William G. Bowen ’55 knows a thing or two (hundred) about leading world-class institutions. After all, he was president of Princeton University for 16 years, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for another 20, and has served on the boards of a long list of non-profits and businesses, from Denison University and the Smithsonian Institution to American Express.
Over that time, Bowen has authored many highly regarded books about higher education—books based on carefully constructed research and analysis. However, he takes a much more personal approach in his latest book, Lessons Learned, drawing together decades’ worth of stories, insights, and practical wisdom. He takes readers behind closed doors to understand how today’s colleges and universities serve their age-old missions. Given Princeton’s prestige, Bowen has plenty of thoughtful examples to call upon. But he also demonstrates how his greatest lessons often arose from the missteps he made along the way, and how, when it comes to university governance, there are important general principles but often no single right answer.
Judging by the reaction of some of Bowen’s esteemed peers, Lessons Learned might be a handy guide to current and future university leaders. Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, says, “There is an unusual amount of wisdom and good common sense in these pages from which any academic leader or aspiring leader could learn a lot.” And Tufts University president Lawrence S. Bacow concurs: “This is a terrific book. I am only sorry I did not have the benefit of reading it nine years ago. I would have saved myself from making a few big mistakes.”