Lincoln Filene Center History: Frank Duehay

In 1974, Frank became Executive Director of the Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University, a position he held until 1980, shortly after he became Mayor of Cambridge for the first time. Following the court order to desegregate the Boston schools, the Filene Center organized area universities’ efforts to create magnet schools and programs in the Boston schools systems, termed ten years later by the Boston Globe as the most flourishing and successful university-school partnership in the country. While at the Filene Center, Frank also began the highly successful program to increase the competence and effectiveness of citizen environmentalists throughout New England.

In the spring of 2004, Dr. Frank Duehay, former mayor of Cambridge, MA, spoke about his experience as the third director of the Lincoln Filene Center, his definitions of civic education and the successful work of the Center in setting up a network for environmental activists and leading area colleges and universities in supporting Boston schools during desegregation.

Interview conducted by Kate Atkinson Kaplan, April 7, 2004

Interview with Francis (Frank) Duehay
Cambridge, MA
April 7, 2004

INTERVIEWER: What was your affiliation with the Lincoln Filene Center and the Civic Education Foundation?

DUEHAY: I was the Director of the Lincoln Filene Center, which at that time was called the Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs, from 1974 to 1980. At that time, although affiliated with Tufts University, it was controlled by a separate 501(c)(3) organization called the Civic Education Foundation, which had been, I believe, formed in 1945 to conduct a variety of kind of civic education programs following World War II. I think the people who founded the Civic Education Foundation right after World War II were impressed with democracy and what had happened in World War II and wanted to do something in a university setting to promote the values of democracy.

I met on a regular basis with the Civic Education Foundation’s executive committee, which included several of the key trustees and the provost and the president of Tufts, and they were the ones to whom I reported and made recommendations and who approved the budget.

INTERVIEWER: How did you come to the Filene Center?

DUEHAY: I was an assistant dean at the Harvard Ed School and also a lecturer. And I had been there 16 or 17 years in various administrative and teaching capacities, mainly in charge of many of the aspects of the internal administration like student affairs and advising. It became pretty obvious that I would never move any farther than where I was because I’m not a scholar, and the deanship would go to a person who was a scholar. At one point I began to look around and the directorship of the Lincoln Filene Center was open, so I applied for it and was chosen.

When I left the Filene Center, I had had a parallel interest in local politics in Cambridge. As you may or may not know, the City Council chooses the mayor. In the spring of 1980, with a lot of racial problems like school desegregation and racial unrest in the community and in the high school, I was chosen the mayor at what was a critical time in Cambridge. Although I had not expected to be elected Mayor, it was pretty apparent that it was an opportunity and that having been all that time in local politics it would be kind of a shame to look back on it 10 or 15 years later and say, well, you were chosen in a critical role. So, with great reluctance I pended my resignation. There was a very good person who succeeded me, Stuart Langton. Several years later I became a member of the corporation of the Civic Education Foundation because I wanted to keep my affiliation with the Lincoln Filene Center.

I have known Rob Hollister [Dean of the Tisch College] for many years. I was on the committee that recommended his initial appointment at Tufts. I am very pleased with how he handled the Filene Center. And to the extent that I understand it, what he’s now doing at the college [Tisch College for Citizenship and Public Service]. I’m heavily involved with undergraduate public service at Harvard and I’m chair of a national committee that’s raising an endowment. So I retained my interest in citizenship and civic public service.

INTERVIEWER: How do you define what civic education is and has your definition changed over the years?

DUEHAY: That’s a very difficult question. In some cases if you search through the 40 cases of Lincoln Filene material in the Tufts archives you will find that I did some writing on this. There’s a body of knowledge around certain disciplines and there’s a body of knowledge around citizenship, and there are also skills that people need to have in order to actively participate, or thoughtfully participate. I can remember one Civic Education trustee saying that people have got to have certain knowledge about how government should operate or about how the economy should work, that children in schools and adults understand and appreciate the free enterprise system or the various division and separation of powers or the organization of state government. In other words, as if you understood all these things, and studied them, somehow this would result in your being able to do something like voting or serving on a voluntary board or a committee.

