Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)

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Overview

"Derek Bok's Our Underachieving Colleges is readable, balanced, often wry, and wise. This book should be required reading for every curriculum committee and academic dean. As someone who has lived his whole life in the academy, Bok knows how to bring institutional practice in line with research on how students learn best. In a period when many other countries are working hard at improving undergraduate education, this book should serve as a spur to overcome the complacency that attends most discussions of American undergraduate education, especially in our leading institutions."--Mary Patterson McPherson, President Emeritus of Bryn Mawr College and Vice President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

"A bookcase-worth of jeremiads, long on invective but short on evidence, decries the supposedly sorry state of undergraduate instruction. The Closing of the American Mind, Illiberal Education, The University in Ruins: the titles give the game away. In Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok argues persuasively that, far from pinpointing a real crisis, these accounts are exercises in nostalgia, laments for an Edenic era that never existed. In jargon-free prose he makes accessible hitherto obscure studies on topics that range from students' satisfaction with their college experience to the efficacy of ethics courses. What's even more important, he draws on this research to advance useful and usable prescriptions for colleges that, while not doing badly, could do much better. For anyone with an open mind about the state of American higher education, Our Underachieving Colleges is indispensable reading."--David L. Kirp, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, author of Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education

"Radical and conservative critics of undergraduate education have met their match in Derek Bok's new book. After carefully spelling out what the core purposes of undergraduate education should be--learning to communicate, learning to think critically, building good character, preparing for citizenship, living with diversity, preparing for a global society, developing breadth of interests, and preparing for a career--Our Underachieving Colleges explains why undergraduate education in America is not as good as it could be and offers suggestions for improvement. Trustees, academic administrators, and faculty across the nation should all read Our Underachieving Colleges because Bok holds them all responsible for the deficiencies of our undergraduate programs and assigns each an important role in the quest for improvement. Perhaps his most important message is that undergraduate education is more than what goes on in the classroom; every aspect of life and decision making in academia is involved."--Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics and Director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute (CHERI)

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Charles McGrath
In the Bok view, American colleges and universities are victims of their own success: they answer to so many constituencies and are expected to serve so many ends that no one can agree on even a few common goals, and in the meantime they have grown complacent.
New York Review of Books - Andrew Delbanco
Derek Bok paints a picture of colleges that, if not dysfunctional, are operating far below capacity. He questions the coherence and purpose of departmental majors, describes programs of study abroad as little more than recreational excursions, criticizes lecturers for their indifference to whether students learn anything, and, in general, hold faculty accountable for ignoring research about which teaching methods are most effective.
Boston Globe - Charles M. Vest
In Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok argues forcefully that those of us within the academy can do a much better job of educating our undergraduates, widening their vistas, and preparing them to succeed in life.
Editor & Publisher - Michael M. Spear
Derek Bok . . . points out in his recent book . . . that civic responsibility must be learned, that it is neither natural nor effortless.
Washington Monthly - James Beale
It's hard to think of anything more central to a university than teaching. . . . The cause of improving teaching quality—and of perhaps imparting practical knowledge to students—now has a well-placed champion: Derek Bok. . . . As the highest profile academic in the world, he'll have a chance to change the way academics think about the interaction between the professor and the student. But as Bok may know better than anyone else, he has his work cut out for him.
The American Enterprise Online - George Leef
Derek Bok's most recent book, Our Underachieving Colleges, is worth scrutinizing. . . . Bok is . . . on solid ground in pointing out that our colleges underachieve in preparing students for citizenship.
Commentary - Donald Kagan
In Our Underachieving Colleges, [Derek] Bok acts as both diagnostician and healer, wielding social-science statistics and professional studies to trace the etiology of today's illnesses and to recommend palliative treatments for what he has discovered.
Harvard University Gazette - Ken Gewertz
Bok focuses not on curriculum change but on pedagogy. He asks why college teachers have not taken more advantage of the extensive research that has been done on the conditions that allow students to learn most effectively.
Change - Mary Taylor Huber
What distinguishes Our Underachieving Colleges from other books in the genre is the author's focus on what research has to say about what students are and are not learning, along with his insistence that institutions should put their money where their mouths are and invest in the teachers, teaching, and educational experiences that are likely to help them achieve their own chosen goals.
University Affairs - Gary Poole
In his book, Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok, past-president of Harvard University, challenges postsecondary institutions to live up to their educational mandate. . . . [H]is stature in American higher education adds credibility and weight to his challenge. Also, the book is well researched and well argued. As such, it has the potential to motivate change. . . . If you are a senior administrator or board member, please read this book. If you are not, consider making a gift of it to someone else.
Journal of Higher Education - Peter Lamal
This book is a clarion call. Attention should be paid.
From the Publisher

"In his book, Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok, past-president of Harvard University, challenges postsecondary institutions to live up to their educational mandate. . . . [H]is stature in American higher education adds credibility and weight to his challenge. Also, the book is well researched and well argued. As such, it has the potential to motivate change. . . . If you are a senior administrator or board member, please read this book. If you are not, consider making a gift of it to someone else."--Gary Poole, University Affairs

