The Path to Public Service at SEAS
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Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 approved changes last week which will effectively transfer power from a single Phillips Brooks House (PBH) administrator to the non-student directors of the two public service groups which constitute it.
According to the recommendations of the PBH restructuring committee, the positions of PBH director and associate dean of public service—currently held by Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd—will be eliminated. Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) Executive Director Gene A. Corbin and Public Service Network (PSN) director Meg B. Swift will assume all of Kidd’s responsibilities, but will still report to Kidd regarding departmental decisions.
According to some members of the committee, the changes aim to usher in a more congenial atmosphere between the two groups, while allowing the groups to function independently of one another.
“One of the goals was to make a clearer distinction between PBHA and PSN while fostering a greater sense of collaboration, as opposed to competition, between the two organizations,” Kidd wrote in an e-mail.
The changes will also redistribute power in the College’s public service hierarchy, allotting PBHA a greater say in the general direction of public service on campus, as well as increasing the role of PSN director Swift.
TRANSFERS OF POWER
Before her appointment as acting dean of Harvard College in 2003, Kidd served as assistant dean of public service for seven years. Under the restructuring of PBH, that position no longer exists.
Instead, Corbin and Swift will share her former responsibilities.
Kidd will continue to sit on the PBHA board and its finance committee in accordance with a 1997 agreement made between PBHA and the College.
Corbin, Swift and Kidd will likely meet once a month to discuss the running of PBH, and Kidd will retain veto power over all major decisions. Corbin will report to Kidd regarding fiscal safety and liability for all PBH groups, while Swift will report on general public service issues.
With the changes, Swift’s influence on public service at the College will widen significantly, while Corbin’s domain will remain relatively unchanged. Swift will go from managing a small fraction of Harvard’s public service options to having a say in the general direction of public service at the College.
“My job will definitely be more challenging in this new capacity,” Swift wrote in an e-mail. “There will be many more areas [in which] I’ll have to be involved ... fundraising, collaboration with PBHA and greater connections throughout the College and University.”
Kidd, who founded PSN when she arrived at the College in 1996, said that she and Swift have enjoyed a close relationship since she appointed Swift as PSN’s second director. But Kidd said that she and Corbin have had comparatively little communication.
“PSN has already been working closely with me over the years and has been far more in the loop concerning PBH, the department, than has PBHA. This was one situation we wished to correct,” Kidd wrote in an e-mail.
“We hope to make PBHA, the largest public service organization on campus and the major tenant in PBH, more involved in the actual management of department functions and programs that affect all students, regardless of the organization in which they do their public service,” she added.
Under the restructuring, PBHA will have more influence in the decisions about the distribution of PBH resources and PSN will have more contact with PBHA.
The collaboration between Swift and Corbin in the oversight of PBH is the most unanticipated element of the report and will lead to an overall shift in the setup of the College’s public service system.
The new recommendations will help to level the playing field for PBHA, according to Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Committee on Public Service Chris Winship, who also led the restructuring committee.
“The new structure gives PBHA an equal and thus a far greater say in the running of PBH than it had in the past,” he said. “More generally, the committee felt that the new structure was the best way to maximize cooperation between Harvard and PBHA.”
The restructuring committee was composed of Winship, Kidd, Corbin, former PBHA president Ayrini M. Fonseca-Sabune ’04 and former undergraduate council president Rohit Chopra ’04. Swift and current PBHA president Kristin M. Garcia ’05 joined the committee in March.
A HOUSE UNITED?
The changes also reflect a shift in the dynamics between PSN, PBHA and the College. PBHA and PSN fall under PBH, a title which refers both to the department of the College that oversees all public service and the physical premises which house the offices of both groups.
Swift said that she doesn’t think that PSN and PBHA were in competition for resources from the College, but she also suggested that some students felt differently.
“A lot of students thought they were competing for recognition, funding and support,” she said.
PBHA is a student-led non-profit organization that is independent from the College, but is required to report to the College; PSN is an umbrella group that encompasses the Center for Public Interest Careers and about 30 public service groups that are not affiliated with PBHA, including City Step and Project HEALTH.
“This model ensures that all public service groups are represented in department decision making,” Corbin said.
When Kidd arrived at the College in 1996, she took an office in the PBH building—marking the first time PBHA faced on-site oversight.
According to Swift, the new restructuring reflects a greater willingness on the part of PBHA to de-emphasize that independence.
“PBHA wanted to remain very independent from the College. [The change] shows a greater interest on PBHA’s part in being closely influenced by PBH,” she said.
But according to student leaders of PBHA, the changes will simply bring about an increase in College assistance for the group.
“PBHA will be able to be more at the table in terms of shared resources,” Garcia said.
Despite the fact that there will be greater collaboration between the two groups, Garcia asserted that PBHA and PSN will remain distinct.
“PBHA is a student-led non-profit—that’s not what PSN is,” she said. “There are public service groups in both, but we work hard to maintain the integrity of our mission. Public service is at its healthiest when both are thriving.”
—Staff writer Ebonie D. Hazle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Sara E. Polsky can be reached at email@example.com.
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