my life for four full months, and I haven't really thought about it for a year," Roemer says, adding. "Things are so good right now that I'd hate to do any mental experiments."

Both Harberger's former opponents and his supporters join in a chorus of praise for Perkins, who has established joint programs between the HIID and the faculties of the Kennedy School of Government, the School of Public Health, and the School of Education. Similar ties with the Anthropology Department are now in the works.

"The potential for the links was always there, but it was unrealized," Perkins says.

HIID and the K-School, which together administer the Mason Scholarships, a program bringing mid-career officials of foreign countries to Harvard for a semester or more of study, are now cooperating more fully than ever before, fellows say.

In the past, although foreign officials studied at the K-School. HIID handled admissions and administered the program "quite independently," Thomas says.

The Mason Program was "never an ideal setup" as it was. Perkins says, adding that he has worked to integrate more HIID programs into the K-School's curriculum, which had traditionally emphasized domestic issues.

Perhaps Perkins' most radical departure from past practice at HIID. however, is his advocacy of women's studies. This winter, he helped Nancy Pyle. HIID's assistant director of student programs, to obtain a Ford Foundation grant to recruit women for the K-School. And he is now working with a joint Harvard-MIT study group on women in development which he calls the "first small step" towards a full-scale women's research and teaching program.

The focus of HIID's activities, of course, has been and remains its overseas project on rural development, loan programs and tax reform in Indonesia, to a soon-to-be-abandoned "hands-on" project in the Sudan, where American anthropologists have been building schools and digging wells in hopes of developing technology simple enough for the Sudanese to continue after the team leaves.

Perkins expresses regret at ending the Sudanese project, which the institute cannot continue because of security problems--the project site is precariously close to the north-south border of the Sudanese civil war--and because of "differences of opinion" between HIID and the primary source of funds for the project, the federal Agency for International Development (AID).

"The HIID philosophy is to use simple technology, to create as quickly as possible the ability to do jobs without us," he says, adding. "The idea is not just to leave a well behind, but to think about the kind of technology that will be needed to operate it. The AID evaluators questioned that approach."

AID favored more emphasis on higher technology, which HIID could not afford to provide. Perkins says, adding. "Doing it the way we did, it was expensive enough."

But unlike the vast majority of humanitarian programs, both at the University and elsewhere, HIID is unlikely to come closer than this to budgetary woes. Though Perkins says finances were his "main concern" on taking office, the Reagan budget cuts as now projected should have little effect on HIID.

Between direct payments from governments for some projects, grants from the Ford Foundation and other organizations, and donations from AID and the United Nations Development Project--with the last two forming the bulk of the HIID budget--funds are "sufficiently diversified to avert disaster," Perkins says.

HIID fellows and staff uniformly shy away from specualting on the directions the Institute might have taken with Harberger as its director. 'That's all history," a former Harberger supporter says, adding. "I don't know of anyone here who would prefer Harberger now."

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