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Magazine cover for July - August 2020 issue.

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898


College Announces New Public-Service Leadership


Portrait of Julie Reuben, Warren professor of the history of American education, newly appointed inaugural faculty dean of Phillips Brooks House Center, and Travis Lovett, the newly appointed assistant dean of civic engagement and service

From left: Warren professor of the history of American education Julie Reuben, newly appointed as inaugural faculty director of Phillips Brooks House Center; Travis Lovett, the newly appointed assistant dean of civic engagement and service

Photographs by Neil Reuben (Reuben) and Jen Dean (Lovett)

From left: Warren professor of the history of American education Julie Reuben, newly appointed as inaugural faculty director of Phillips Brooks House Center; Travis Lovett, the newly appointed assistant dean of civic engagement and service

Photographs by Neil Reuben (Reuben) and Jen Dean (Lovett)

Continuing an effort to enhance the role of public service in students’ lives, Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana today announced that Warren professor of the history of American education Julie Reuben has been appointed the inaugural faculty director of the Phillips Brooks House Center for Public Service and Engaged Scholarship (PBHC). Travis Lovett has been appointed assistant dean of civic engagement and service.

Reuben, of the Graduate School of Education, helped launch the College’s secondary field in educational studies, for students interested in exploring education, education policy, and related topics as part of their coursework. Lovett has been director of the College’s Center for Public Interest Careers, at PBH.

The appointments result from searches signaled last spring by College dean for administration and finance Sheila C. Thimba, who was serving as interim dean of public service, when she and Khurana unveiled the “Service Starts with Summer” program (3SP) for members of the class of 2023—74 of whom participated before enrolling this week. The swift completion of the searches (both appointments take effect September 3), and the decision to announce them just as students are appearing on campus for the fall term, underscore a concerted focus on public service and civic engagement, broadly defined, as part of a Harvard education. An in-person briefing by Khurana and Thimba emphasized the importance they place on this initiative.

A Broader Context for Public Service

Khurana, in a conversation, put public service in the context of the College’s mission of “educating citizens and citizen leaders for society,” a commitment given further emphasis in President Lawrence S. Bacow’s inaugural address last fall. The 3SP initiative aimed to support students interested in service even before they matriculate, providing stipends for public service in their home communities, acquainting them with College service resources before they come to Cambridge, and introducing them to faculty, student, and alumni mentors and advisers during their summer activities.

That initiative, and the appointments and accompanying new roles announced today, Khurana continued, emerged from a year-long “reflection on service” and public engagement as components of a Harvard education. Much of that work has traditionally been channeled through volunteer extracurricular-service activities, in Boston and Cambridge, conducted under the Phillips Brooks House Association’s (PBHA) aegis. In recent years, various gifts for fellowships have made it possible for more students to do summer service fellowships. And the Mindich Program in Engaged Scholarship now supports curriculum development and innovative pedagogy that enable professors to embed experiential learning or community engagement in their courses—prominently in the revised General Education curriculum debuting this term. Khurana said he aimed to “accelerate” the expansion of such programs, spreading public service throughout the College culture.

Accordingly, during the past year, Thimba consulted with students, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) professors, other University constituents, alumni, and external sources of expertise to determine what parts of the public-service smorgasbord were functioning well, what opportunities exist to do better, and how the College program connects to Harvard generally.

One result is the formal expansion of the PBHA mandate into the PBHC structure, which encompasses public service broadly. Another, giving meaning to the expanded mandate, is the appointment of a faculty director, who oversees PBHA and the Mindich program, but also can “help us think about how faculty energy can be brought into the center,” through course offerings and through the many opportunities to engage students in faculty members’ service- or public-facing research. “The faculty’s engagement drives the flywheel,” Khurana said: attracting student interest, attracting faculty members themselves to Harvard, and in turn strengthening the University’s ties to communities and the effect of its scholarship on the world. Accordingly, Thimba said, Reuben’s role will be in part to “help us think about how faculty energy can be brought into the center [PBHC].”

