Barry Mills: Setting the Record Straight

 

Bowdoin President Barry Mills responds to a report about Bowdoin by the National Association of Scholars.

 

 

Our College came under attack last week. It was an attack on our students, our alumni, our faculty, and our values. It is an attack that continues today on the blogs, in the comment streams, and on Twitter.

It’s time to respond.

Why has it taken us a week to answer the charges contained in a 359-page document (plus another 119 pages or so of background material) financed at a cost of “well over $100,000” by an individual who has not spent more than a few hours on our campus and produced by a 25-year-old organization whose investigators have no first-hand experience with what we teach or how we teach it?

The answer might well be found in “The Offer of the College,” which urges us “to gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work and the criticism of your own.” When the report was made public last Wednesday, the College issued a statement promising to review it, “because we encourage open discourse on the effectiveness of American higher education and because we support academic freedom, which is the essence of a liberal arts institution.” A week later, that review is complete.

Let me be clear and direct: the report by the National Association of Scholars is mean-spirited and personal. It exaggerates its claims and misrepresents both what we do at Bowdoin and what we stand for. This is not just my reaction. It is the considered opinion of many members of our community, including those who ought to know best—our current students and their parents, and alumni who have spent many, many hours in our classrooms and labs, and who describe an experience very different from the one contained in this report.

Let me be clear and direct: the report by the National Association of Scholars is mean-spirited and personal. It exaggerates its claims and misrepresents both what we do at Bowdoin and what we stand for.

I will not attempt to address every misrepresentation or factual error in the NAS report. There will be time in future weeks to take these on. Today, I will simply focus on the most egregious among them—the inaccurate statements getting the most “air time” on blogs and through social media.

Among these is Bowdoin is somehow un-American—that our “worldview” and what we teach here are “antithetical to the American experiment” or that “Bowdoin on the whole shows little interest in the West.” Frankly, it’s hard to know where to begin with such nonsense. The American flag flies high over our campus atop a flagpole dedicated to our graduates who died in defense of America in World War I. This memorial abuts another granite structure—dedicated not long ago—honoring those who served our country in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. On the other end of the Quad stands Memorial Hall, built and preserved in memory of Bowdoin students and alumni who fought in the Civil War. We are proud of these memorials and eternally grateful to the people whose names are etched on their panels. We are also proud of the Bowdoin graduates currently serving in our nation’s armed forces and of the young men and women who are inducted into the military each year during public campus ceremonies that immediately follow Commencement. Beyond the armed forces, Bowdoin graduates serve our nation in government and in the law. They are teachers, doctors, artists, non-profit leaders, and entrepreneurs. They are the backbone of our country, and to suggest otherwise is to insult their accomplishments and to demean their significant contributions. We are told by the NAS that “American Exceptionalism” is “a term of derision” on the Bowdoin campus. Yet, this is the same campus that just this year hosted a public performance of the United States Marine Band in Farley Field House and where each year at Convocation, we open the ceremonies by singing “America the Beautiful.”

It’s important that we honor America through memorials and music, but most important is what we teach our students about this nation and its traditions. Perhaps the most repeated criticism by the NAS is that “history majors at Bowdoin are not required to take a single course in American history;” that we do not offer and do not require a general survey course in American history; and that “there are no courses devoted to political, military, diplomatic, or intellectual history except those that deal with some group aspect of America.” Let’s take these one at a time:

It is true that history majors are not required to take a single course in American history, but why is that? Requirements are generally put into place to guide students to courses that they are otherwise disinclined to take. At Bowdoin, we know students interested in history have already studied American history in high school and that they will naturally gravitate to these courses here. Last year, 100% of our graduating history majors took AT LEAST one course in U.S. history. Many took more than one such course. This year, that number stands at 98%. With this level of participation, a requirement is…well, not required.

Last year, 100% of our graduating history majors took AT LEAST one course in U.S. history. Many took more than one such course. This year, that number stands at 98%.

