An article in today’s The Boston Globe entitled, “Ex-dean says Harvard run like day care,” starts off by saying, “Harvard University leaders are running the school like ‘a day care center for college students,’ trying to dazzle undergraduates with concerts and a new pub, rather than teaching them to be responsible citizens.” The article summarizes the views of Harry Lewis, the former Dean of Harvard College, that he states in his new book, Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education.

The article goes on to say,

…the book is the result of his attempt to make sense of the forces pushing his beloved university into a “consumerist” mode.

He said that other elite universities suffer many of the same problems.

Parents paying the full cost of Harvard, or $41,675 this year, “expect the university to treat them like customers, not like acolytes in some temple they are privileged to enter,” Lewis writes.

They routinely call professors to complain about their children’s grades, he writes, and they believe that the university should erase any evidence of bad academic performance or personal misconduct, excusing those failings as symptoms of psychiatric problems or disabilities.

Harvard, meanwhile, participates in the coddling, Lewis said. Administrators, he argues, get carried away with their concern about Harvard’s low scores on a student satisfaction survey, compared with peer institutions.

That American colleges are taking a consumerist bent is not a new concept. Professor Fred Rudolph ’42, an expert on the history of American colleges and universities, made that point in a lecture he gave at Williams in 1993. (A transcript of the lecture is in the appendix of the current paperback version of his book, Mark Hopkins and the Log: Williams College, 1836-1872.)

So the question arises, has Williams been equally obsequious to students, or has it done a better job of combining education and consumerism than Harvard?

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