Bok, Derek 1930- (Derek C. Bok, Derek Curtis Bok)
Bok, Derek 1930- (Derek C. Bok, Derek Curtis Bok)
Born March 22, 1930, in Bryn Mawr, PA; son of Curtis (a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and novelist) and Margaret Adams Bok; married Sissela Ann Myrdal (a lecturer in medical ethics), 1955; children: Hilary, Victoria, Tomas. Education: Stanford University, A.B., 1951; Harvard University, J.D., 1954; attended University of Paris, 1954-55; George Washington University, A.M., 1958.
Writer, educator. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, assistant professor, 1958-61, professor of law, 1961-68, dean of Harvard Law School, 1968-71, president of university, 1971-91, university president emeritus, 300th Anniversary University Professor, 1991—, interim president of Harvard University, 2006; Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, acting director. Chair of American Council on Education, 1981-82; member of board of directors, Citizens Democracy Corps, 1990—; chair of the Board of Overseers, Curtis Institute of Music, 1997—, and Common Cause, 1999—; member of Commission on Federal Paperwork. Military service: U.S. Army, 1956-58; became first lieutenant.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Philosophical Society, Committee for Economic Development, Consortium on Financing Higher Education, Institute of Medicine.
Fulbright scholar in France, 1954-55; A.B., Harvard University, 1971; LL.D., University of Illinois, Princeton University, and Yale University, all 1971; Grawemeyer Award in Education, University of Louisville, 2001, for The Shape of the River: Long-term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions; Alice L. Beeman Research Award in Communications for Educational Advancement; Frandson Award for Literature in Higher Education, 2003.
The First Three Years of the Schuman Plan, Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), 1955.
(Editor, with Archibald Cox and Robert A. Gorman) Cases and Materials on Labor Law, Foundation Press (Mineola, NY), 1962, 10th edition, 1986.
(With John T. Dunlop) Labor and the American Community, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1970.
Beyond the Ivory Tower: Social Responsibilities of the Modern University, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1982.
Higher Learning, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1986.
Universities and the Future of America, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1990.
The Cost of Talent: How Executives and Professionals Are Paid and How It Affects America, Free Press (New York, NY), 1993.
The State of the Nation: Government and the Quest for a Better Society, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
(With William G. Bowen) The Shape of the River: Long-term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1998.
The Trouble with Government, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2003.
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2006.
Contributor to In the Public Interest, 1980, and Between Friends: Perspectives on John Kenneth Galbraith, edited by Helen Sasson, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999. Contributor to law journals and to Daedalus.
Derek Bok has a had a long and distinguished career as an educator, university administrator, and author. He was named the twenty-fifth president of Harvard University in 1971. Chosen after a detailed eleven-month search, he became one of Harvard's youngest presidents and the first head of the university in three hundred years to have earned his undergraduate degree elsewhere. Bok has written a number of books on contemporary education and social issues, usually promoting egalitarian values and increased governmental action.
Before becoming president of Harvard University, Bok served as dean of the law school. He distinguished himself as a peacemaker in the violent years of student unrest. At one point, first-year law students staged a sit-in demanding that they be graded on a pass/fail system. Supplied with coffee and doughnuts, Bok talked with the demonstrators until early in the morning, when they reached a compromise in which the pass/fail system could be elected by students on an optional basis. The dean also instituted a number of other reforms: he revitalized the largely corporate law curriculum offered by Harvard by adding classes on environmental and criminal law; he encouraged recruitment of more black and female students; and he created joint degree programs with the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School.
Bok's appointment to the Harvard University presidency was due, however, to his reputation as a realist and a problem solver. In 1969 and 1970 Harvard was racked by student protests. In one demonstration in April 1969, approximately fifty students occupied the main administration building on campus, mistreating some deans and rifling through files. Nathan Pusey, the university's president at the time, had police clear the building of the trespassers. The confrontation, called the "Harvard bust," ended in forty-five injuries and almost two hundred arrests. Pusey was criticized for his handling of the affair and soon afterward announced his early retirement.