Quickly on the other two points: we do not offer a survey course in American history because our students come to Bowdoin well-grounded in American history and seek more in-depth analysis. As for the charge that we don’t offer history courses dealing with political, intellectual, diplomatic or military history, a look at our course catalogue would set things straight. It is a charge that is obviously incorrect, since among the courses offered this year alone are:

History 140: War and Society

History 139: The Civil War Era

History 231: Colonial America and the Atlantic World

History 232: History of the American West

History 233: American Society in the New Nation, 1763-1840

History 226: The City as American History

History 238: Reconstruction

Beyond these, our government and legal studies department offers important courses on the American presidency, Congress, the U.S. Constitution, and other areas in the fields of American government and political theory. As our community knows, government is currently—and has long been—the most popular major at Bowdoin, and it is nearly impossible for these students to graduate from Bowdoin without having read the Federalist Papers at least once.

Speaking of courses, a whole lot has been made of another point driven home by the NAS Report. Yes, there are some courses offered at Bowdoin that come with provocative titles. We are not alone in teaching these subjects, which are offered at every elite college and university in America. The one cherry-picked by our critics to make a point is “Queer Gardens,” a first-year seminar proposed (but ultimately never offered) by our English department. Since lots of people have asked, here’s what that course was all about:

Explores how the garden in Western literature and art serves as a space for desire. Pays special attention to the link between gardens and transgression. Also considers how gardens become eccentric spaces and call into question distinctions between nature and culture. Examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces.

…it is nearly impossible for these students to graduate from Bowdoin without having read the Federalist Papers at least once.

Okay, admittedly, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea because it is viewed by some as scholarship that isn’t serious, and there are other courses in our catalogue with attention-grabbing titles and descriptions that may not appeal to every student. But consider for a moment what the students would have actually DONE in this class. They would have read works by Emily Dickinson, Lewis Carroll, Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett, and several other notable authors. In my view, the title and course description are what get you in the door (or not, in this case). What happens next is education. The point is that our students are reading and discussing great literature. That’s one of the important things we do here. Oh, and by the way, the folks at the NAS can exhale—we regularly teach courses that include the works of Spenser!

There are many, many more questionable assertions about Bowdoin contained in the NAS document, but these are the ones seen and heard most frequently in recent days. They are also the points promoted most widely—without investigation or corroboration—by columnists and correspondents using the Internet and social media who have no first-hand knowledge of the College.

So, this is a start. Will we take the time to respond to, challenge, or debunk everything contained in this report and promoted by its authors? Probably not. Time is precious these days, as we prepare to graduate an exceptionally-prepared Class of 2013 in just under six weeks. That said, we have the right and the inclination to fight back when we believe it is necessary to do so. We are not a fragile or insecure institution, and we will not abide personal attacks and unsubstantiated tirades by those with deep pockets and a personal or political axe to grind.

In closing, let me restate as forcefully as I can what we stand for at Bowdoin:

We are committed to building and supporting a student body that is representative of America and the world.

We are committed to providing opportunity to those previously excluded.

We are also committed to preparing our students to become global citizens in a global economy and for careers that call for critical thinking, judgment, and principled leadership.

As “The Offer of the College” reminds us, there is nothing wrong with well-reasoned, objective, and constructive criticism. Bowdoin as an institution—and all of us as individuals—can always improve what we’re doing and how we approach learning and education. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to take seriously a vindictive effort such as this intended to harm and discredit this historic college in order to satisfy a personal agenda and retrieve a bygone era.

During this past week, as we have endured “our turn in the barrel,” I have never been more proud of and grateful to our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Bowdoin is a great college, and we choose to move forward, confident in our values and reinforced by our record.

****

EDITOR’S NOTE: Comments on this post are now closed. While we welcome reader responses, we have now received 150 comments for this post. As indicated in the “About Us” section of the Bowdoin Daily Sun, we “reserve the right to limit comments based on volume,” due to the staff time necessary to moderate these reader contributions. Thank you for offering your views on this subject.

Comments

  1. Neal Urwitz, 2006 says:

    Give ’em hell, President Mills! The NAS report was such turgid nonsense. For us humanities majors (I can’t imagine NAS would want to take aim at our sciences), the most important skills we learn at Bowdoin are writing and critical thinking. I use these skills literally every day, and they are absolutely essential to my fulfilling career. I would never be qualified to do the work I enjoy without what Bowdoin provided me.

    If NAS turns up its nose at an academically rigorous course of study that prepares students for rewarding careers — well, then, its the type of organization I’d never respect in the first place.

