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Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education Hardcover – January 1, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-1586483937 ISBN-10: 1586483935 Edition: annotated edition

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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: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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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Customer Reviews

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Most of all he laments the absence of core curricula.
Richard B. Schwartz
Granted, at MHC some students took the easy way out; our class valedictorian was a French major who was from France!
Suzanna C. Nemeth
Lewis makes his points efficiently and effectively, provoking the reader's interest throughout.
John McGrath

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 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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50 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
After a twenty year career as a college professor, I continue to read books that challenge the academic world.

This time I was reminded of the time I attended an academic conference in my field. The keynote panel focused on a task force charged with investigating "how to motivate top researchers to stay active throughout their careers." I wondered why the 300 or so audience members should care about half a dozen well-paid, tenured professors at top-tier schools.

And that's how I felt as I thumbed through this book. In a televised interview, Lewis claims he received supportive comments from colleagues at all sorts of universities. But much of this book has to be about Harvard or a clone. Grade inflation makes less sense when your university accepts a wide range of students. And Lewis's claim that professors are "volunteers" who could easily get another job should draw scornful laughter from professors all over the world. After ten years in the academy, many professors are unemployable elsewhere, and only the most exceptional tenured professors can move to other schools.

Ironically, this book about academia does not draw on academic scholarship. As a result, Lewis, a math teacher, comes across as what another reviewer calls a "cranky old man."

For example, Lewis reminds us, at one time teachers and scholars lived together. A woman could study Classics one-on-one with a male professor, finishing with a civilized glass of sherry.

These nostalgic observations should be discussed in the framework of cultural and social change. Trends related to privacy, compartmentalization of home and work and gender roles all account for these changes.
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1 of 1 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steve A. Wiggins on January 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lewis's book points to the current deep crisis that faces American higher education. Those of us who've participated in the system professionally are well aware of its problems. Ironically, one of those problems is that practically every school wants to be like Harvard. For those of us who went elsewhere, this i like reading the memoirs of a child of privilege. It is hard to feel sorry for Harvard. At the same time, Lewis cogently demonstrates that higher education has indeed been loosed from its moorings in the liberal arts. His is a good book to bring attention to a serious problem in our business-oriented culture.
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