When Franklin Patterson ran the Lincoln Filene Center during the 50′s, they would have forums [the Tufts Assembly on Massachusetts Government ] that were a large attempt really to understand and make recommendations about a current topic or problem that was afflicting the state. It might be taxes or whatever. Franklin Patterson was very coherent about what he did and what he wanted to do. Patterson was succeeded by John Gibson who was a professor at Tufts, who I succeeded.

When I came in I was interested in kind of two things. I was interested in teaching, in actually confronting difficult problems in an active sense, engaging people in them, and teaching people how to solve them as we were working with them. These were things that needed thoughtful, constructive inputs, in which people who might not have felt that they needed to be involved in that problem were drawn in and new resources added to the kinds of solutions.

When Stuart Langton was appointed the Lincoln Filene Professor, that position had been vacant. See, Franklin Patterson and John Gibson had been both the director and the professor. I came to that not as an academic but as an administrator, and therefore the professorship was open. Langton was interested in studying the components of citizen participation as a "field." The mission of the Lincoln Filene Center was active citizen participation and the study of the components of citizen participation. We did policy work, research, and teaching within that. I made a great effort to involve a lot of faculty and to try to ensure that they knew, that even though the Filene Center was not a center that gave courses on enrolled students who were matriculated, that we existed on a university campus so that faculty would find that it was an interesting place and that they might like to be involved with it in some way.

When people teach others about citizenship or civic action they have got to have an experiential component to it. It is not sufficient, I think the literature will show, simply to study political science or economics or problems of democracy. One has to be much more deliberate. If people can be immersed in things, as they at the same time reflect and think about what they’re being immersed into, and have some people around who are thoughtful to participate with them, then they will learn.

I utilized interns a lot as an elected official, college students and graduate students, and I got terrific results out of most of them — it was very exciting for them. I spent an enormous amount of time in supervising but not in sitting on them. I didn’t just sort of push them off and leave them alone, but other times I did let them go off and do things. Both college and graduate students are capable of an enormous amount. Cambridge is way ahead in its Affordable Housing Program because I, as a city counselor, picked out a graduate student at the Kennedy School to work on a subcommittee. We devised several new policies and one new government structure that had to be approved by the legislature. We have been producing over 15 years hundreds of units of affordable housing way ahead of anybody else because of a graduate student’s input, and somebody, I, cared enough to really involve him in this problem. He did work that I wouldn’t have done, or couldn’t have done, or I didn’t have time to do.

If we want to teach civic education we’ve got to figure out problems that need to be approached, I think, and then figure out how to get people involved in those problems and how they approach strategic solutions, and then find out what more knowledge is needed. So somewhere in that area is the most effective approach to civic education. I know people like Stuart [Langton] have written about it.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of the highlights of the Filene Center’s work during the years you were there?

DUEHAY: Shortly after I got to the Filene Center, as I was going along trying to formulate with the board what it is we were doing, an event occurred that fit rather neatly into what I thought I wanted the Center to do. The schools in Boston had been ordered to desegregate. When Judge Garrity issued his order, the order contained a provision by which the schools were ordered to create magnet schools or programs by involving area colleges and universities. The Judge called in 17 or 19 university presidents into his chamber and said ‘As we desegregate the quality of education must be improved, and the way to do this is to involve colleges and universities in creating magnet programs and magnet schools.’ And he said ‘Of course I can’t order the colleges and universities to help, but what I can do is to make sure that if you decide not to help I will give it a great deal of publicity.’ One of the Lincoln Filene Center trustees, Sandy Tredinnick, was a trustee of the Associated Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts. Several of the presidents had schools of education and were confident that they could be of help, but a number of colleges and universities were quite perplexed by this. Tredinnick felt that this project needed coordination and that there would be money from the State Board of Education to assist the colleges and universities. I was approached as to whether we would take this on. I had had significant experience in school desegregation in various ways, basically at Harvard during my own doctoral work and I was familiar with the literature and various kinds of programs. And of course we really had to and wanted to.

