Improving dissemination of news--particularly but not exclusively good news--about Harvard depends not only upon our making better use of existing media opportunities and developing new ones but also upon your being more open and cooperative. ...Your agreeing to appear on (Lawrence) Spivak's program ("Meet the Press") is one step.
--Memo sent by Charles U. Daly, former vice-president for government and community affairs, and Robin Schmidt, former assistant vice-president for public affairs, and now vice-president for government and community affairs to President Bok.
It was two years ago when this memo from President Bok's close aides prompted him to say that he "disagreed with the tone" of what he called a "hastily written intra-office memorandum" and "took exception to many of the ideas it contained."
When Derek Bok finally agreed to appear before Meet the Press last Sunday, it marked only the second time Bok had spoken directly to a national audience in his five years in his current position. Other university presidents, including former Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey '28, have often found themselves leading public discussions on a variety of educational issues. "Derek would be perfectly content if he could get his job done at Harvard and never have his name in the paper," Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University and Bok's closest aide, said last spring.
Five years into his job, however, Bok has found a lot more to say. In his television appearance Sunday he emphasized the dangers of increasing federal intervention in the files of private education and the need for universities to determine admissions policies on their own. He defended the University's right to give preference to minority students in the admissions process, calling a recent California Supreme Court decision ruling making this process illegal "unwise."
"We are interested in educating students who will make a distinct contribution to the nation," Bok said. "And in a country where there are so few minority persons in leading businesses, law firms, hospitals, and government agencies, we feel a minority student may be especially able to make such contributions."
In response to figures cited by Edward B. Fiske, education editor of the New York Times, showing that the number of blacks attending Harvard has dropped since 1972-74, Bok said that there has been no reduction in the University's commitment to educating and hiring minorities. He asserted that these figures reflect the fact that "other students are competing heavily for able minority students." He pointed out that one-third of all black students who score over 700 on the SAT eventually attend Harvard.
Fiske said yesterday that issues such as minority admissions must be addressed by university presidents, saying that "the level of testimony on higher education before Congress and elsewhere leaves much to be desired."