[FoRK] Boyer Commission report

Jim Whitehead ejw at cs.ucsc.edu
Thu Sep 23 13:31:02 PDT 2004

The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University
A Blueprint for America's Research Universities

Published in 1998, but only came to my attention recently. This report has
been influential in shaping the thinking of university administrators at
research universities.

- Jim

>From p.5 of the report:

failed, and continue to fail, their undergraduate populations.
Tuition income from undergraduates is one of the major sources
of university income, helping to support research programs and
graduate education, but the students paying the tuition get, in all
too many cases, less than their money's worth. An undergraduate
at an American research university can receive an education as
good or better than anything available anywhere in the world, but
that is not the normative experience. Again and again, universities
are guilty of an advertising practice they would condemn in the
commercial world. Recruitment materials display proudly the
world-famous professors, the splendid facilities and the groundbreaking
research that goes on within them, but thousands of
students graduate without ever seeing the world-famous professors
or tasting genuine research. Some of their instructors are likely to
be badly trained or even untrained teaching assistants who are
groping their way toward a teaching technique; some others may
be tenured drones who deliver set lectures from yellowed notes,
making no effort to engage the bored minds of the students in
front of them.

Many students graduate having accumulated whatever number
of courses is required, but still lacking a coherent body of knowledge
or any inkling as to how one sort of information might relate to
others. And all too often they graduate without knowing how
to think logically, write clearly, or speak coherently. The university
has given them too little that will be of real value beyond a
credential that will help them get their first jobs. And with larger
and larger numbers of their peers holding the same paper in their
hands, even that credential has lost much of its potency.

>From p. 19:

The phrase "student-centered research university" has sprung
into the language of several research universities recently. At first
glance it seems an oxymoron, and certainly it does not clearly
describe the relationship between students and research-can
universities be both student-centered and research-centered? The
possibility exists that a "research university," properly defined,
could embody what the phrase attempts, through a synergistic
system in which faculty and students are learners and researchers,
whose interactions make for a healthy and flourishing
intellectual atmosphere.

>From p. 20:

Academic Bill of Rights

By admitting a student, any college or university commits
itself to provide maximal opportunities for intellectual and creative
development. These should include:

1. Opportunities to learn through inquiry rather than simple
transmission of knowledge.

2. Training in the skills necessary for oral and written communication
at a level that will serve the student both within the
university and in postgraduate professional and personal life.

3. Appreciation of arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences,
and the opportunity to experience them at any intensity and
depth the student can accommodate.

4. Careful and comprehensive preparation for whatever may lie
beyond graduation, whether it be graduate school, professional
school, or first professional position.

The student in a research university, however, has these
additional rights:

1. Expectation of and opportunity for work with talented senior
researchers to help and guide the student's efforts.

2. Access to first-class facilities in which to pursue research-
laboratories, libraries, studios, computer systems, and concert

3. Many options among fields of study and directions to move
within those fields, including areas and choices not found in
other kinds of institutions.

4. Opportunities to interact with people of backgrounds,
cultures, and experiences different from the student's own and
with pursuers of knowledge at every level of accomplishment,
from freshmen students to senior research faculty.

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