  2. Neal Urwitz, 2006 says:

    Almost forgot — I took at least 8 courses relating to, or directly about, U.S. history, politics, and military studies.

  3. Judy Villeneuve says:

    I’ve skimmed “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” and read bits and pieces of the report. The thing that most stood out to me was that the very aspects of Bowdoin College that are pointed out as being somehow sad or reprehensible, are the aspects that I value and admire.

    The people who would be swayed by a report such as this have probably already enrolled their children at Liberty University.

    Thank you for all that you do, Dr. Mills.

    Judy Villeneuve
    Proud parent of a future Bowdoin Class of 2014 graduate

  4. John Paterson '66 says:

    Barry

    In January we hosted six members of the track team for dinner, since they had to return to campus early to train asnd the dining service was closed. Then in early March we went to Guatemala City to volunteer with a Bowdoin alumni team at Safe Passage (which as you know was started by a Bowdoin grad). Also there at the same time was a group of 12 Bowdoin students who were spending their spring break helping some of the poorest people in the western hemisphere instead of hanging out on a beach in Florida.

    Those are all terrific kids Smart, inquisitive, hard working and just plain nice people. You and Bowdoin are doing a great job. Don’t worry about the NAS rep;ort.

    Best regards.

    John

  5. Sumner Gerard '76 says:

    A fair read all the way through the NAS report, the response from President Mills, then through the comments here, leads to the inescapable conclusion that vocal parts of the Bowdoin community truly are not open-minded and intellectually rigorous in the college tradition as I remember it. I’d think the college a more worthy place if I saw here more thoughtful fact-based arguments and fewer rah-rah-rally-behind-the-president, stand-up-for-Bowdoin-against-attack, and right-wing-wackos-on-a-personal-vendetta comments.

  6. Sarah Pritzker '11 says:

    Well said.

    To some extent, I think amount of outrage we have raised in certain circles is flattering. What is most ghastly about this endeavor is the amount of time and money that has gone into such a vindictive smear campaign. Superb response.

  7. Greg Merklin '84 says:

    Thanks, Barry. It is a pity that you had to spend any time debunking the pernicious nonsense contained in the NAS report, but you did so with style and class. Well done.

  8. James Nichols '78 says:

    What NAS advocates is to somehow manage the political opinion of the faculty at Bowdoin. Can anyone imagine actually implementing that? Some kind of rating system to “evaluate” the politics of candidates for jobs or tenure? Crazy.

    Mr. K would have more impact if he would endow a chair in Moral Philosophy – or award an academic prize “American Exceptionalism” – both more “market-based” solutions that he should prefer. The higher ed market is already supplying schools that are tilted to the right by intent. Wonder why the top students are not seeking them out?

  9. Peter Butt '77 says:

    As a Government and Legal Studies major during the seventies, Bowdoin professors in the Government and Legal Studies Department (and professors elsewhere)exposed me to many of the fundamentally conservative political/economic philosophies I have espoused in my thirty-year professional legal career inside the Executive branch — and now when practicing before it. If Bowdoin had a liberal bias in its teachings it certainly was not a very effective force as far as I was concerned.

    Bravo Prof. Potholm! You did not let the supposed dominant liberals corrupt me. We had some great liberals, such as the late Prof. Donovan — but the Department never professed a political bias. Critical thought of any form was well nurtured. President Mills’ words reflect the Boiwdoin I knew….

  10. Eric Weis says:

    Until President Mills responded, I had no clue that the National Association of Scholars existed. A cursory look on the internet shows an extremely biased organization with a provincial view of history. Personally, I would rather see mandated courses in Chinese culture than American history. Bowdoin should not have issued any reaction. It only provides greater publicity for an organization that deserves to be thrown into a harbor filled with tea.

  11. David Binswanger '78 says:

    I have no intention of reading a 400 page report but I have read many of the articles and blogs sent to me from friends around the world who know my alma mater. (The fact that so many people recognize me as a proud Bowdoin Alum speaks highly of the school) I also have an ongoing personal interest since I have had a child there for each of the last 5 years (To be clear, one just graduated after 4 years, and one in her freshman year. I never worried that they would finish in the prescribed 4 like my parents probably did)

    What struck me in President Mills response was how much the world of education has changed. On one hand, he has to deal with an “old school” academic study (no matter what the motivations were for commissioning it) and treat it with the gravitas that any scholarly work should receive. He therefore has to rebut (or debunk) it with cogent facts, logic and arguments.

