The Buses Will Roll: Tutorial Project "Will Continue On Schedule" Steve Libowitz ------------------------ Editor Bill Tiefenwerth could be this year's poster child for the adage, No good deed--or intention--goes unpunished. Last week, the longtime director of the Office of Volunteer Services found himself embroiled in a controversy, which began with his concern for the safety of small children and Hopkins students and ended with charges of racism. At issue was the OVS decision to end Hopkins-provided bus service for the 100 or so schoolchildren participating in the 38-year-old Hopkins Tutorial Project. Up until two years ago, the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development provided the bus service for the project as well as neighborhood centers that stayed open late so the children had a safe, supervised place to wait to be picked up and taken home. Most of these centers were located in the heart of the city's highest crime areas. But when the department phased out its Urban Services program, the city gave Hopkins the money it had allocated for the bus service. The centers, however, closed. Tiefenwerth reluctantly agreed to take responsibility for transporting the schoolchildren to and from campus for their twice-weekly tutorials, but felt uncomfortable now having to leave the children on the street. Then, Tiefenwerth says, he started hearing things. He says some students involved in the project had casually commented on seeing gunfights and drug sales in the vicinity of the city bus stops. Deborah Morris, the project's teacher advocate who lives in the inner city, was not as glib. "She told me that I was naive and that I didn't know what goes on by placing young kids on one of those corners," Tiefenwerth says. He adds that Morris took an informal survey of neighbors, asking them if they would leave their child on one of the street corners waiting for a bus, or waiting for them, if it meant getting free tutorial service. "The response was 'no way,'" he says. Tiefenwerth and project director Weslie Wornom expressed their concerns to their city partners at the Department of Housing and Community Development. "Usually you present an issue to city officials and they say they'll study it, form a committee, that sort of thing," Tiefenwerth says. "This time, I was looked right in the eye and told 'You're right.' " In mid-December, Tiefenwerth and Wornom announced they were stopping the bus service, but would work to accommodate as many of the 100 schoolchildren as they could through other means because the popular program was going to continue. "We sent letters to the children's parents asking if they needed transportation or if they could provide it in the form of carpools," Tiefenwerth says. "We also provided families with a list of city-based tutorial programs the children could enroll in, and we have been working on establishing an after-school tutorial program in two city elementary schools. "We knew our decision would be a hardship to some in the program, but this isn't an entitlement program. This is a valuable service the university offers, and because circumstances have changed in our environment, we felt it was necessary for those people served by the project to meet us halfway," Tiefenwerth says. Not everyone agreed. Many people involved in the project understood OVS's decision, Tiefenwerth says. But a very vocal group of students representing several undergraduate and graduate organizations-- most not involved in the Tutorial Project--was angered by it. The criticism escalated into protests, including angry letters and a visit to city hall to complain. Then came the unexpected charges of racism, which Tiefenwerth finds both bewildering and unfounded. Hours before an early evening meeting organized by the Hopkins student organizations, Tiefenwerth and Wornom met with a representative group and agreed to reinstate the bus service, under their auspices. However, he insisted that the students look at all the very real safety concerns logically, not emotionally, and work with him to resolve them. "I'm still concerned about the risk to all involved," Wornom says, speaking as both a parent and a university administrator. "But we're going to do it." Tiefenwerth and city Housing and Community Development officials have begun meeting to find in the near future a safer alternative than the current transportation method. Until then, AJ Transportation Co. will continue to transport the students to and from the Homewood campus. About 100 schoolchildren and 100 Hopkins tutors will begin the new semester tutorials on Feb. 20. "The Tutorial Project will continue, on time and on schedule," Wornom says. "And that was always our intention."
Go to Gazette Homepage