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Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education annotated edition Edition

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1586483937
ISBN-10: 1586483935
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, presents a biting, scattershot indictment of undergraduate education at America's flagship university. The curriculum, he contends, is a crazy quilt of courses that leaves students clueless as to what they should learn and why. Professors are ivory tower eggheads fixated on their narrow subspecialties and incapable of offering guidance about academics, career or character. And students, coddled by parents and plied by administrators with parties, pubs and concerts, remain dependent and infantilized instead of growing up. Lewis spares no one-least of all recently ousted Harvard President Lawrence Summers, a "bully" whose administration combined "arrogance" with "lack of candor" and "chaotic lurching"-and probes rarely-examined academic fundamentals (his comments on the meaninglessness of grades are especially incisive). Unfortunately, his remedies, like a sketchy proposal for general education courses, are vague at best. And while he deplores Harvard's failure to articulate "what it means to be a good person," his discussion of date rape-concluding that women should be encouraged to "move on" and "rise above severe trauma"-is an ethical muddle. Provocative and insightful, Lewis's call for an intellectually and morally coherent education does a much better job of raising important questions than answering them.
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About the Author

Harry Lewis, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and Harvard College professor, has been on the Harvard faculty for thirty-two years. He was Dean of Harvard College between 1995 and 2003 and chaired the College's student disciplinary and athletic policy committees. He has been a member of the undergraduate admissions and scholarship committee for more than three decades. Lewis lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; annotated edition edition (2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586483935
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483937
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By John McGrath on June 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The author makes a refreshingly candid appraisal of how higher education, specifically Harvard College, has been dealing with critical issues affecting the lives and educations of undergraduates. In doing so, he exposes the hypocrisy of political correctness, the vapidity of "consumer oriented" higher education, and, above all, the smugly arrogant attitudes that are held by too many who direct today's institutions of higher learning.

Throughout, the writing is clear and often blunt. This book is especially fascinating in its explanations of the historical background that created many of today's policies and procedures at Harvard and elsewhere, and the cases examined are presented in a lively and interesting way. Lewis makes his points efficiently and effectively, provoking the reader's interest throughout.

This is a book that raises important questions about the overall purpose of higher education in a societal context. Perhaps there could have been a bit more argument as to why the production of thinking, conscientious citizens is so critical in today's world, but I suppose that goes beyond the scope of the book. Yet, if Harvard is indeed the trendsetter for academic policies in the 21st century - - as few of us would deny - - then all Americans should take time to reflect on Lewis's wisdom. There's a lot of important stuff here.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Reid Mccormick on November 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
“The role of moral education has withered, conflicting with the imperative to give students and theirs what they for the money they are paying.”

If you look at the history of higher education, you would see a clear decline in moral education. Colleges and universities of the past were tied very close with the church thus moral teaching came directly from the church’s teachings. As time progress the connection between higher education and the church digressed.

In many ways the university has deviated from its original goals. The curriculum from 17th century would be completely alien to professors and students today. As the years progressed, the goals and curriculum has changed, and in his book Excellence without a Soul, Harry R. Lewis retells the history of Harvard and the issues confronting the renowned school. As the former dean of Harvard College, Lewis was involved in plenty of faculty feuds, student protests, and national scandals. Many times he saw the school take the easy way over the smart route. Many times he saw the school bend to pressure instead of standing firm on values. He states late in the book, “The college is more interested in making students happier than making them better.”

This is a very interesting book. There are plenty of resources criticizing higher education, but rarely are those criticisms written by someone with such high credentials as Lewis.

When I picked up this book I was really looking for a book that addresses the university’s need to approach morality. Though a lot of the book is dedicated to the history of Harvard and its challenge in every aspect, Lewis does spend a bit of time confronting the issue of morality.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Armando Fox on May 8, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Harry Lewis argues persuasively that colleges have abdicated their role of shaping students' character and moral standing, instead infantilizing students by sheltering them from learning from their own mistakes. Rather than using mistakes as character-building teachable moments where personal growth can occur, they allow students to self-segregate by class or ethnicity; they make themselves appealing to students by shallowly providing what students myopically say they want, not what the college believes they need in terms of an education, in part because current definitions of what "a liberal education" should be are so flaccid that they leave a vacuum into which students (and parents) pour their own intentions. The result is that colleges are creating conditions in which the students expect to “blame the system” when something happens to them (personal conflicts, lower-than-expected grade, etc.) and as a result are no better socialized when they graduate than when they began.

There's more to his argument than this, but that's the essence of it. He manages to connect this root cause to such contemporary problems as lapses in academic integrity, grade-point-grubbing, and dealing with cases of non-academic misconduct (an extreme example being date rape). There is some repetition in the book, which makes the argument a bit sprawling, but the prose is a pleasure to read and highly engaging.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 7, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Harvard did not cause the commercialization of higher education but it succumbed to it. In Harry Lewis' words, the top institutions were `overtaken' by it, a polite way of saying that they did not possess the values or the will to counter it. The nub of Lewis' argument is that Harvard now neglects to educate the whole person. Students between the ages of 18 and 22 are no longer children, but neither are they mature adults. The process of moving to mature adulthood (in addition to the process of taking coursework) was once a high priority of our top universities. Now, students are `pleased' rather than educated. We make them happy; we satisfy them, which is to say we allow them to dictate the terms of their student experience.

Where students were once counseled and guided by doctorally-trained institutional mainstays, with long memories and a respect for the successful elements of the institution's traditions, we now have `student services professionals' to make them happy. Lewis compares the modern university to a daycare center.

This may sound harsh, but it really isn't and Lewis' arguments are grounded in deep institutional history and a thoughtful consideration of key issues and events. Most of all he laments the absence of core curricula. He is not calling for a monolithic, soul-searing program of Gradgrindism, with endless recitations and an ethos of threats and intimidation. Far from it. All he is seeking is a handful of courses (say, 10, of which students would take 5) designed to serve as a foundation, a common experience that would unite students both socially and culturally as well as intellectually. Now there is no core.
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