    On the other hand, he must handle the “new school” wildfire created by a connected blogosphere where there is the opportunity to quickly examine complex issues but where knowledge is capsulized, reformatted and sprayed to all corners leaving the reciepients with a hodepodge of facts that may seem clear, but without the ability to truly analyze them. President Mills response to this was to aim a fire hose wherever there was heat and flood it.

    This is the new world order that we all live in and higher education must figure out ways to leverage new and old school learning rather than allow them to create barriers against each other.

    I guess my only point is that this report (and the energy President Mills must take to respond) has the danger of forcing Bowdoin’s eyes off of the real challenges they face and that just can’t happen.

  12. Bob Turner '74 says:

    President Mills

    I read your response today with great interest – very well crafted.

    I have two daughters currently at Bowdoin now. Both are flourishing there.

    I was at Bowdoin at about the same time you were – just after the “cataclysm” of 1969 that the study refers to. We both were witness to the early days of the “old” Bowdoin becoming the “new” Bowdoin. I wish I could go back and do it again.

    I did take constitutional law while at Bowdoin. I recall one case in particular. Actually, I recall the punch line – I had to look up the case.
    In Dartmouth College v Woodward (1819), Daniel Webster, represented his alma mater before the Supreme Court. Here is the quote I found

    “This, sir, is my case. It is the case not merely of that humble institution;
    it is the case of every college in our land…
    Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak; it is in your hands!
    I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary horizon of our country.
    You may put it out. But if you do so you must carry through your work!
    You must extinguish, one after another, all those greater lights of science
    which for more than a century have thrown their radiance over our land.
    It is, sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet, there are those that love it”

    The punch line could be applied to Bowdoin – in 1820, in 1969 and in 2013.
    With a little editing, the entire quote could be addressed to those that would depreciate its principles today.

    I am glad you didn’t bring up the issues of racism vs diversity; liberalism vs conservatism and partisan politics. In my mind those comments in the study shouldn’t be dignified by a response. I hope you will not fall into that trap.
    The report was commissioned and funded with the conclusion already written – enough said.

    I do believe there is some food for thought in the study. Perhaps your next response should focus on the few observations and recommendations that are somewhat on the mark. Then you can thank Mr. K for the $100,000 donation (of overpriced constructive criticism) that he said he would never make.

  13. Carl Roy, alumni parent says:

    My understanding is that this episode evolved from a conversation at a golf outing where President Mills was cultivating potential donors. When queried why he didn’t contribute Mr. Klingenstein responded that he thought his alma mater was too liberal and crafting curriculums far removed from the critical thinking required in the real world. He was answering about Williams College, not Bowdoin College. President Mills ratcheted this issue up by including his comments in his orientation address as an attack on Bowdoin. Fair enough, but an expectation of amnesty is naive. My guess is when you decide to shoot at the wrong guy you better expect they will shoot back. Mr. Klingenstein obviously has the resources to ‘set his record straight’ as well. He apparently had let the issue go until President Mills fanned the flames. There has clearly been a dramatic shift in higher education these past few decades, better or worse. One can listen to all sides, evaluate, discuss, and come to their own conclusions. The vitriol and name calling posted in these responses seems to add to Mr. Klingenstein’s argument.

  14. Well said President Mills. As a Sociologist I can say with confidence that Mr. K paid a lot for a very lousy, methodologically unsound study.

  15. Dear Dr. Mills,

    Your response is spot on, although the commenters on the NAS site don’t seem to agree. (Believe me, I know—I’ve been engaging, discussing, and arguing with them for the better part of a week.)

    My bottom line is this: the courses I took at Bowdoin with Patrick Rael, Eddie Glaude, Randy Stakeman, Ann Kibbie, David Collings, and so many others taught me how to think critically about the world around me and opened me up to a myriad of different perspectives. I will be grateful to them for the rest of my life.

