Barry Mills: Thoughts for the New Year

Barry Mills writes about a personal challenge and some of the issues and opportunities on the horizon for Bowdoin in 2011.

I have been noticeably silent over the past few weeks here on the Bowdoin Daily Sun. I stayed off the Web intentionally for a while for fear of overexposure. During this hiatus, the BDS has featured the two long articles in the Bowdoin Orient chronicling my ten years as president of the College. The articles are filled with my views on a whole variety of topics. The student reporters did an excellent job on what I describe as “my obituary,” and I confess to being relieved that the chronicle is closed for now. I spent a lot of time with the reporters, Zoë Lescaze ’12 and Nick Daniels ’12—a very pleasant experience for me, although I always remembered that they are news people. Aside from the substance of the articles, the most consistent reaction I received was how well written the articles are. I agree. And the photograph of me on the Bowdoin Quad in my rocking chair on the first snowy morning of winter was truly a chilling experience and great fun in making the article work for the students.

As reported in the Orient article, I have been spending a great deal of time in Boston lately dealing with our oldest son Will’s health issues. Will had a brain tumor about two years ago, and although he recovered from the cancer, he is now suffering from the side effects of his treatment. He has been in Massachusetts General Hospital and periodically at Spaulding Rehab since September. Karen and I have been with Will during this time—making sure that at least one of us is with him each day, and gathering together when things get more frantic down here. We have received fantastic support from the Bowdoin community, for which we are very grateful. Will’s future is uncertain, but we continue to be optimistic. I suspect I will be doing a good deal of commuting to campus from Boston over the next few weeks and months.

As we begin the new year (this is our second new year celebration—the opening of the College in late summer is, for many of us, a new year too), the College is in fantastic shape. The fall semester saw many triumphs in the classroom, in the arts, as well as on the playing fields. Bowdoin faculty continue their dedicated work on behalf of our students, and continue to garner professional honors, publish, and produce excellent work at an impressive rate.

© Dennis Griggs / Tannery Hill Studios

Financially, we are navigating these complicated times relatively well. I read in a recent Thomas Friedman op-ed in The New York Times that the real test of leadership is when you say “no” to proposals rather than supporting whatever you are asked to do. I don’t know if it is a test of leadership, but it is certainly a test of fortitude and principle as we at Bowdoin—like many of you—are required to make tough choices and set priorities. This is difficult work, but it is also necessary work.

There are many issues facing us this year, but none is more pressing than cost and financial aid. These are familiar concerns, but the price point we have reached and the economic circumstance of the times have made them ever more pressing, and I suspect they will continue to be challenging well into the future. Over the next several months, we will be looking closely at our economic models and our options for financing the quality of a Bowdoin education in order to balance, in a thoughtful manner, the cost of the education with the quality we strive to deliver. You will hear more from me on this subject in the coming months.

Another important opportunity that will continue to develop this year involves the land we are about to acquire at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. As you may have read on the BDS, we recently received approval from the U.S. Department of Education for a no-cost to the College conveyance of 259 acres of Navy land, of which about 146 acres are developable. The land will likely be conveyed to Bowdoin sometime this calendar year. In my view, this is a significant opportunity for the College and our future. The land is quite raw and the topography is complex, so it takes real imagination to consider what it may mean to Bowdoin in the short term and the very long term.

One of our trustees e-mailed me about all of this. He was reading a history of the College that describes our founders walking the land of our current campus, each wondering how best to utilize what was a vast rough piece of land in the wilds of Maine (back then, Massachusetts). As a group of us toured the BNAS site in November, this trustee said he could now relate to what our historic predecessors must have felt surveying the land that would become the Bowdoin campus. My hope is that we can have even a portion of the foresight, wisdom, and boldness of those who long ago imagined this College, and who had the ambition and vision to endow it for generations to come.

It won’t be long now until the spring semester gets underway and our campus comes roaring back to life. I look forward to more frequent communications over the next few months, and as always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. For now, I wish you all a very happy, and especially a healthy New Year.

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In the coming weeks, 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.

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