Photo Courtesy of Harvard University Archives

Public service to and partnerships with Cambridge, Boston has long been a part of life at Harvard. The University was founded in 1636 to meet the need for training young people in religious and public service. While much has changed in the centuries since, the ethic of public service called for in Harvard's original charter continues to be a priority for the university.

The oldest and most extensive public service organization is the century-old Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), which offers broad opportunities in public service and social action through 72 student-run program committees involving more than 1,800 students and serving close to 10,000 constituents in the Cambridge and Boston area.

Among the PBHA programs are: Experi-Mentors, a program for teaching science in local public schools; Peace Games, a violence prevention, conflict resolution education program for fifth- and sixth-grade students; and Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment, which tutors immigrants in ESL and college preparation. Phillips Brooks House summer activities include 13 intensive programs in which undergraduates live and work in urban public housing developments like Mission Hill and Academy Homes. These programs have been held up as national models by human service and governmental agencies.

Other undergraduate programs in the community include the House and Neighborhood Development (HAND), which promotes relationships between Harvard students and the surrounding Cambridge community; CityStep, working with Cambridge fifth- and sixth-graders teaching dance, and culminating in a spring performance; and First-Year Community Service program, which organizes projects such as weekly Soup Kitchen nights and work at the student-run University Lutheran homeless shelter. In addition to term-time activities, students are encouraged to continue public service activities in the summer and after graduation through an active counseling program centered in the Office of Career Services. This office also runs public service fellowships for students to volunteer in nonprofit agencies.

Graduate students volunteer their time and expertise in the community. Medical students are providing free medical care at homeless shelters, Dental students are providing free dental care to pediatric AIDS patients, Harvard Law School (HLS), for example, is the largest non-governmental provider of legal services to the entire Boston community through its pro bono Hale and Dorr clinic, Business School students regularly volunteer at the Taft Middle School in Brighton, Kennedy School students maintain a similar partnership with the Graham and Parks Elementary School in Cambridge.

In early 2008 HLS announced that it will pay the third year of tuition for all future students who commit to work in public service for five years following graduation. Harvard employees also donate more dollars to charity, through the annual Community Gifts through Harvard campaign, than any other educational institution in Greater Boston.

Harvard, as a university community and neighbor, has a responsibility to use its resources for the betterment of the world, a responsibility to lead, a responsibility to set a positive example and to apply the strengths of the university to the particular problems that face the world as a whole. So for this reason Harvard’s commitment to service is at the core of what the university does.