    Best wishes,
    Ben Gott ’01

  16. Karen Schroeder '76 says:

    Thanks to President Mills for that eloquent response. For any supposed “scholars” to accuse Bowdoin of somehow being “un-American” is beyond ridiculous. Just think of a few of our outstanding alumni and all they have contributed to this country: former Senators George Mitchell and Bill Cohen; business leaders Ken Chenault and Reed Hastings; my classmate Larry Lindsey (chief economics advisor to President George W. Bush); innovative education leader Geoff Canada. And, of course, let’s not forget Joan Benoit, who won the gold medal for the United States in the 1984 Olympic marathon!

    Joshua Chamberlain must be turning over in his grave…

  17. I will join the chorus — well put!

    While it has been almost 34 years since I graduated, and I am sure that the college has changed some since then, the allegations in the NAS report are so far over the top that I almost tempted to join the minority here in suggesting that, while Barry Mills’ reply is excellent, that the country deserves that such garbage be examined in detailed and exposed for what it is — reactionary propaganda.

    But, then I am cautioned by the implication of the always wise words of my fraternity brother, Nick Gess (always a voice of reason in Deke house meetings), who suggests, while not explicitly, that, if we let the dust settle, what will remain is … that institution that so many of us grew to love during our time there; a bond that, as evidenced by so many comments here, has only grown stronger over the years.

    … and may the music echo on …

  18. Ashley Harvard says:

    Barry – you can play golf with me anytime! Great response to this ridiculous report!

  19. Jay Lacke says:

    As the very proud father of a Bowdoin alumnus, who is a university-level math professor and just the most sincere, hard-working, moral person possible, I can attest to the great experience that students have had at Bowdoin. One of my great honors, today, is to be teaching an Economics course at Bowdoin on corporate finance. Among other things, we look at the development of the financial markets in the United States, the evolution of the corporate form, and other historical aspects of Western capitalism. Like writing and other topics, history should be taught across the curriculum. The study of history isolated from other fields like economics, political science, natural science, et al, would be so incredibly sterile. It seems to me that Bowdoin has not only a solid core curriculum in history but a solid linkage between history and the many aspects of human activity — two things that reinforce each other. So don’t pay any attention to those NASty people!!

  20. I must admit I never heard of the NAS until I just read President Mill’s article. I then researched this organization and found, predictably, that it is a right wing wacko organization. I am not an unbiased political observer. I see today’s Republican party as basically white, homophobic, racist and small-minded. The NAS is right out of the Limbaugh-Hannity-Fox wing of that party and masquerades as an independent “scholarly” organization. It is too bad President Mills bothered to respond, although I guess he had to.
    FDR famously said he didn’t resent attacks on him, or on his wife, or on his sons, but he did resent attacks on his little dog Fala. Well, I do resent attacks on my college and am sure no thinking person will be swayed by the nonsense I just read put out by the so-called National Association of Scholars. Scholars indeed.!

  21. Royce Mussman '04 says:

    Bravo Pres. Mills! I especially like the statement, “We are not a fragile or insecure institution, and we will not abide personal attacks and unsubstantiated tirades by those with deep pockets and a personal or political axe to grind.”

    Bowdoin was and has continued to be a wonderful community that I am incredibly proud to be a member.

  22. Pete Taft says:

    Bowdoin transformed our daughter from a tentative, awkward child into a beautiful, thoughtful adult. It is a kind, intelligent, rigorous, curious, vibrant and very very American place. It exhibits what is best about our country: independence, intellectual rigor, a commitment to social values, and a passion for freedom. My wife and I will be forever be indebted to Bowdoin.

    Give ’em hell, Barry! We support you one hundred percent.

  23. Michael Glomb says:

    My niece graduated a few years ago. She comes from a family that spans the political spectrum. By their account, and from my observation the several times I was privileged to visit the campus, she received a fine education that is serving her well in her current endeavors.

    If the WSJ article is correct (emphasis on “if”), it was President Mills who started this fight in the first place. So it is a bit disingenuous to suggest in the opening sentence that Bowdoin was somehow the victim of an unprovoked “attack.” Otherwise I found President MIlls’ response to be cogent and persuasive.