We were trying to teach university faculty and administrators and school staff how to do collaborative programming and the complexity of this, and we were very successful in doing that. I mean there’s a long story here, a very long story. The effort expanded from 17 to 19 to 26 colleges and universities. We stayed at this coordination for five years. I had several staff members, including the former President of the Teachers’ Union [John Doherty] in Boston who worked on this. 10 years after we stopped doing it we were cited in some national newspapers as having run the most effective college and university collaborative of that time. I think that a lot of people learned a lot of things at that, and a lot of people took responsibilities more seriously in engaging in the community than they might have.

Another thing we did was we had a very effective Environmental Citizenship Program . Because I sort of had an activists’ hat myself, I worked with Nancy Anderson quite successfully. We involved a lot of Tufts graduate students and a lot of Tufts faculty, not only arts and sciences but in engineering and in the school of public health. We set up networks of citizens in various states. We had various kinds of training going on in these states. We had a fabulous conference at Tufts on an annual basis teaching all kinds of knowledge and skills about active citizenship, and we had all environmental organizations.

When Stuart Langton came and began to really look at citizen participation nationally as a field and began to write about it we had, I think, the first national conference on citizen participation in Washington, DC. A number of very effective people in the voluntary sector participated in that and there were written proceedings.

One of the significant failures we had was I wanted to do the same thing in the health area that we did in the environmental field. I spent a long time getting that proposal through. We tried to get somebody who could be as activist as Nancy Anderson but also as reflective as a faculty member. We tried very hard to get the right person. The search went on and on. We finally got Peter Lazes. He came to the Center, and he was terrific. He lasted about a year, and then got a much better job offer somewhere as a professor – the program didn’t continue.

INTERVIEWER: What was the affect of being an independent entity from the university? What did it afford the Filene Center? Was it a distraction in anyway?

DUEHAY: I don’t think it really was a problem. I think what you always need is independent money, and I don’t think we had a good strategy. Except for one or two trustees who gave very thoughtfully annually we didn’t have any really good funding coming in. I mean the University didn’t help fund it. The organization had to raise all its own money.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that being a separate organization allowed you more latitude in being involved in Boston things without having to get Tufts’ approval?

DUEHAY: We obviously had more flexibility in moving around, but we would not do things that the provost and the presidents of Tufts would not feel is appropriate.

INTERVIEWER: If you could get together with anyone living or dead from your years at the Center, who would you pick and what would you laugh over?

DUEHAY: We had a very strong group of people, both staff people and faculty, and regrettably several of them died. Sadly, I don’t know whether we would laugh. I would enjoy being with Nancy Anderson as we talked about how she gathered both community input and substantive knowledge from Tufts faculty in framing and operating her environmental programs. And certainly my close friend Spencer McDonald who ran the Boston School Desegregation Project. He was a very skilled professional person. And his close associate John Doherty, who was the former President of the Teachers’ Union, who has also died. We all had a fabulous time putting these resources together between the schools and working with parents and principals in school districts and at a very crucial time. That was important and a lot of fun. Stuart [Langton] made a real mark. He’s a terrific professional person. He has done exceedingly well in his work all over the country. He’s worked advising boards of trustees and voluntary organizations like the United Way at the national level, and La Raza and organizations like that.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t had a chance to cover today?

DUEHAY: I have an interest in this history taking of the Filene Center, a great interest, because for a while it was part of my life. Reflecting about citizenship is extremely important. We should ask ourselves — what seem to be promising areas to concentrate on for the future? Because there has been 50 years of this, or 60 years of that, and everybody is still falling all over themselves trying to define it. Are we’re going to spend the next 60 years doing the same thing or could we raise the bar just a little?