"This book is a clarion call. Attention should be paid."--Peter Lamal, Journal of Higher Education

New York Review of Books
Derek Bok paints a picture of colleges that, if not dysfunctional, are operating far below capacity. He questions the coherence and purpose of departmental majors, describes programs of study abroad as little more than recreational excursions, criticizes lecturers for their indifference to whether students learn anything, and, in general, hold faculty accountable for ignoring research about which teaching methods are most effective.
— Andrew Delbanco
Boston Globe
In Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok argues forcefully that those of us within the academy can do a much better job of educating our undergraduates, widening their vistas, and preparing them to succeed in life.
— Charles M. Vest
Education Week
Bok in this book criticizes the state of undergraduate education. . . . His research suggests that common problems in education extend beyond K-12.
Editor & Publisher
Derek Bok . . . points out in his recent book . . . that civic responsibility must be learned, that it is neither natural nor effortless.
— Michael M. Spear
Washington Monthly
It's hard to think of anything more central to a university than teaching. . . . The cause of improving teaching quality—and of perhaps imparting practical knowledge to students—now has a well-placed champion: Derek Bok. . . . As the highest profile academic in the world, he'll have a chance to change the way academics think about the interaction between the professor and the student. But as Bok may know better than anyone else, he has his work cut out for him.
— James Beale
Commentary
In Our Underachieving Colleges, [Derek] Bok acts as both diagnostician and healer, wielding social-science statistics and professional studies to trace the etiology of today's illnesses and to recommend palliative treatments for what he has discovered.
— Donald Kagan
Harvard University Gazette
Bok focuses not on curriculum change but on pedagogy. He asks why college teachers have not taken more advantage of the extensive research that has been done on the conditions that allow students to learn most effectively.
— Ken Gewertz
Change
What distinguishes Our Underachieving Colleges from other books in the genre is the author's focus on what research has to say about what students are and are not learning, along with his insistence that institutions should put their money where their mouths are and invest in the teachers, teaching, and educational experiences that are likely to help them achieve their own chosen goals.
— Mary Taylor Huber
University Affairs
In his book, Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok, past-president of Harvard University, challenges postsecondary institutions to live up to their educational mandate. . . . [H]is stature in American higher education adds credibility and weight to his challenge. Also, the book is well researched and well argued. As such, it has the potential to motivate change. . . . If you are a senior administrator or board member, please read this book. If you are not, consider making a gift of it to someone else.
— Gary Poole
Journal of Higher Education
This book is a clarion call. Attention should be paid.
— Peter Lamal
The New York Times
In the Bok view, American colleges and universities are victims of their own success: they answer to so many constituencies and are expected to serve so many ends that no one can agree on even a few common goals, and in the meantime they have grown complacent.
— Charles McGrath
The American Enterprise Online
Derek Bok's most recent book, Our Underachieving Colleges, is worth scrutinizing. . . . Bok is . . . on solid ground in pointing out that our colleges underachieve in preparing students for citizenship.
— George Leef
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691136189
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 12/26/2007
  • Pages: 434
  • Sales rank: 705,727
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Derek Bok is President Emeritus and Research Professor at Harvard University and the author of many major books on higher education, including (with William Bowen) "The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College" and "University Admissions and Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education" (both Princeton).
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments vii
Introduction 1
CHAPTER 1: The Evolution of American Colleges 11
CHAPTER 2: Faculty Attitudes toward Undergraduate Education 31
CHAPTER 3: Purposes 58
CHAPTER 4: Learning to Communicate 82
CHAPTER 5: Learning to Think 109
CHAPTER 6: Building Character 146
CHAPTER 7: Preparation for Citizenship 172
CHAPTER 8: Living with Diversity 194
CHAPTER 9: Preparing for a Global Society 225
CHAPTER 10: Acquiring Broader Interests 255
CHAPTER 11: Preparing for a Career 281
CHAPTER 12: Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education 310
Notes 345
Index 395
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2006

    Critical thinking it is not

    When Bok refers to 'underachieving' he is putting more emphasis on his belief that colleges are not performing up to their potential as opposed to saying that colleges have suffered degradation over time. His analysis lacks any substantial quantitative analysis that might help assess the problems and their priorities. Bok likes to discuss 'critical thinking' and its importance as a goal of college instruction and yet demonstrates that he is confused about it himself. He derrogates 'formal logic' and 'advanced calculus' as not part of critical thinking. As a former scientist I can tell him and you that mathematics and logic are indispensable tools in the conduct of science. Surely science and its methods depend on these kinds of critical thinking. There is some data out there that he could have used to show the underachievement in more quantitative terms. For example, the U.S. Department of Education's 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy shows that college graduates don't know as much as their counterparts as recently as ten years ago and have slipped about a college year in this measure. There are a number of unneccessary digressions along familiar themes of post-modern political correctness including multiculturalism, diversity, racism, sexism and affirmative action. I guess his tenure in academia has expanded his interests in these pessimisms. I would not have finished the book except for the incentive that I could write this review if I did. I would not recommend this book to others.

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