Tufts University Trustee Emeritus Dr. Bernard Harleston, Marie Harleston and Boston City Councilor Charles C. Yancy at the Tufts University Africana Center 40th Anniversary Gala at the Charles Hotel on Saturday, February 20, 2010. Courtesy Alonso Nichols via Kim Thurler

Tufts to rededicate South Hall in honor of trustee emeritus, former dean

Tufts will rename South Hall as Bernard Harleston Hall next fall in honor of Harleston, former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the first African American tenure-track professor at Tufts.

University President Anthony Monaco recommended to the Board of Trustees that a residence hall be dedicated for Harleston to recognize the trustee emeritis’ contribution to Tufts both as an administrator and as an academic, according to a press release provided by Executive Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler.

His life’s work has been committed to addressing issues of diversity, inclusion and access in higher education — values that define the fabric of Tufts University,” Monaco said in the press release.

Harleston, who initially joined Tufts in 1956 as an assistant professor of psychology, said he met with the chair of the Board of Trustees prior to being hired, an unusual gesture that Harleston said he appreciated and attributed to Tufts’ lack of other professors of color. He noted that while Tufts had very few students of color at that time, the university was welcoming toward him.

“[Then-University President Nils Wessell] made it very clear as soon as I got there how welcoming the university was … and that was my experience for the entire time that I was there,” Harleston said.

At the time, Harleston maintained involvement within the university beyond the psychology department. In the mid-1960s, Wessell asked Harleston to chair the newly formed Committee on Negro Education. As a result of the committee’s work, Tufts hosted and developed a pre-college enrichment program for minority and low-income students, which helped to increase the number of students of color at Tufts dramatically, Harleston said.

Harleston said he has advocated for schools to provide robust student support and services, particularly for minority students. In a 1965 article in The Atlantic, he wrote about how pre-college programs can significantly improve the prospects of minority or disadvantaged students. Harleston added that Tufts’ program was in some respects a forerunner to Upward Bound, a federal high school enrichment program founded in 1965.

“At the heart [of the issue] is trying to figure out and support … services and programs that make students feel welcome,” Harleston said. “Special attention has to be given to both the needs and the cultures that come with kids from various backgrounds.”

As a professor of psychology, Harleston’s research focused on human motivation. He said that he helped to develop the Experimental Psychology class at Tufts, and in the 1960s he hosted a television series called “Man and His Motives” that was shown on WGBH. According to the press release, experiences such as these ones helped make Harleston a better teacher.

In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Harleston decided to make more of a commitment to the African American community and briefly left Tufts to be the provost of Lincoln University, a historically-black college in Pennsylvania. However, in 1970, he returned to Tufts as the dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences.

During this time, many institutional changes came about with regard to increasing access for African American students, including an expanded curriculum and new faculty outreach, according to a Spring 2002 article in the Tufts Online Magazine.

“Tufts began more concentrated efforts to hire black faculty members, particularly when Harleston assumed the position of dean of the faculty,” the article reads.

Harleston served in his position as dean for ten years, and in 1981 he became the President of the City College of New York, a position he held until 1992. He said that he chose to lead City College because he saw it as an opportunity to further his work on increasing higher education access.

“The opportunities for students were far greater at Tufts than at City College,” Harleston said. “But the commitment in terms of what the faculty were trying to do and the energy that the students brought was equal and in some ways greater.”

Harleston said that over the years, Tufts and other American universities have made significant progress in increasing access to higher education. As a trustee of Tufts between 2002 and 2007, he said it was evident to him that former University President Lawrence Bacow had made diversity and financial aid major goals, although he noted that all universities can still improve in these areas.

Monaco commended Harleston for his longstanding commitment to important issues embraced by the university.

“We are deeply grateful that he dedicated 25 years of his academic career to Tufts, helping to strengthen this institution and shape it into the remarkable place it is today,” Monaco said.

Former Provost Sol Gittleman was a former student of Harleston, and agreed that Harleston has made an immeasurable impact on the university.

“Bernie Harleston deserves every honor Tufts can give him,” he told the Daily in an email. “He has been part of the soul of this institution for more than half a century.”

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