Text of Johnson's Letter

The following is the text of the letter sent to The Crimson and many associated with Phillips Brooks House Association.

As most of you know, I was restructured out of my long-term role as Brooks House's principal advisor on June 30, 1996. (Indeed, my classmate and former PBHA President Reverend Mort Hauser has informed me that the process by which I was dismissed was self-consciously fraudulent.) I have remained rather silent during the ensuing period hoping that something positive might be derived from my absence. Unfortunately, as the anniversary of my departure approaches, I do not understand such to have been the case.

During the past year I have kept in close contact with PBH staff, PBHA Inc. Board of Trustee members, and with PBHA Inc. student leadership. This February I was privileged for the eighteenth consecutive year to address PBHA Inc.'s undergraduate leadership board and I remain as impressed as ever by their level of ability and commitment. The totallity of what I have come to understand from these contacts, however, leaves me disquieted.

Institutionally, we have a serious problem with all sorts of ramifications--including programmatic. By the last years of my stewardship it had become clear that PBHA Inc. was experiencing the problems of its own successes, of its own growth, and that its internal governance and operational systems needed to evolve in support of such growth. (Incidentally, much of this expansion was externally fostered and mandated by President Bok's office as well as by other Harvard College systems external to PBHA Inc.'s control.)

In addressing this situation we engaged process-laden forums and studies and eventually amended the by-laws of PBHA, Inc. We also streamlined and strengthened management systems and were quite satisfied with much of our accomplishment.


In 1994, Harry Lewis, Nancy Maull, Peter Gomes, Theda Skocpol, and Daniel Steiner issued a report which PBHA Inc. interpreted as a long-term hostile takeover attempt by the Dean of the FAS. In response, long sessions were held to further strengthen PBHA Inc. leadership by forming a compact Board of Trustees which would include undergraduate and non-undergraduate members.

These sessions were facilitated by a professional non-profit management consultant and were attended by myself, Anne Peretz, Arnold Hiatt, Frank Duehay, Ken Reeves, Henry Fernandez, Robert Kiely, Ali Asani, Bill Graustein, Judith Kidd, and appropriate student leadership. Ultimately this committee approved a plan with a 15 to 1 majority--Graustein opposing--which was submitted to the undergraduate PBHA Inc. governing board and approved. It called for an elected PBHA Inc. Board of Trustees comprised of students and non-students--with the non-student membership to be recruited in roughly equal parts from human service, donor, alum, academic, and Harvard administrative communities. Special effort was to be made to represent the ethnic composition of PBHA Inc. client populations.

At this point Harvard College administrators started making threats and PBHA Inc. started down a long road of accommodation which I believe has brought into question its very ability to administer itself. The threats took the form of demanding PBHA Inc. disassociate itself from its Executive Director; of the College's demanding a disproportionate number of seats on the new PBHA Inc. Board of Trustees; of the College's demanding that the non-student members of the Board sit but not vote; of the College's prohibiting the Board from employing staff and/or from raising money which might be used in such a fashion. Threatened punishments included eviction of PBHA Inc. from the building chartered to house it; withdrawal of insurance coverage; and fostering competitive College owned-and-operated public service options through the use of new capital campaigns as well as though expropriation of PBHA's building and staff. The College has also reserved the right to abolish the entire Board by September of 1997 should the Board not perform to the College's satisfaction.

It is within this atmosphere of intimidation that the new Board of Trustees was asked to operate. Thus what would have been a difficult task in any case was rendered nearly impossible. The response of the Board has been tentative and slow. For instance, half of the PBH professional staff was eliminated without the Board's input or knowledge. Further, the Board still-has no staff which it employs and manages and has tolerated what might well be defined as deliberate sabotage on the part of some of its members.

The questions at hand remain the old ones: who is ultimately responsible for the administration and governance of programs functioning under the 501(c)3 structure of PBHA Inc.? I believe it is only ethical that PBHA Inc. govern itself as is expected of a non-profit corporation--that is, with a Board of Trustees openly responsible for overseeing the best interests of the corporation. Such boards are reasonably expected to set policy, to employ an Executive Director, and to raise money--in short, to be able to manage their own affairs. Should a board prove unable to do as much over a period of time, it is no longer what it purports to be. Presently the Brooks House Board is engaged in discussion of a capital campaign. It seems to me absolutely futile to raise further money without resolving basic structural inconsistencies. Who will be responsible for the money? Upon what will it be expended? Is the corporation responsible for its expenditure constituted in a sound and responsible manner?

I would like here to call upon the PBHA Board of Trustees to move to address these lingering and glaring "fault-lines." Not to do so is essentially to relinquish management responsibility to Harvard College. If such is to be the future course, why not formally abandon the corporation and at least give the College managers a fair and open shot?

Non-profits successfully stand on their own feet all the time--often with less resources than PBHA Inc. Stiles and Dwight Hall [at Yale] have been independent for decades running similar operations. Of course, I would never cede the mantle of undergraduate public service leadership to any other organization.

Nonetheless, it is obvious that the time is long overdue for us to get our House in order. In closing, I would to thank the countless alums and well-wishers who have expressed concern and support since last June. I would also like to thank you for your many questions regarding the goings-on at PBH. If, from my somewhat unique perspective, I might be of further help to anyone concerning these matters, I can be reached at 340 Harvard Street in Cambridge (02139); or at I wish all of you my best.