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Lindsay Foley (left) spoke yesterday as her father, Jack L. Foley, a vice president at Clark University in Worcester, listened. They appeared in Boston before a panel named by the Bush administration; topics included costs and standardized testing proposals.
Lindsay Foley (left) spoke yesterday as her father, Jack L. Foley, a vice president at Clark University in Worcester, listened. They appeared in Boston before a panel named by the Bush administration; topics included costs and standardized testing proposals. (John Bohn/ Globe Staff)

Campus leaders discuss major issues

Several from state talk of costs, tests

Members of a Bush administration commission on higher education heard testimony yesterday from seven Massachusetts college presidents on issues affecting their institutions, including accountability, cost, and quality.

In remarks at the forum, the presidents spoke of a need for curriculum innovation, the complexity of financial aid, and the role of universities in student life.

''Our institutions should be motivating students to become active, engaged, and effective citizens," said Lawrence S. Bacow, president of Tufts University. ''This is the role of a liberal education, not just to convey knowledge, but to convey values also."

The presidents largely steered clear of the most controversial issue before the commission: standardized testing for college and university undergraduates. The chairman of the commission, Charles Miller, former head of the regents of the University of Texas, has suggested that a nationwide performance-comparison system would foster greater accountability in higher education.

Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said testing would harm universities.

''Standardized curricula or testing would limit our ability to educate, to develop new curricula, and to train the innovators we need," she said.

Bacow said, ''I would ask the commission . . . that you not recommend changes to the system that would . . . impose uniform or common standards such as exist in many other nations."

There is growing pressure from some political and education sectors to require standardized testing for college students.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which was enacted under the Bush administration in 2002, requires standardizing testing in public schools from kindergarten through grade 12 and penalizes schools whose students do not improve their grades.

The commission is expected to discuss testing more fully as accreditation comes to the fore on its agenda, said Cheryl Oldham, the panel's executive director.

''No one is talking about mandating testing," she said in an interview. ''But it could be tied to accreditation," Oldham said.

The public hearing at the Fairmont Copley Plaza was conducted by five members of the 19-member Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which was appointed last fall. The commission has until August to make a report.

In addition to Bacow and Hockfield, the college and university presidents who spoke yesterday included Jack M. Wilson of the University of Massachusetts, Dennis Berkey of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Robert Brown of Boston University, Richard Miller of Olin College of Engineering, and Mary Fifield of Bunker Hill Community College.

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