Coles Issues Challenge on Service Project

Prof. Says He'll Leave If Harvard Won't Back Program

Pushing the issue of public service in the curriculum to the force, Dr. Robert Coles '50, a popular professor and best-selling author, has issued Harvard a challenge: back a service program he recently proposed, or lose his services as a teacher.

"I'm hopeful things will work out," said Coles, who is a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities. "Obviously, if things don't work, I would leave."

"I have not made any statements as to whether or not I'll be teaching [in the future] because I do not know what the answer will be," he said.

Coles is the professor of one of the most popular classes at Harvard, General Education 105: "The Literature of Social Reflection."

The Pulitzer Prize winner has written more than 50 books, including Children of Crisis and The Moral Life of Children. He is also a research psychiatrist for the University Health Services.


The proposal Coles has presented to President Neil L. Rudenstine asks for University backing to get more professors involved with undergraduate students working in youth enrichment summer programs run by Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).

In an interview yesterday, Coles stressed that he wasn't giving the University a "threat." He said he has so far been encouraged by his discussions with Rudenstine and expects a final decision in the next month or two.

"I think there is a genuine enthusiasm in getting it going on the part of the President," Coles said. "I am not threatening to leave, I'm trying to help make that program come into being. If it doesn't come into being. I'll think about giving up."

Rudenstine was traveling yesterday, and a spokesperson said that he was unavailable for comment.

Coles stated clearly that if his request was rejected, Harvard would be losing a University icon.

"If it didn't work out, I'd be very disappointed and I would try to find a place and a situation where it would work out," he said.

But Coles repeatedly emphasized he was optimistic about the program's chances. He said he "hopes and expects to stay and do this kind of work supported by the administration.

"If the whole plan weren't possible I would think of what I should do and where I should do it, but I keep trying to say to myself and others that I'm hopeful, more than hopeful, that this will work out," he said.

In addition, a source close to Coles said the professor has had discussions with officials at both Duke and Brown. The source said he was not sure whether Coles was formally seeking jobs there.

In a meeting on Tuesday with his section leaders for Gen Ed 105, Coles was asked about the rumor that he was planning to leave. According to teaching fellow Tyler Chapman, Coles said: "I don't know if that rumor is true."

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