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Creating Campus Community: In Search of Ernest Boyer’s Legacy

reviewed by Lynne Wiley - 2003

coverTitle: Creating Campus Community: In Search of Ernest Boyer’s Legacy
Author(s): William M. McDonald and Associates
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787957003, Pages: 200, Year: 2002
Search for book at Amazon.com

One of the most enduring, yet elusive goals to animate higher education in recent years has to do with the concept of community-building.  Inspired by Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart (1985), and Parker J. Palmer’s To Know As We Are Known (1983), public and academic discussion of the need for community has grown exponentially since the mid-1980s.  In addition to Bellah and Palmer, well-known works by Ernest L. Boyer (1987, 1990), Amitai Etzioni (1993, 1996) and Alexander Astin (1993) have addressed the subject.  An ERIC search for the years 1992-2002 retrieved 164 articles on “campus community” and an additional 280 on “building community,” representing a seven-fold increase in scholarly attention over the previous decade.


Unfortunately, as many colleges have learned, talking about community is a great deal easier than constructing real communities of learning, belonging, and identity on college and university campuses.  This welcome resource guide by William M. McDonald and associates responds directly, and often creatively, to many of the thorny issues underlying calls for community.  Utilizing Boyer’s 1990 Campus Life:  In Search of Community as a framework for analysis, the authors ask whether, and with what results, Boyer’s work has inspired the creation of community-building models on college and university campuses. The strength of the book lies in its description of five distinct models for building community, as well as an excellent foreword and afterword by Parker J. Palmer.  The book is less successful in addressing the academic/student affairs divide that typically undercuts efforts by professionals on either side to build truly comprehensive campus communities, and in recognizing that however well-designed, co-curricular programming cannot fill that gap.


The latter is an unusual oversight, for the authors (most of whom are student affairs professionals) have extensive ties to Boyer:  McDonald was instrumental in founding the Ernest L. Boyer Laboratory for Learning at Carson-Newman College, where he now serves as Vice President for Student Affairs; the Boyer Center at Messiah College, Boyer’s alma mater, endorsed the book; and one of the best chapters in it is written by Cynthia Wells, the current vice provost and dean of students at Messiah.


In light of the book’s goals, though, it is equally problematic that Boyer’s Campus Life:  In Search of Community is no longer in print (nor does the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching intend to reprint it).  Readers are left to assume that the models discussed in Creating Campus Community respond to Ernest Boyer’s legacy without benefit of the book itself; for, notwithstanding E. Grady Bogue’s summary of the principles underlying Boyer’s vision of community, neither Bogue’s summary nor the principles singled out by other contributors quote Boyer directly.  Several passages cite Boyer’s view that the academic and nonacademic cannot be divided, but fail to elaborate Boyer’s further discussion of that precept, or its relationship to community-building activities described throughout the book, most of which could be termed “best practices” in student affairs. 


For the record, Boyer construed “community” in terms of six principles that “define with some precision the enduring values that undergird a community of learning” – principles that, taken together, “define the kind of community every college and university should strive to be.”  Specifically, Boyer believed that a college or university:

  • Is an educationally purposeful community, a place where faculty and students share academic goals and work together to strengthen teaching and learning on campus.


  • Is an open community, a place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected and where civility is powerfully affirmed.


  • Is a just community, a place where the sacredness of the person is honored and where diversity is aggressively pursued.


  • Is a disciplined community, a place where individuals accept their obligations to the group and where well-defined governance procedures guide behavior for the common good.


  • Is a caring community, a place where the well-being of each member is sensitively supported and where service to others is encouraged.


  • Is a celebrative community, one in which the heritage of the institution is remembered and where rituals affirming both tradition and change are widely shared (pp. 7-8).

Creating Campus Community aims to identify campuses on which one or more of these principles have been used to advance the concept of community.  Accordingly, programs at Pennsylvania State University, Messiah College, Oregon State University, Carson-Newman College, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook are described and assessed.  Readers learn that the student services division at Pennsylvania State University used Boyer’s principles to guide a strategic planning process that involved more than twenty campuses and 80,000 students.  Messiah College, a faith-based, residential undergraduate college near Harrisburg, Pa., employed Boyer’s framework to renew its Christian sense of identity and community.  At Oregon State University, the Division of Student Affairs developed a Campus Compact to energize its leadership team and define how the division would contribute to the mission of the university.  Carson-Newman College, like Messiah a member of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, established the Ernest L. Boyer Laboratory for Learning to help students integrate their in-and-out-of-class experiences through co-curricular education.  And, at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the School of Social Welfare developed a graduate specialization in Student-Community Development to prepare student affairs professionals to build community.