  24. Kingsbury Browne says:

    The report and response are a bit like an on line thread where two bloggers get sideways on an issue and then start flaming each other. It’s only interesting to them. The personal attacks and rebuttals are not what matters. It’s the issues raised that are interesting and those issues (that pertain to Academia in general not just Bowdoin) did not start with the commissioned report and will not go away with Mill’s response. That is, can real debate, critical thinking and a diversity of opinions thrive in a mono-cultural (political) setting? It’s unfortunate that Bowdoin ended up in the crosshairs of this public debate but these are important questions that deserve thoughtful discussion.

  25. GaryMcGuane says:

    “As for the charge that we don’t offer history courses dealing with political, intellectual, diplomatic or military history, a look at our course catalogue would set things straight.”

    But that isn’t the charge at all. Since Mr. Mills quoted the charge directly above his comment, you would think a university president would then address the actual charge, rather than a straw man more to his liking. The actual charge included the qualifier “…except those that deal with some group aspect of America.”

    Reviewing Bowdoin’s online catalogue, the courses listed by Mr. Mills do indeed seem to center on “group politics,” as charged.

    So this response consists of the admission of the accuracy of two of the charges (with rationalizations), and a mischaracterization of the third. I give the president of Bowdoin a D- on “setting the record straight.”

  26. Colin Joyner says:

    President Mills,

    Thank you for your leadership in handling this reckless and irresponsible attack on the liberal arts education. I will be receiving my MBA from a Top 6 business school in one months time and have found that the education that I received at Bowdoin fully prepared me to tackle an MBA. Oh and by the way, I was a Music major at Bowdoin, so the NAS’ attack on the so-called soft degrees is unfounded and offensive. Perhaps if a few more of the scholars at the NAS had received the benefit of a liberal arts education, they would have learned how to appropriately conduct research and how to think critically and carefully about issues with which they are unfamiliar. It’s disappointing that an organization bearing the word “Scholars” would do such an injustice to an honorable profession. They have done much to set the academic community backwards. I applaud Bowdoin for its leadership in the face of this unwarranted and shameful attack.

    Sincerely,

    Colin Joyner ’03

  27. Joe Leghorn says:

    A excellent, well reasoned response to a misleading and untruthful polemic. Thanks, Barry. Looking through the comments, there is a short shout out by a recent graduate, Alex Williams. Alex, himself, wrote a thoughtful, well-reasoned, carefully researched and documented response to the NAS report a few days ago. Alex’s response has gotten favorable not from others. The report, in and of itself, demolishes the conclusions of the NAS’s ill-conceived sham of intellectual curiosity. If you have a few minutes, please read Alex’s response at http://alexhwilliams.info/oped/the_nas_study/critique.pdf. For those who teach and nuture the next generation at Bowdoin, keep up the good work,

  28. John Hollis '07 says:

    Thanks Mr. Mills for a well crafted response to this absurdity. If you’re looking for a laugh you should check out Glenn Beck’s take on the report.

    http://www.glennbeck.com/2013/04/09/must-read-report-on-radical-elite-college/

  29. Jonathan Sims says:

    A 1977 Colby graduate here, so I’ve got no direct skin in this game. But I would like to believe that anyone with a shred of decency and common sense would stand in support of Bowdoin against this right wing political hatchet job by the NAS. Bowdoin should not have to stand alone to fend off the NAS. There are literally dozens of very fine liberal arts colleges across this nation that should treat this attack on Bowdoin as an attack on them all!

  30. Helen Bodell says:

    Dear President Mills,
    There is about as close to consensus as there can be among students, faculty, alums and the wider educational community that you do a superb job at leading an outstanding small liberal arts school.

    I want to express my gratitude for the stellar education and rare experience of true community that my daughter, class of 2013, has had at Bowdoin. Thank you for earnestly and passionately supporting the “offer of the college.”

    Helen Bodell

  31. Meredith McKenzie '82 says:

    I’d like to take the “Queer Gardens” seminar. I love those authors and the ideas the course explores sound intriguing. Please offer it online!

  32. Stephanie Sutton '06 says:

    Thank you, President Mills, for your timely response to this obviously overzealous attack on our idyllic college Beneath the Pines. I for one, am intellectually numb to the repeated accusations in the media that anything nontraditional or remotely thought-provoking is “somehow un-American.”

