Attacking the Elites: What Critics Get Wrong--And Right--About America's Leading Universities

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Attacking the Elites: What Critics Get Wrong--And Right--About America's Leading Universities
A former Harvard president reflects on how elite universities are responding to critiques from the left and the right, and how they can do better

"In this evenhanded and pragmatic text, Bok presents an all-too-rare moderate perspective on a system as ravaged by extremes as the society it serves. . . . A skillfully argued study of higher education."--Kirkus Reviews

Elite American universities, such as Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, are admired throughout the world. They attract highly qualified applicants, and most of their graduates go on to lead successful lives. Scholars and researchers at elite universities contribute to knowledge that benefits the public in countless ways, from the discovery of ancient texts to breakthroughs at the forefront of medical technology.

These same elite institutions, however, are beset by criticism from both sides of America's ideological divide. Liberals press them to enroll more low-income students and to use their reputations and endowments to induce corporations to adopt more just, equitable, and environmentally sound policies. Conservative politicians accuse the universities' predominantly liberal faculty of indoctrinating students. The Supreme Court has recently prohibited universities from giving preference to Black and Hispanic applicants for admission, sparking a wider debate over the policies of elite universities in choosing their student body.

Drawing on over fifty years of experience as a student, professor, dean, and president of Harvard University, Derek Bok examines the current disputes involving admissions, diversity, academic freedom and political correctness, curriculum and teaching, and even athletics in order to determine which complaints are unsubstantiated, which are valid, and how elite universities can best respond to their critics.

Publication Date: 
February 27, 2024