Excellence Without a Soul by Harry R. Lewis

“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.

He says it bluntly, “Harvard today tiptoes away from moral education, little interested in providing it and embarrassed to admit it does not wish to do so.” Schools have completely abandoned the idea of morality, mainly because in a postmodern culture morality is a questionable idea.

I found this book to be extremely interesting. I never would have thought working at a prestigious school such as Harvard would be that difficult, but it actually sounds worse.