The Path to Public Service at SEAS
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Your guest commentary by Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 and Professor of Sociology and Government Theda Skocpol ("Logical Progress for PBHA," Dec. 6, 1995) only confirms our fears about the administration's motives and tactics.
Anyone who read the article carefully and is aware of the past history of public service would realize that it fits in perfectly with a broad pattern of misrepresentations and obfuscations which border on lies. I would like to point these out for readers who might otherwise accept a seemingly benign statement by the administration.
The article makes it seem that the current restructuring fixes something broken. Indeed, we in public service agree that the previous structure was problemmatic. But it should not be forgotten that it was the administration which had created the dual structure, by forming HAND as an internal competitor to the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).
The authors make it seem that the ad hoc faculty Committee on Public Service is a bold new innovation. Indeed, it is not; our previous faculty committee had nothing to say about our programs. Furthermore, they characterize as "a responsible body of faculty and students."
Responsible to whom? No students or community members were consulted about the appointments, conspicuously missing from the list are faculty whose commitment to public service has been exemplary, such as Professor Robert Coles. Furthermore, of the three students who will sit out the committee, one will be an employee of Harvard (the HAND coordinator) and the other hand-picked by the administration. So only the President of PBHA (who was appointed without his knowledge) will have a voice independent of the administration's.
The article also attempts to legitimize what we in PBHA view as blatant deceptions in the past few months. The authors write, "A six-month period of overlap has been planned between the old and new administrative arrangements, in order to ensure a gradual transition that secures ongoing programs."
In fact, the adminstration had promised that this period would begin by July 1995, a promise broken by the appointment in November. By beginning in the fall, Assistant Dean for Public Service Judith H. Kidd will have completely missed out on working with the summer programs before coming into her position. Furthermore, the two individuals she is replacing had their positions guaranteed until June 1996; this again was a promise broken.
Another unconscionable misrepresentation is the statement, "Harvard will continue its generous (and recently considerably expanded) level of support for public service programs." In no way did Harvard, "considerably expand" its fiscal support to programs. Yes, the Maul-Lewis Report secured stable funding for PBHA's programmatic staff. But it did so by taking money away from the President's Public Service Fund, an amount of money intended for direct public service use. Programs were hit by a 30 percent reduction in Harvard funding, supposedly to pay for staff which had nonetheless been previously subsidized. I read this episode as an unmistakable reduction in funding, a prelude to reductions ahead.
Why do I insist on portraying Harvard as planning to reduce its fiscal support? First, there is the fact that the FAS must balance a deficit budget and had fired the directors of the only two departments to have expanded--public service and computer services. Second, there is the divide-and-conquer trick of guranteeing "the very successful HAND programs...through this year and into the future" but not PBHA, pitting student organization against student organization.
Finally, there is the bureaucratic logic which pervades everything the adminstration has said and written. In this article, for example, the authors promise to leave programs autonomous--with the very large loophole "to the extent permitted by basic concerns for the safety of all participants and sound financial practices."
It is this concern with "sound financial practices" which should make anyone familiar with Harvard's stingy habits start ringing alarm bells immediately. Of course Harvard, on the road to a $7 billion endowment (for God knows what purposes if not expanding rather than cutting educational services) is in no fiscal crisis.
PBHA's reaction to this entire fiasco has often been characterized as petty personality attachments and attacks. Indeed, it is impossible to separate personality from principle in this case. The Director of PBH--now the Dean of Public Service--is the fulcrum between the College and our programs. Greg Johnson and Gail Epstein have refused to allow themselves to become part of a machinery of leverage, following their conscience and keeping programs first. Thus they have been fired.
On the one hand, PBHA acknowledgement Harvard's right to do this. In fact, it makes sense from their standpoint, and we expected no less. Harvard's responsibilities are to undergraduate education, and to public service only to the extent that it affects that education.
Yet on the other, we contend that Harvard's mission includes incorporating student input and recognizing a responsibility to communities around Harvard as an institution. Even laying this aside, we furthermore argue that the College should have the dignity to carry forth its mission of veritas and not lie to its students and employees. The history of bureaucratic bungling of Core reform, calendar reform, House advising systems, and House randomization all illustrate this larger pattern of administrative deception. This history insults our intelligence.
I am elated that Lewis and Skocpol agree with us that "Public service programs at Harvard will not benefit from never-ending arguments about administration." Now if Harvard will stop inciting that argument through the ludicrous number of studies, re-studies, and tinkerings with our structure over the past few years, we can get on with our mission: delivering the best public service programs in any college in America. --Gene Koo '97
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