A Seaside Chat with Barry Mills

President Barry Mills visits Brunswick’s Mere Point for a lively give-and-take.

I was invited to Brunswick’s Mere Point this week to speak at a gathering of summer and year-round residents at the Mere Point Yacht Club. The Mere Point community is located at the very tip of a point of land that juts into Casco Bay, about ten minutes from campus. It is a beautiful setting, and one that is familiar to many generations of Bowdoin graduates. Many of the residents have deep and longstanding connections to the College, but there were also proud alums from other places, including Williams, Cornell, and Trinity.

There were some young folks in the crowd who were probably encouraged by their parents to come meet the president of Bowdoin. But most of the good people in the room were closer to my age, with some a bit older. The conversation was animated and very engaged, with the topics covered reflecting concerns of the day.

The central issue on most peoples’ minds was the cost of college and how future generations will be able to afford the education. There are no easy answers, and I could not assure them that the cost of college would moderate anytime soon. But while I couldn’t allay their concerns, it was very valuable for me to find myself in a room with people who are genuinely committed to education and to Bowdoin, and to listen to them speak in an educated and articulate way about the anxiety they experience as they look out at the expense of college. I wish our government leaders could have the same experience more often without the ever-present distraction of the media.

As the conversation progressed, there were other really interesting issues raised. One fellow from the South wanted to understand how we deal with the perception (and perhaps the reality) that diversity of political view doesn’t exist on our campus. He said that some people from the South or West don’t want to send their children to the dreaded Northeast to be filled with all those liberal ideas. I think the people in the crowd were surprised to learn that there is more diversity of thought on our campus than is commonly perceived. There is no question that our campus (like many college campuses in America) is more liberal than the general population. But it is also true that as our faculty gets younger (or more accurately, as the people of the 60s and 70s start to retire), new faculty come to our campuses reflecting a generation with different life experiences.

I also think people were surprised to learn about the student groups on campus that are genuinely quite conservative in perspective. There is, for instance, a very active Christian fundamentalist group at Bowdoin that is serious and well respected. People were even more surprised to learn that as we have worked to increase diversity at the College in all aspects, we have become a campus that is welcoming to students with a conservative viewpoint.

We also talked a bit about the Internet and distance learning. There is a common perception that all of this doesn’t fit within the Bowdoin model of education. I discussed with the group my recent fascination with integrating new kinds of learning and teaching into the Bowdoin model in a way that will allow us to expand our offerings and the sophistication of the College. Of course, I assured folks that we would have to do this in a manner consistent with our core mission of educating students through the close student-faculty interaction that is the hallmark of Bowdoin.

The most interesting question, though, was from the person who asked me what advice and help grandparents might give their children and grandchildren. Beyond the obvious joke (money!), I described my views on the intense pressure that my generation of parents has put on their kids. Of course, we want our sons and daughters to go the best schools, but I reminded these grandparents to offer advice that will allow their grandchildren to find their own way. It is important for our young generation to achieve, but their health and happiness come first. And while I believe that there is no better education than what we offer at Bowdoin, I also believe that a student can get a great education at almost any college or university in America, if the student is serious. If the student is happy and focused, there is enormous opportunity for them at many colleges and universities. We should celebrate their success wherever they may be.

I enjoyed the evening. It had been at least six weeks since I had given a talk, and that is about as long as a college president can endure without an audience.

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Over the summer, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at mills@bowdoin.edu

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.

Comments

  1. Bill Chapman says:

    Tell those grandparents to set up 529s

  2. Mike Coster says:

    Great Talk ,Barry
    Enjoyed your perspective.
    When can you come to Canada ??
    Bowdoin ranks with the very best colleges and universties inCanada
    Mike Coster “57

  3. Stephen Laforet says:

    Rest assured that your writings and wisdom give great comfort (as well as validation that Bowdoin was the ideal choice for our children) to many of us out in “parent-land”. Looking forward to the coming school year!

  4. Nobuhisa Ishizuka says:

    The best advice I have heard was given by David Schizer at Columbia Law School, who has views similar to yours: Don’t let your children waste their lives living other people’s dreams.

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