Princeton University Press, 2006.

Review posted July 2007.

Feeling that contemporary educational critics like Allan Bloom and Dinesh D'Souza have painted too damning a critique of higher education, Harvard University President Emeritus Derek Bok says that American undergraduate education has not failed, but merely fallen short of its potential.

The eight central chapters of his book each focus on an aspect of student achievement which he believes could be improved: effective communication, critical thinking, moral reasoning, informed citizenship, preparation for living in a diverse society, preparation for living in an increasingly global society, broadening interests throughout life, and preparing for successful employment. These goals, he says, are nearly universal.

But the people involved in a college have many other goals. Students want degrees, faculty and staff want their jobs, administrators and trustees want to raise money, and the rest of the world want college graduates who are well prepared for their positions in business and the community. Considering this disparity of purpose, it is remarkable that colleges function as well as they do. As Bok notes, the situation may be growing worse: a sharply increasing number of students are interested solely in the economic gains they expect after graduation.

That said, the strongest point of Bok's book is his clear analysis of each of the eight goals listed above. His challenge is primarily to the faculty, who are often reluctant to examine their educational goals and achievements objectively, preferring instead to follow traditional patterns of instruction and curricular requirements.