Several points are worthy of note.  First, at campuses on which the sense of mission is especially strong, such as religiously affiliated colleges, the foundational elements necessary to build community are more readily apparent than at other institutions.  At Messiah College, for example, the theology of the Brethren in Christ underscores the importance of community, “significance of community” is one of five foundational values, and students voluntarily sign a “Community Covenant” that governs expectations and conduct prior to their arrival on campus.  Similarly, at Carson-Newman College, nearly two-thirds of the student body identifies with the Baptist denominational heritage of the College, and the vast majority of students are “practicing believers.” Although Messiah had to work to rebuild members’ understanding of their heritage, in both cases legitimate questions could be raised as to whether the institution’s strong religious tradition or its community-building activities had a greater effect on campus community.  The data indicate that the Boyer principles one would consider most related to religious life (e.g., discipline, celebration, caring) were more easily accomplished in these settings than secular goals like openness and justice.


Second, on campuses that are larger and more diverse, connections that students develop through activities and departmental affiliations play an important role in building community.  Similar interests can draw together functional areas within an institution, however.  The manner in which the student affairs division at Oregon State University adapted Boyer’s principles for use in a public university environment, and subsequently developed initiatives around them, is especially noteworthy in this regard.  Still, given the traditional disjuncture between academic and student affairs, it is not surprising that the division was more successful in achieving goals traditionally related to student services (e.g., providing support for transition needs, engaging in staff development, conducting assessment), than to the academic mission of the university (enhancing the learning environment, strengthening the co-curriculum).


Significantly, the foundational principle on which Ernest Boyer built Campus Life, that of educational purposefulness, speaks to the importance of uniting entire campuses around teaching and learning:  “At a college or university, teaching and learning are the central functions, and if faculty and students do not join in a common intellectual quest, if they do not take the educational mission of the institution seriously, then all talk about strengthening community is simply a diversion” (p. 9).  Although the contributors to this volume frequently cite Boyer’s first principle as a rationale, they are less willing to admit that even the best-run student affairs programs cannot create campus communities – no more than campus communities can be built solely on the basis of classroom interactions. 


In fact, until the creation of community becomes a priority of both faculty and staff, students and administrators, Parker J. Palmer’s observation about the personal qualities and commitment necessary to sustain campus communities remains telling:  “. . . it matters not how many programs we create to ‘build community,’ how many trained facilitators or tested group processes or state-of-the-art workshops we budget for and buy.  Every community-building project reported in this book, I wager, owes its ultimate success not to strategies and tactics but to the qualities of selfhood manifest in the leaders of these projects.  Human identity and integrity are the strange attractors of community, and when those qualities are not available among us, you can kiss community good-bye” (pp. x-xi).




Astin, A. W. (1993, October).  Higher education and the concept of community.  Fifteenth David Dodds Henry Lecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W.M., Swidler, A. Tipton, S. M. (1985).  Habits of the heart:  Individualism and commitment in American life.  Berkeley:  University of California Press.


Boyer, E. L. (1987).  College:  The undergraduate experience in America.  New York:  Harper & Row.


Boyer, E. L. (1990).  Campus life:  In search of community.  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press.


Etzioni, A. (1993).  The Spirit of community:  Rights, responsibilities, and the communitarian agenda.  New York:  Crown, 1993.


Etzioni, A. (1996).  The New golden rule:  Community and morality in a democratic society.  New York:  Basic Books, 1996.


Palmer, P. J. (1983).  To know as we are known.  New York:  Harper & Row, 1983.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 7, 2003, p. 1256-1260
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10998, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 10:21:58 AM

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About the Author
  • Lynne Wiley
    Hobart and William Smith Colleges
    E-mail Author
    LYNNE M. WILEY is Vice President for Planning and Executive Affairs at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Her research interests are in the history and philosophy of higher education, academic leadership, and moral philosophy. Recent projects include conducting interviews with leading educators on the subject of ethics and higher education leadership. During the 2001-2002 year, she served as an American Council on Education (A.C.E.) Fellow.
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