The University Record, November 26, 1996

'Harvard model' doesn't work for modern universities, Boyer says

By Jared Blank


"We must upgrade ourselves, and we must be deliberate about it," James Boyer told Senate Assembly members at an address Nov. 18 on "Sensitivity to Racial and Cultural Difference on Campus." Boyer, professor of curriculum and American ethnic studies at Kansas State University, addressed what he considers to be inherent unfair treatment of "the culturally different" at American universities.

Boyer spoke of how the institutions were formed on the "Harvard model" conceived by "white European" men. Even at the historically Black Florida A&M Boyer attended, he found the "Harvard model" of teaching the works of mostly white writers, scientists and others.

Moreover, he said, universities were created with the "traditional" student in mind. Now, though, more than 30 percent of university students are not in the 18-25-year old age group, and universities have been slow, if at all responsive, to meet their needs.

"We have to now look back at policies we made in good faith but primarily with the basic assumption of what the institution was about and how the institution was set up to serve its population," he said. He noted that Kansas State University's requirement that all first-year students live in residence halls is incompatible with the growing group of incoming students who are married and have children.

Boyer believes that universities also have not fully addressed the needs of minority (what he calls "culturally different") students. Universities have begun to recruit a diverse group of students, he said, but "the fabric of the institution has not changed yet. It will require a major reconstruction of institutions." He feels this reconstruction has barely begun. For example, when Kansas State considered implementing a one-course diversity requirement, there was such an uproar that the proposal was quashed.

"We have been trying to fix the individual without fixing the house," he added, suggesting that those in the academy must begin to look at the "basic assumptions of research that were part of our socialization into the academy" and try to break down the assumptions held therein.

"You were told all your life that women were inferior to men. You don't have to live with that socialization." He noted how, as a young teacher, he taught young students that Columbus "discovered" America because that was what he was taught. Later, though, he broke down that assumption and realized the inherent paradox of Columbus "discovering" a people who already existed.

Institutions also must include more diversity training for students and staff, he suggested, because "If you know better, you do better." Yet, diversity training is one small aspect of reconstruction that must take place at institutions of higher education to create an atmosphere of inclusiveness, he said.

"We did affirmative action, we tried to declare inclusiveness, but the fabric of the institution has not changed," he said. "Your environment, your politics, your procedures, your goals, your timetables, your library collection---all of that is going to take a major piece of work, and you cannot do it in a one-hour faculty meeting.

"We cannot operate the University of Michigan anymore on the Harvard model," he continued. "The Harvard model says, `We're going to make some assumptions. We kind of know who's going to be educated, we kind of know what materials we're going to use, we kind of know what the curriculum is going to be, we kind of know in what kind of climate it is going to occur, and in what kind of society.' " These assumptions simply do not hold anymore, Boyer said.

"Unless this institution has a primary social justice agenda, it is outdated."