She noted that the Safra Center for Ethics had already helped the College think about “what it means to elevate civic engagement on campus,” extending to initiatives conducted by the schools of medicine and of public health. A University-wide voting initiative, originated at Harvard Kennedy School, is one tangible avenue for participation. And professor of government Dustin Tingley, a co-chair of FAS’s standing committee on public service and deputy vice provost for advances in learning, is helping build a portal that any member of the Harvard community can use, beginning this fall, to search for public-service opportunities and courses throughout the University.

“Our students are interested in exploring their public-spiritedness in new and different ways,” as Thimba put it: not only through PBHA’s local volunteer service activities in Boston, say, but through social entrepreneurship at the iLab, and in harness with the public-service work of their athletic teams, religious organizations, and cultural organizations.

That brings about the third element: Lovett’s expanded assistant deanship. He continues to direct the Center for Public Interest Careers, and now also assumes responsibility for the Public Service Network—reaching out to identify the hundreds of opportunities for students to engage. That network, and the new portal, should overcome the sheer difficulty of sorting out the many options for service—which often remain invisible to interested students now—and should expand such opportunities as well.

As existing members of the Harvard community, Reuben and Lovett should be able to address their new responsibilities promptly.

In Their Own Words

Khurana said he was especially pleased that Reuben had emerged from the search, because she “has devoted her scholarship to this area—the social responsibility of universities,” notably in her book, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality, which ranges across time and campuses, and because she has already worked with undergraduates, on whose behalf she helped create the new secondary field. Much of her teaching is within FAS—including, next spring, a General Education course on “The Social Responsibilities of Universities.” She is also embedded in a school with a quintessentially service-oriented mission.

In a statement about the new role she is assuming alongside her HGSE professorship, Reuben said:

I am delighted to be the first faculty director of the Philips Brooks House Center for Public Service and Engaged Scholarship. My research focuses on the ways in which universities have understood and implemented their social responsibilities for the past two centuries. This remains a relevant and vital issue today. I am excited to have the opportunity to build a robust set of programs that develop Harvard College students as civic leaders.

This new center reflects Harvard’s deep commitment to preparing its students to understand the challenges facing our society and to develop the skills and disposition to address those challenges. The center will support existing programs that engage students in political and civic activities and develop dynamic new opportunities. We are confident that Harvard College will be a leader in public engagement in the twenty-first century.

Nodding to the wider context and PBHC’s aspirations, she continued, “Partnerships will be key to the success of the new center. I am looking forward to working with student leaders to find new ways to support their public-service activities, with faculty to expand engaged scholarship opportunities, and with community organizations to build lasting and mutually beneficial programs for student service, internships and career opportunities.” She said she looked forward to working with Lovett and the PBH staff “to make this center into a vibrant and essential part of the College.”

Updated August 27, 3:05 p.m.: In a statement, Graduate School of Education dean Bridget Terry Long said of the news, “I am delighted about this appointment, which is a fitting role for Julie, given her superb leadership of the new education as a secondary concentration, an option available to undergraduates interested in studying education. In her new role, Julie will help HGSE to continue to build bridges to undergraduates who are interested in pursuing careers in public service and education, and I look forward to seeing that program grow.”

In a similar statement, Lovett, too, pointed toward “realigning our center as an academically focused department of the College.” He continued:

We aim to fulfill the civic purpose of higher education by harnessing the energy and ideas of our best and brightest students. This generation is idealistic, enthusiastic, and civically-minded. Our work is to make sure they have the tools and resources they need to serve society.

Much of our work over the past few years has focused on developing programs that connect student leaders with academic and professional-development opportunities. We are excited to deepen our focus on research and innovation to meet the challenges facing our society.

There are so many pathways for students to engage our work, whether it’s through volunteering, political activism, engaged scholarship, pre-professional experiences, or intercultural immersion. We are excited to create a culture where every Harvard College student is civically engaged in a meaningful way.





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