Defending Our Foundations


Editor's Note: The letter below is addressed to Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 and was mailed this morning.

As outgoing officers of Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), we would like to communicate our deep concerns about issues facing the Association. Reflecting on our experience, we continue to believe that both the content of changes attempted by Assistant Dean for Public Service Judith H. Kidd and the style employed in these endeavors are endangering the culture and integrity of PBHA programs.

We detect three trends in the direction that the Assistant Dean has tried to move public service at the College since the beginning of her tenure just over a year ago. All three are harmful not only to PBHA but also to the nature of undergraduate service in its entirety. These issues are the attempted merging of different public service organizations, a top-down, staff-driven management style, and a politically-motivated reallocation of resources.

When the Assistant Dean first took office last January, she described her theory of undergraduate public service as "letting a thousand flowers bloom." While we heartily support the encouragement of public service initiatives, we fear it is being done at the expense of organizational identity and existing programs.

For example, Dean Kidd has promoted moving HAND into the Phillips Brooks House, thus jeopardizing the independent identities of both organizations. Already, it is extremely difficult for many people to differentiate between PBH and PBHA. PBHA is the student-run, non-profit organization that organizes over seventy community programs; PBH is a department of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences now run by Dean Kidd. If both HAND and PBHA were housed in PBH, the confusion would only be compounded. This lack of clarity could be very problematic in maintaining critical relationships with different community, client, and volunteer groups.


In addition, HAND and PBHA each provide distinct types of service opportunity. Given the diversity of student interest and experience at the College, there should be, and are, a wide variety of different opportunities for students to perform community service. By merging the organizations spatially and structurally, the Assistant Dean is blurring these distinctions and diminishing the College's ability to provide valuable service-learning opportunities for its students. Although these concerns have been voiced, the Assistant Dean continues to push forward with her agenda. She has displayed no flexibility of any kind.

The second major trend involves the top-down, staff-driven management style the Assistant Dean has attempted to impose on PBHA. PBHA has always thrived on the groundswell of student energy created when students are given both true ownership over their programs and substantive leadership opportunities. This is in direct contradiction to the Assistant Dean's corporate approach--a hierarchical one without student or client input.

Judith Kidd's creation of the Public Service Network is a perfect example of this tendency. In theory, developing a network between different service organizations on campus is extremely helpful. Creating task forces without any student input, and using it as a facade of political legitimacy, however, does not help students run better programs. Although we are the largest public service organization on campus, neither we, nor, to our knowledge, any other student group, have been consulted on the direction the Network should take, nor have we had any role in setting the agenda of its meetings. (It is currently unclear what the position and decision-making authority of the Network will be. It appears to be merely an advisory group for the Assistant Dean, who still retains and exercises all decision making power.)

As officers, we experienced many instances in which the Assistant Dean specifically ignored student input and concerns. In several cases, when problems within specific programs arose, the Assistant Dean's response was to tell her staff to command students to act a certain way. Without consulting students or fully understanding the nuances of any given situation, she made a decision at the top that was not supported by or made in conjunction with those actually performing the service. This counteracts the long history of student ownership that has made PBHA work. Such staff management will diminish both the student experience and the quality of the programs.

The third area of concern is a stealthy reallocation of resources. While upholding assurances to maintain the level of resource support for public service, she has nonetheless begun to divert resources away from PBHA. As mentioned earlier, PBHA is losing space within PBH. In addition, staff support is being "redirected." As our programs have become more complex over time, the professional staff has played an important role in supporting students in running their programs. While we recognize and support the need of other public service programs for staff time, we do not think it is just or practical to decrease the level of support for PBHA. Ideally, the Assistant Dean should increase the level of support across the board so that all groups can run strong programs.

Notwithstanding these three areas of substantive change in policy, there are issues of process equally or more disturbing. The tactics that the Assistant Dean uses to implement her policies are contrary to what we believe to be the mission of PBHA and the ideal of student service.

In large part, this is due to what we perceive as a repeated breach of good faith by the Assistant Dean. Her personal attacks on students and staff alike, which we have witnessed repeatedly, create an atmosphere of heightened confrontation. Working effectively with students, who are constantly growing and learning through their experiences, requires a flexibility not found in a corporate hierarchy. Lashing out in frustration, or telling staff members they should control students behavior, is a highly ineffective response. Indeed, the nature of comments made by the Assistant Dean to us about our colleagues--ranging from calling individuals one-dimensional to hopeless ideologues--were destructive and polarizing.

More discouraging, however, is an ongoing dance in which her intentions for PBH remain unclear. Key questions regarding staffing levels and patterns, fundraising, and space allocation remain in dispute. It is unclear what--if any--meaningful input those affected by the decisions will have. She has held unpublicized meetings about space allocation in PBH in the context of a supposedly "open" process to discuss this issue.

Take, for example, the issue of capital fundraising for college public service programs. She has offered varying statements to officers in private, to the PBHA fundraising committee, and to the Board of Trustees about her fundraising plans. Good faith and trust cannot develop if, on the one hand, PBHA plans the centennial of the Association openly with Dean Epps while, on the other hand, the Assistant Dean keeps her cards held closely to her vest on this and other issues.

Finally, and most importantly, the issue of PBHA's culture must be addressed. Over the past century, PBHA has developed a culture of student's striving together to find meaningful avenues to create social change which often reflect the political and philosophical climate of the larger community. This service has taken the form of community organizing, labor organizing, or politically-oriented activism. Our culture is established and perpetuated not through artificial "network" meetings over finger sandwiches, but on student-run retreats, during late nights in the shelter, or on van trips home from after-school programs.