While working on this collection over the past three years one thing we initially found confusing was the label “consultant” applied to the professional staff who headed Federation’s Community Services Department, particularly in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Various staff members, experienced professionals all and at the top of the their respective subject fields in New York’s social services realm, included Martha Selig, Donald Feldstein, Graenum Berger, Joseph Harris and Al Schwarz. The work and papers of a number of these consultants have been discussed in previous blog posts.
Eric recently located a thought piece by Al Schwarz from circa 1982; Schwarz was then the Director of Community Services for Medicine in that subseries of Federation’s Community Services material. In this informal report, entitled “The Role of the Consultant,” presumably written for discussion in a department meeting, Schwarz teases out the role of the consultant and ponders a change in title. He describes the report as “tongue in cheek,” announces that he wanted by writing it to “provoke some serious discussion” and that “some of what is said is absolutely true.” The manner is very breezy and irreverent, no doubt reflecting Schwarz’s familiarity and exasperation with the subject and, perhaps, with Federation’s existing organizational structure.
The consultants ran departments, supervised Federation support staff and served as links between Federation and the agency executives in the consultant’s specific functional field (medical, childcare, education, etc.) In his paper, Schwarz notes that they are not in fact consultants to the agencies, because “our agencies don’t think so terribly well of us” and because they are not on the agencies’ payrolls. He thinks they are not consultants to “management” at Federation either – “they know how to take care of themselves.” Schwarz continues, “then the only thing that’s left is that we’re Consultant to Lay Leadership at Federation. Although that can’t be true, because as we all know, the Lay Leaders are all experts. The crux of the problem, appears to me, to be the term itself. I don’t think we’re Consultants all.”
After a brief discussion of what Schwarz actually sees as their role, he comes to the conclusion that “the role of the Consultant, then, is one of a facilitator; one who brings people together to facilitate problem solving”, and he speculates that Federation would be better served if consultants were more generalists than field specialists: “the role of the specialist is downplayed and … the relative success of our work is very often dependent upon the personality of the Consultant and his or her ability to interact in a meaningful way with fellow professionals and lay people.”
Schwarz believes that the consultants are “teachers and facilitators, moderators and arbitrators”, and that a healthy ego is “perhaps the most important single trait by which a Consultant is measured,” because there is very little ego gratification to the job. By page 5, he concludes with the thought that “Consultant is a misnomer, and leads to misunderstandings both internally and externally to Federation.”
Eventually the term “consultant” was retired, having evolved into the more usual titles of Director and Executive Director. By the time of the merger with UJA in 1986 most departments and divisions had also changed names. As our project moves more completely into the post-merger portion of the collection, we find ourselves attempting to correlate the functions of the professionals and their departments that have become familiar to us, with what those same people and functions eventually became.