After two years of bad blood, the Phillips Brooks House Association, Inc. (PBHA), and the Harvard administration finally achieved detente this summer. We support the compromise but would like PBHA to make sure the administration does not stick its fingers too much in the public service pudding.
The problems began two years ago, when now-Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 suggested in a report on the College that PBH be restructured. When Lewis appointed Judith H. Kidd as assistant dean for public service last year, students in PBH began talking about separating from the University completely. The University responded by threatening to cut off significant funding unless PBH acquiesced to its demands.
The compromise reached this summer takes into account points important to both the students and the administration. PBHA scored a victory with the creation of a board of trustees comprised of administrators, PBHA students leaders, community members and alumni. The board includes non-student voting members, meaning that administrators will not be able to avoid thorny issues by waiting for vocal PBHA leaders to graduate.
We also hope the board will foster a spirit of cooperation between University Hall and Brooks House that previously has been lacking. Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, Kidd and Professor of Government and Sociology Theda Skocpol (head of the standing committee on public service) will all sit on the board--requiring community supporters, PBHA leaders and prominent administrators to sit around one table and work out their differences.
The second main facet of the agreement is the creation of an executive agent, who will report to Kidd on issues of safety and some financial issues and to the board on programmatic issues. While that position is not entirely a boon to PBHA's autonomy, since the person will be chosen by both the board and Kidd, it provides PBHA with an institutionalized advocate.
We respect those in PBHA who disagree with the compromise because they believe it puts too much control in the hands of the administration. But while the links between the organization and the administration are strong, we believe the compromise was the best choice possible under the circumstances. Since PBH occupies a Harvard-owned building rent-free and accepts Harvard's liability insurance, it would have been difficult if not impossible for them to continue to do so and separate from Harvard. If the organization had separated from Harvard, it would have been hard-pressed to find similar resources in such a convenient location, and to have access to undergraduates in the same way.
Perhaps most importantly, the compromise--set to be reconsidered after September 1 of next year--forces Harvard to make a real commitment to public service programming. An infrastructure including a board with non-student members, an executive agent and an assistant dean for public service is not something to be changed lightly, and any modifications from this point on will hopefully be made in the spirit of compromise in which this agreement was forged.
With a PBH fund-raising campaign on the horizon, it is more important than ever that the University listens to the public service organization's members, and vice versa. With nearly one-third of students at the College involved in some kind of public service during their time here, it is crucial that Harvard and PBH work together on making the programs stronger than ever. We are glad the tensions have lessened, and we hope to see a PBH in the future that benefits from the expanded infrastructure and puts the disputes of the past behind it.
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