Bok's Rhetoric Offers Harvard to the World
President Bok--a former Fulbright scholar in India--has always been interested in foreign affairs, but since his return from sabbatical abroad this spring his rhetoric has focused on the growing internationalization of American higher education.
In an uncharacteristically creative speech on Commencement Day, June 11, which has generated large public response, Bok presented a fictional account of a Harvard 50 years in the future with 20 branch campuses overseas and vastly increased foreign student representation. This address and another speech at Notre Dame, both of which touted American preeminence in higher education, said specifically that universities should encourage more study overseas and admit more foreign students.
Interviews with Harvard administrators and professors indicate that, while many planks presented in Bok's internationalist platform can only be implemented decades in the future--if ever--Harvard is currently taking steps to enhance its profile in the world.
According to Bok and Geyser University Professor Henry Rosovsky, who recently wrote an article in The New Republic, the quality of American higher education obligates such international programs. Bok said he favors increased international involvement because he believes it will counteract growing American isolationism and prepare college graduates for a competitive world economy.
"What is critical is the need to recognize just how unusual our opportunities really are. As I said before, American universities are preeminent at a time when education and new discoveries are more important than they have ever been to societies throughout the world. Among institutions of learning in this country, none has greater visibility abroad or greater resources than Harvard," Bok told the Commencement Day audience.
"How much can we do? How much dare we do? How much would be prudent to do?" Bok asked at the conclusion of his speech.
According to administrators, the University is currently enacting the following reforms: increasing the number of foreign students; locating more Harvard programs in foreign countries; and promoting an institute on international development.
But Harvard's international efforts have been slower than many other universities.
Stanford, one of the acknowledged leaders in international education, sends a third of its graduates to study in branch universities worldwide. Stanford is in the process of building a seventh major center in Poland, the deputyadministrator of the overseas program, Nancy J.Patgett said yesterday.
By using the form of a mythical annual reportgiven by Bok's successor, 50 years in the future,Bok sketched out some radical internationalproposals whose implications would far surpasseven Stanford's plans for American highereducation.
Among the fictional changes mentioned in theJune 11 speech were:
.increasing enrollment of foreign students toone-third of the student body.
.requiring all students to spend six monthsabroad.
.requiring all students to combine the study ofa language with core courses covering a geographicarea.
.expanding Harvard's area centers and institutes whichstudy problems of world development.
While absurdist touches in the ficitionalizedannual report--like discussions of two-hour planetravel and mocking descriptions of the "longunimaginative Bok regime"--tempered the speech'simmediate impact, it has clearly touched a nervein the Harvard community. Bok said he has receivedunprecedented amounts of mail and alumni responsewhich has only recently abated.
Harvard has strengthened international ties notonly in comment but in deed. According to theadmissions office, the number of foreignundergraduates has increased by as much as 10percent for the Class of '91.
Also, the Harvard Institute for InternationalDevelopment (HIID), a body which primarily isresponsible for research and teaching aboutthird-world political economy, has had its budgetincrease three-fold in four years. The HIID, whichis funded by private grants, was recently moved toa new building next to the Kennedy School ofGovernment.
Vice President for Government and CommunityAffairs John Shattuck said that no Universitycommittee yet exists which will consider Bok'ssuggestions.
Harvard's internationalization "will evolve byosmosis, as much as direction, because theUniversity is so decentralized," Shattuck said.
According to David Riesman '31, Ford Professorof Social Sciences Emeritus, the recent focus onthe international implications of American highereducation is actually a long-term movement that"is just beginning to be voiced by leaders."
Riesman said that such efforts--like branchcampuses throughout the world--must be "a two-waystreet" by holding classes for foreign nativesalong with American undergraduates.
In recent years, Stanford has been one of thefirst universities to initiate a "two-tiered"teaching setting at their Italian branch, Patgettsaid