Mourning the Passing of Ernest Boyer

Nov 15th, 1995 | By | Category: 7-3: Investing
By Marjane Ambler, editor
It is with deep regret that we note the passing of Ernest Boyer, one of the tribal colleges’ most influential advocates. Boyer, 67, died December 8 of lymphoma.Boyer served as the U.S. Commissioner of Education under President Jimmy Carter when the Tribally Controlled Community College Act was passed by Congress, providing crucial base funding for the colleges. Carter had vowed not to sign any new programs. At the National Indian Education Association meeting in Niagara Falls in 1978, Lionel Bordeaux (president of Sinte Gleska University) invited Boyer to give the keynote address. Afterwards, Boyer met with a group of traditional Indian people, who urged him to convince Carter to sign the TCCCA. Two weeks later, it was signed.After leaving the Carter Administration, Boyer assumed the presidency of the Carnegie Foundation, a nonprofit policy study center. Vito Perrone recalls that Boyer called him frequently to ask about the tribal colleges. As a professor at the University of North Dakota, Perrone was involved with the tribal colleges since their beginnings. In 1985, Perrone arranged a meeting between Boyer and tribal college presidents in Princeton, N.J. Boyer emerged from the meeting even more inspired by the commitment of the presidents and their accounts of their students.

Believing the story of the tribal colleges needed to be told, he made an immediate commitment to commission a report describing the history and the accomplishments of the colleges. “Tribal Colleges: Shaping the Future of Native America” was written by Paul Boyer and published by the Carnegie Foundation in 1989. The slim volume had an enormous impact. Before it was released, Ernest Boyer called a dozen foundation representatives together and asked them to respond to the tribal colleges report. Just about every one responded; the biggest was MacArthur, which released $3 million the same day, according to Joseph McDonald (president of Salish Kootenai College).

“The Carnegie report really opened a lot of doors with foundations and helped us establish the American Indian College Fund,” says James Shanley (president of Fort Peck Community College and chair of the AICF board). He pointed out Ernest Boyer wrote many landmark reports on education. These included “College: the Undergraduate Experience,” 1987; “Scholarship Reconsidered,” 1990; among others. His 1983 report on secondary education inspired the federal report “A Nation at Risk.”

McDonald remembers when a woman called for advice about a gift, and Boyer suggested the American Indian College Fund. When the staff opened her envelope, they found a check for $50,000.

Talking with Joe McDonald just two weeks prior to his death, Boyer said that of all his work over the years, the tribal colleges work was the most gratifying. “He was a kind, generous man with a good heart. We’re going to miss him tremendously,” says David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College.

Donations to the Ernest L. Boyer Teachers Scholarship Fund can be sent to the Carnegie Foundation, 5 Ivy Lane, New Jersey 08540. Our condolences to his wife, Kathryn, and four children, Ernest Jr., Beverly Coyle, Craig, and Paul.

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