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This letter was addressed to Andrew Erlich '96-'97, former President of Phillips Brooks House Association and was faxed to The Crimson on March 10.
I write to acknowledge with disappointment your letter of March 3. I had not expected such an uncivil letter from you and your fellow officers; no communication I had received in recent months from anyone in PBHA had taken such a tone. Assistant Dean of Public Service Judith H. Kidd, who reported having had a congenial breakfast with you only a couple of weeks ago, was equally startled; and in a friendly and solicitous visit I had from the current PBHA President only a few days before I received your letter, there was no hint of the kind of animosity your letter displays. I must wonder what purpose lies behind such inconsistent behavior.
Since her arrival, Dean Kidd has done an extraordinary job in developing communication among students, tutors and groups involved in public service, linkages that were virtually nonexistent before her arrival. The synergy and shared expertise that have resulted have been refreshing and invigorating, and I have heard many voices of appreciation for her open and cooperative style. The autocratic image you describe of Dean Kidd is a fiction. Many of your factual implications are likewise incorrect; for example, you well know that the move of HAND into Phillips Brooks House, so that the program could have a permanent location in better communication with the College public service staff, was envisioned long before Dean Kidd's appointment. Your argument against this move--that PBHA should retain isolated and exclusive dominion over this precious space in Harvard Yard because people might not be able to comprehend that two different organizations were in one building--is absurd on its face. But rather than attempting to answer the various individual fallacies in your letter, I will make just a few general points.
First, the College and PBHA are operating under the terms of an Agreement we both signed. The College has worked scrupulously to uphold the commitments it made, including full participation in the PBHA Board of Trustees. We believe that PBHA has been helped and not injured by current arrangements, and we are committed to continuing to make them work. We understand that there will from time to time be disagreements between PBHA officers and College officials about matters of importance. We expect that such differences of opinion should be addressed in civil discourse, not in unwarranted personal attacks of the sort that your letter comprises.
Second, the College has respected the Agreement in leaving programming decisions in student hands, and continues to believe that this is where they belong. On the other hand, PBHA has not adhered to provisions in the Agreement calling for openness between the College and PBHA and for recognition of the College's responsibilities in areas of lawfulness and safety. Indeed, what you describe as an "attack" on PBHA "culture" is, I think, nothing more than an insistence that basic protocols and standards for legality and human safety be reviewed by the College and followed by PBHA. Two events that have occurred just within the last couple of weeks have provided perfect examples of why Dean Kidd must have oversight on legal and safety issues, in spite of suggestions that PBHA should move towards greater independence in these areas.
Recently the College has attempted to work with PBHA on the hiring of a "PBHA Development Coordinator," who would be a University employee dedicated to working on behalf of PBHA. Bypassing review by Dean Kidd and the FAS Personnel Office, the current PBHA President sent a letter, on PBHA letterhead which also says "Harvard University" in bold letters, to "Friends of PBHA." The letter states that PBHA is "looking for someone relatively young...." This statement of blatantly illegal age discrimination puts the University in a very difficult position in dealing with applicants and potentially also with the Office of Civil Rights. This mistake is not a legal technicality--the University takes its nondiscriminatory stance in hiring very seriously, and I am shocked that PBHA would want to adopt such a discriminatory hiring practice. But that is not the point of mentioning this example: had Dean Kidd reviewed this letter, she would instantly have pointed out this problem. Given her experience and professional expertise, she could have explained the difficulties with PBHA's thinking and articulation. By insisting on Dean Kidd's involvement in such matters, the College is not trying to control every outcome, but to be helpful in having PBHA avoid mistakes that are inevitable when inexperienced persons handle important matters, and that may have serious consequences for PBHA and for the University. By irresponsibly bypassing her oversight, PBHA has laid both itself and the University open to lawsuits by individuals and to investigations by state and federal agencies.
Also, PBHA recently bypassed the appropriate process for creating minimum safety standards, not consulting Dean Kidd and instead going directly to a University attorney for his approval and pressing for a quick response. Fortunately, our attorney consulted the University's insurance office, which found the proposed standards seriously wanting in several respects. The PBHA leadership has continued to attempt to have these standards approved as Association policy, in spite of their deficiencies. As PBHA operates in the University's name and the University's insurance covers PBHA, any policy of this nature must be approved by our Insurance Office, which must provide the necessary assurances to our Insurers every year that PBHA is in compliance with the safety standards they impose. For this reason our agreement with PBHA provides for University control on matters of safety, and Dean Kidd must be "in the loop" on such policy matters. PBHA's failure to consult with her is extremely problematic, as adoption of inadequate safety standards would jeopardize the University's insurance coverage and would endanger those served by PBHA's programs.
These matters cannot be dismissed lightly. They are examples of the same concerns that have been evident since the review of college public service programs by the College Structure Committee almost three years ago: PBHA is operating under University auspices in areas where very serious issues of legality and human safety are involved, is making decisions without consulting appropriate University officials, and is consequently making grave mistakes. The Agreement between PBHA and the College specifically calls for College oversight in these areas; we urge PBHA to adhere to this part of the Agreement.
Looking to the future, we pledge to continue to make every effort to work cooperatively with PBHA and to uphold the provisions of the Agreement, the importance of which has never been more evident than it is today. Dean Kidd has carried out her responsibilities superbly, working cooperatively and collegially with students and staff. The acrimonious and personalized nature of your letter concerns me, and I hope I can be reassured that does not presage an lessening of PBHA's commitment to our Agreement; PBHA continues to discuss with the College important issues for which assurances of PBHA's cooperation will be essential in order for University support to be forthcoming. --Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68
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