The Harvard Corporation, which was responsible for finding a new president, looked for a man who could deal with the particular problems of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their search was the most democratic and widespread in Harvard's history. The corporation queried more than 200,000 alumni and interviewed faculty members to come up with a list of names of people from a wide range of backgrounds. The corpora- tion finally settled on Bok. After the new president's appointment, a Harvard faculty member explained that the corporation "wanted complete openness and it only makes sense in light of the current scene. But no Harvard president will be again selected like this."
Bok resigned his position as president in 1991. Fox Butterfield in the New York Times found that Bok's tenure was marked by several noteworthy accomplishments: "The creation of the John F. Kennedy School of Government; the effective merger of Harvard with Radcliffe; the development of a new curriculum for undergraduates; and a record of strong financial management."
During his tenure Bok also made a name for himself as a writer of thoughtful nonfiction works that explore issues relevant to contemporary education. His first such work, Beyond the Ivory Tower: Social Responsibilities of the Modern University, examines some of the new and difficult ethical questions that had emerged by the early 1980s, such as institutional autonomy, affirmative action, and the university's response to societal needs. Thomas Bender, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted that Bok examines the issues with "a keenly analytic mind and an acute sensitivity to the configurations of institutional power and conflict." Bender further contended: "All future discussions will profit from the clarity of his analysis." Similarly, a reviewer in Virginia Quarterly Review called Beyond the Ivory Tower "the most important book on the university's role in American life" to appear in twenty years.
Bok next wrote Higher Learning and Universities and the Future of America, two books that raise similar questions concerning the state of contemporary education. In Higher Learning, Bok looks at the successes and failures of teaching and learning processes at American universities. "He shrewdly points to the flaws in graduate and professional schools," wrote Fred M. Hechinger in the New York Times Book Review. Universities and the Future of America, a series of essays originally delivered at Duke University, points out ways in which American schools might solve some of their problems with public education, government inadequacies, and illiteracy through a collegiate program emphasizing heightened social responsibility. Nancy S. Dye, herself a dean at Vassar College, wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Bok's vision of socially relevant education and research ought to be taken seriously by readers both inside and outside the academy."
Bok has also turned his attention to matters outside of the American university. In 1993, he published The Cost of Talent: How Executives and Professionals Are Paid and How It Affects America, in which he presents his idea that income differences between education professionals and those in the business world are unjust. "Bok," wrote Paul Krugman in the New York Times Book Review, "has written a fascinating and courageous book that dares to suggest that there is something wrong with this kind of disparity." Even more, Bok examines why these disparities have widened so much since the 1970s and suggests reforms to correct these inequities. While Richard Parker of the Nation applauded Bok for "sift[ing] through an immense amount of material … and synthesiz[ing] his findings into a devastating critique," Joseph A. Grundfest in the Wall Street Journal criticized Bok's proposal of "higher tax rates … on all human endeavors, not just on the overpaid lawyers, doctors, and CEOs that he claims to see among us. … This book comes dangerously close to putting a New Age spin" on Karl Marx. Allan Sloan, reviewing the book for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, suggested that the academic Bok "get a little real-world experience before telling the rest of us how to run our lives." Parker concluded, however, that The Cost of Talent "could become one of the defining books in the current debate about America's economic future."
In The State of the Nation: Government and the Quest for a Better Society, Bok attempts to evaluate the current status of the United States in terms of such factors as crime, education, race, and poverty. Bok finds that the United States is making far more progress than most people believe, but that progress has been slowing down. Bok also believes that the United States hasn't seen enough improvement in comparison to other countries. He proposes an increased role by the federal government to facilitate the future growth of the American economy. Barbara Boyle Torrey of the Washington Monthly found Bok successful at sifting the evidence he amasses to draw these conclusions. She also noted: "He is quick to point out when the research is equivocal and the data inadequate. This caution increases his credibility for the conclusions he does feel confident in making." Other readers were mixed in their evaluation of the book. While a reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the book to be "often dry," the same reviewer also commented: "There are plenty of interesting facts and points that readers will want to store away for future reference." According to Torrey, the overall picture that emerges from Bok's research is that of "a wealthy nation that is under-achieving."
