Welcome relief and big expectations accompany Dr. William B. Harvey’s appointment as head of the Office of Minorities in Higher Education
When the American Council on Education announced the new head of its Office of Minorities in Higher Education last month, observers said they were getting the best of both worlds — a respected scholar who is committed to diversity issues and a veteran of the higher education association world.
Currently dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dr. William B. Harvey will assume his position as ACE’s vice president and director of the Office of Minorities in Higher Education in July.
Higher-education observers had been waiting to see how quickly ACE officials would move to fill this influential position. The speculation began soon after Dr. Deborah Carter Wilds, deputy director of the office, left to oversee the Millennium Scholars program for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in February. Wilds’ departure followed that of Dr. Hector Garza, who left to become vice president of a new nonprofit organization, the National Council for Community and Educational Partnerships (see Black Issues, March 16).
Many advocates felt the departures left a void in the association and feared the once-influential office might never return to the heights it once held.
“I was very concerned about the appointment,” says Dr. Reginald Wilson, founding director of the office. “It looked like the office was pretty much gutted. This appointment gives me hope. Bill can hit the ground running.”
Some, like Dr. Joseph “Pete” Silver, chair of the Black Caucus of the American Association of Higher Education, wrote letters to ACE President Dr. Stanley O. Ikenberry urging him to fill the vice president’s position quickly.
Harvey’s appointment “calms my fears about the direction ACE was going in,” says Silver, vice president for academic affairs at Savannah State University. Silver says many African Americans felt their concerns were being marginalized as higher education associations began to hire more Hispanics and Asian Americans.
“With Bill they’ve picked a person who is sensitive to all issues related to minority access and concerns,” Silver says. “Bill won’t be one dimensional.”
When he assumes the job, Harvey will be stepping into one of the most visible and influential posts in higher education. The Office of Minorities in Higher Education was launched in 1981 and quickly became an influential source of information on the status of minorities in education by publishing its report card, the Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education.
So naturally, the expectations for Harvey will be high.
“ACE, as a leading higher education association, insists on a strong voice,” Wilson says. “With this current backlash on affirmative action, we need a strong voice coming from ACE in support of diversity.”
But most are not worried Harvey will fit the bill.
“He is the ideal person to provide national leadership to increase diversity and opportunity in higher education,” Ikenberry says. “He can relate effectively to presidents but also can give us the grass-roots team to mobilize the community in the continuing struggle to provide greater access to a college education.”
Harvey says he took the job because he “heard a commitment [from ACE] to help the office and higher education implement proactive and wide-ranging strategies to increase access to higher education.”
Making Secondary a Primary Concern
One of those strategies should be to form more partnerships with colleges and elementary, junior and high schools, Harvey says.
“You just can’t isolate postsecondary education from K-12,” he says. “If we can’t get them through K-12 successfully, we’re not going to get [minority students] in college.”
The work he will do at ACE will be a continuation of the work he has been doing in Milwaukee. Harvey has served as dean of the university’s school of education since 1995, and has been responsible for creating partnerships between the university and local schools and businesses. Under his leadership, the school of education received national recognition for its innovative approaches to preparing teachers and for embracing and promoting diversity and multiculturalism.
When Harvey came to Wisconsin, the school did not have a presence in the Milwaukee public schools despite its focus on urban education, says Dr. Walter Farrell, a professor of education and associate director of the Urban Investment Strategy Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Farrell, now on leave from the Milwaukee campus, says Harvey single-handedly changed that.
“He gave the school an unprecedented presence in the broader community so that the voices of Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans would be heard,” Farrell says. “He used all the powers at his disposal to turn the school toward the community.”
During his tenure, he also hired two African American senior professors in the school of education, including Dr. Edgar Epps, who was the Marshall Field IV Professor of Urban Education at the University of Chicago.
A Natural Move
Harvey was born in Elizabeth City, N.C., the son of an assistant principal and a homemaker. His wife, Brenda, is a public school administrator. They have two children, Adia, who is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, and Amina, who will graduate from high school this spring.
In addition to his experience at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Harvey also has served as co-director of The Governor’s School on the Environment at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Before that, he was special assistant to the vice-chancellor of research at North Carolina State University and assistant vice-provost for undergraduate studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
His faculty positions include his current post as professor in the department of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; professor of policy studies and higher education as well as associate professor in the department of Educational Leadership and Program Evaluation at North Carolina State University; and assistant professor of Education and Afro-American studies at Earlham College.
Harvey also is no stranger to the association world. He served as the chair and vice chair of the American Association for Higher Education’s Black Caucus, and he was on the governmental relations committees of both the Association of Colleges and Schools of Education in State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education. In addition, he is a former ACE Fellow.
Although many of his colleagues were surprised that he took the ACE job, Farrell says it’s a natural career move.
“It’s an opportunity to really move into higher education administration. ACE has a tremendous network and he’ll get to meet university presidents and trustees,” he says. “It’s a good place to be, especially as member of senior staff. It’s a place to be in the mix. Harvey had a good track record and success dealing in senior-level administration. He’ll be in the queue to be selected for [other positions]. It’s a logical career move.”
Others say Harvey has essentially been preparing for such a post throughout his career.
“He understands that a diverse education is a better education, and he’s always lived that way,” says Dr. James C. Renick, president of North Carolina A&T State University, also a former ACE fellow.
Taking it Further
One of the most important contributions the Office of Minorities makes is publishing its annual minority status report, Harvey says. But he says he wants to take the study further.
“What happens to the research?” Harvey asks. “Are there programs or initiatives that could target the things we identify as concerns? The real utility is in the practical.”
Many of Harvey’s colleagues hope that he can re-energize the office.
“The office has been relatively quiet in recent years,” says Dr. Walter Allen, professor of education at the University of California at Los Angeles. “He’s well suited for the job. He’s got a fine record of research and he’s a scholar activist. He will grow the office and increase its profile.”
Myrna Adams, vice president of institutional equity at Duke University, adds: “Bill is not a showcase person. He isn’t going to sit there just to be seen. He’s going to try to make a difference.”
Others say Harvey has a strong network of diverse people on campuses and associations that he can draw on.
“He’ll be a voice, an advocate and he’s a respected faculty member,” says his friend, Jacqueline Woods, community college liaison for the U.S. Department of Education. “He’s also someone who is not a stranger to us in higher education.”
Harvey says that his appointment comes at a critical time in the country because there is a backlash against affirmative action programs on the nation’s campuses.
“The issues that we are facing are not ones that will go away,” he says. “They are long-standing and deeply rooted. In 1970, Clifton Wharton became the first African American to head a major research university. And I thought that would have opened the doors to a lot of talented people. But you fast forward 20 years and look at how many African American presidents of major universities you have. If you look at the institutional level, hardly anything has happened at all. It is our responsibility to exert leadership. So I’m coming in and jumping in with both feet.”
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