Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 5, 1996

The Buses Will Roll: Tutorial Project "Will Continue On Schedule"

Steve Libowitz

     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."

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