Bok extended his analysis of American society and institutions in The Trouble with Government. In TheState of the Nation, he compares the United States to other countries, but in The Trouble with Government, he examines American citizens' attitudes toward their leadership and governing institutions. His findings were somewhat contradictory, for he discovered that even though Americans still tout the superiority of their nation's system, they seem to be in a downward spiral of confidence about their elected officials and the work they do. He notes that distrust in government is nothing new and could be found even in the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Today, however, citizens demand a great deal from the system in which they express so little trust. Bok suggests that while there are very real problems to be faced, the government is not doing as poorly as people think. A Kirkus Reviews contributor explained: "This is not to say that we have nothing to complain about, but rather that the basis of our complaining is often groundless and reactionary." Furthermore, Bok believes that "American politicians have harmed themselves and their constituents by giving that culture of complaint too much heed." If more citizens were more deeply involved in their government, they would realize how well it really does perform, and they would also improve it further, according to Bok. Cynicism, apathy, and disengagement all aggravate the shortcomings of the government.
Bok's book is admirably forthright, according to Buffalo News reviewer Murray B. Light. "There's nothing fancy or misleading about the title of Derek Bok's latest book," wrote Light. "The president emeritus of Harvard University calls it ‘The Trouble with Government,’ and that's exactly what he describes without pulling any punches. Unlike many academics who in their books seem to unload the biggest words they know and convoluted thinking designed to impress, Bok is direct and straightforward as he discusses the reasons for the failings and frustrations of government." Another reviewer, Michael Lind, in the New York Times, advised that while Bok's political views are clearly "representative of the moderate liberalism dominant on university campuses and in elite editorial offices," it is "not necessary to share his politics to agree with much of his analysis." Lind went on to say that while certainly not everyone would agree with Bok's ideas for correcting the ills of American government, the author "has performed a public service by discrediting a number of popular but misconceived political panaceas based on false diagnoses of what ails the American body politic."
The policy of affirmative action is scrutinized in The Shape of the River: Long-term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions. Affirmative action policies were initiated as a way to offset years of discrimination that kept African Americans and members of other racial minorities out of elite schools and high-ranking positions in business. Affirmative action was sometimes administered through use of a quota system and, as such, led to great resentment from those who felt that better-qualified applicants were being passed over in order to fill minority quotas. During the latter years of the twentieth century, affirmative action policies came under fire as possibly perpetuating the inequities they were designed to overcome. Bok and coauthor William G. Bowen, the former president of Princeton University, studied a number of elite, highly selective colleges and universities to reveal the ways affirmative action had been implemented and the effects of the policy. Their conclusion is that the benefits of creating a multicultural environment outweigh any slight inequities that result from making judgments based solely on test scores.
Reviewing The Shape of the River for Reason, Richard A. Epstein noted that the authors defend affirmative action "in a low-key, measured fashion, with all hyperbolic observations carefully excised. … They believe that once these have been assembled, their detailed account of affirmative action programs will speak for itself." Many reviewers praised the wealth of statistics and other hard data included in the book, which make it valuable even to those who may not agree with the authors' conclusions. "It is a must-read for anyone whose scholarship or professional activities relate to these issues," reported Michele Collison in Black Issues in Higher Education. The authors also made clear that racism still survives and must be fought in the United States, in the words of David Karen in Nation, who concluded: "Bowen and Bok have performed a major service for advocates of affirmative action. … One hopes that some of this evidence will make it more difficult in the future for courts to rule against affirmative action policies."
Bok looks at another troubling aspect of education in the United States with his 2003 work, Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education. Using data and anecdotes from his own tenure as president of Harvard as well as from schools around the country, Bok demonstrates the pressure that is put upon college administrators to risk compromising the higher-education setting by accepting lucrative deals from private businesses, transactions that might develop into conflicts of interest. Shrinking budgets and staff cuts have led to an economic crisis on many campuses, and incursions of private capital look increasingly attractive to those in charge of financing universities. Bok points to three main areas of such commercialization: in athletics, in scientific and medical research, and in for-profit educational programs such as extension programs and refresher courses. For example, drug companies invest millions in university research departments in hopes of finding new drugs, corporations sponsor football and basketball teams, and the coaches receive vastly higher remuneration than other professors, while the athletes themselves are recruited solely for their ability on the playing field rather than in the classroom. Bok allows that there are instances when such private funding might be justified, but he also argues that such funding is a dangerous precedent for educational institutions. Instead, he proposes techniques and mechanisms to avoid practices that might be seen as unethical or detracting from the educational goals of universities and colleges. He also encourages such institutions to take a lesson from private corporations in the ways they might legitimately cut costs without impairing the standard of education. "This book is Bok's way of sounding the alarm for universities to analyze their practices critically," remarked Library Journal contributor Terry Christner. Similarly, New York Times reviewer Sara Rimer observed that Bok "explores the potential dangers colleges and universities face as pressures mount to further blur the boundaries between the corporate and academic worlds." Nathan Glazer, writing in Public Interest, pointed out that Bok "believes that commercialization has not gone as far in scientific research as it has in college sports, and he recommends rules and procedures to limit the role of marketplace considerations." Glazer concluded: "Derek Bok has performed an invaluable service in trying to explicate just what these older [educational] values are." Writing in the New York Times, Anthony W. Marx, president of Amherst College, noted: "Derek Bok has thought hard about these issues and to his great credit has tried to envision solutions to some of them." Such possible solutions include the enforced sharing of knowledge in the research setting and a moratorium on increases in athletic spending. Writing in American Scientist, Daniel J. Kevles praised Universities in the Marketplace for being "rich in provocative and original assessments, especially in treating together policies for the laboratory, learning and athletics."
Bok takes on another thorny problem for universities in his 2006 title, Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More. Publication of the book coincided with Bok taking over interim duties as president of Harvard, a position he held for a year until a replacement could be found in 2007. In Our Underachieving Colleges he presents an array of anecdotes and statistics that demonstrate that students are not learning as much as they should during their college careers. Bok looks at areas such as analytical thinking and writing to conclude that students are faring worse now than they did in the past. Peter Lamal noted in the Journal of Higher Education: "Bok maintains that the key problem is that neither faculties nor their deans and presidents feel the need to continuously discover better ways of educating their students, not to be confused with faddism." Bok proposes improvements in such fundamental areas as speaking, writing, and communications. Other areas needing improvement are critical thinking and civic education. Lamal concluded: "This book is a clarion call. Attention should be paid." Similarly, Scott Walter, writing in Library Journal, termed the work a "thoughtful critique of higher education."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, July 31, 2006, "The Corporate University: A Catholic Response," p. 14.
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American Music Teacher, April-May, 1998, Francesca Blasing, "Words to Live By: A Selected Collection of Inspiring Commencement Addresses," p. 32.
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Barron's, April 7, 2003, Jay Palmer, "Tilting at Ivy Towers: A Former Harvard President Decries the Role of Commerce in the Academy," p. 28.
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Boston Globe, February 22, 2006, "A Familiar Figure Takes over in Interim."
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Change, March, 1999, Harold Orlans, review of The Shape of the River, p. 6; May 1, 2004, "Potpourri," p. 6.
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Chronicle of Higher Education, April 2, 1999, Karla Haworth, "Derek Bok's New Platform," p. A14.
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Dallas Morning News (Dallas, TX), October 18, 1998, Meta G. Carstarphen, review of The Shape of the River, p. 8J; November 6, 1999, Todd J. Gillman, "Common Cause Chief Links Donations, Voter Participation," p. 30A; November 7, 1999, Ira J. Hadnot, interview with Derek Bok, p. 1J.
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Diverse Issues in Higher Education, March 9, 2006, "Rifts between Harvard President and Faculty Lead to Resignation," p. 16.
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Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, January, 2004, "Government: We Don't Like It, but It Won't Go Away," p. 142.
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Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), September 13, 1998, Linda Seebach, "Proud Architects Defend Race-conscious Admissions," p. 2B.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mike Devaney, "Winners and Losers in the Preference Game," p. B7.
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Frontline,http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ (September 10, 2001), interview with Derek Bok.
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