    I agree that the Offer of the College, specifically “to be at home in all lands” is a testament to Bowdoin’s commitment “to building and supporting a student body that is representative of America and the world.” And I am nothing but disappointed in those who see being American and being worldly as so completely irreconcilable.

    Bravo and thank you for so gracefully championing the cause of a truly liberal arts education.

    Once a Polar Bear, always a Polar Bear,

    Stephanie Sutton ’06
    (formerly S. Clayton)

  33. Alex Williams says:

    Hey Joe – Thanks so much for the shout out!

  34. Tom Lazard, conservative parent says:

    Barry – thanks for shining the light on this matter. Clearly, the facts speak for themselves. Well done. You have my full support.

    I know many colleagues with children that attended Bowdoin, and none of them have heard of “NAS”. They are all bright individuals with promising careers. The irony is, most of these parents agreed that Bowdoin is more conservative than comparable colleges like Middlebury! The choice of NAS in targeting Bowdoin is questionable at best.

    What I find most ridiculous is that NAS apparently hired a PR firm to help spread this propaganda. Do they have anything better to do than to keep grinding their personal axe? Had they acknowledged their bias & blatant fact-twisting, we could begin a more civil debate, but given the circumstances… I give NAS’ report another week before it fades into obscurity forever.

    @Jeff L, FYI, I don’t believe he put it there to be condescending… “I will continue to write issues interesting to me” is part of a footer that automatically gets assigned to Barry Mills’ blog posts!

  35. Ellery Altshuler says:

    Perfect response, President Mills. We are all proud of you and proud of Bowdoin.

  36. Alan Christenfeld '73 says:

    Well said, Barry. If Mr. Klingenstein wanted to attack a soft target, perhaps he should have chosen his own alma mater. You have shown that mine not only holds honorable convictions but will defend it virtue vigorously and effectively.

    As a Bowdoin student some 40+ years ago, I took courses in all the subjects the college supposedly didn’t offer. Moreover, for the past decade I have been returning to campus regularly. On most of these visits, I have had the privilege of listening in on classes in these very same subjects. The quality of teaching, and the level of student engagement and academic rigor, that I have observed are extraordinary–higher by far than was prevalent in the era to which our critic would have us return. Prof. Potholm is correct–at no time has Bowdoin ever been more vibrant, more interesting, or provided a more holistic and finer education.

  37. Jessica Song '10 says:

    Thanks you, President Mills, for this great response.

    Maybe I don’t know what it is like to be an “American” because I don’t have the citizenship. From a non-American’s perspective, I think that Bowdoin is doing a great job grooming the students to be the responsible and open-minded global citizens… and for the greater goods of humanity, we need more of those kind. Also this type of people should not be mutually exclusive to “Americans”.

  38. Hannah Herbold says:

    My daughter Katie is a graduating Senior at Bowdoin this year who plans to continue her formal education in the U.S. as she earns her M.F.A. at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

    Rather than opting for a semester at Cambridge as an undergrad, or an M.A. at Oxford, she decided to follow her heart, gut, and wise mind and stay at Bowdoin, and now, to write poetry instead of ploughing through more research, criticism, and theory in the U.K., leaving her much less time for her actual writing.

    I’m so proud of her for making this brave decision, and for not compromising her values and her dreams for the dictates of assumed prestige. Thank you, her wonderful Bowdoin Professors, for supporting the life, mind, and whole person of my grown child, Katie. It took a village, not a kiva to raise both of my kids, and her own courage, not institutional fear to invigorate and to sustain her for her journey!

  39. Arthur Kress,MD '66 says:

    Well said President Mills. I have never been more proud of my college.

  40. Northrup Fowler III ' 66 says:

    There is a wonderful commencement address given at Sanford in 1974 by Richard Feynman (see http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/cargocul.htm ) in which he describes the nature and responsibility of scientific integrity. I believe that similar cautions, and the accompanying wish for freedom, more broadly apply to academic integrity.

    That there has always been dogma in the academy is not in doubt. The dogma changes slowly over time; the echoes in the chamber change but the chamber remains. The threat to the university presented by the image in the mirror the NAS report holds up to Bowdoin comes from within. The attempt to trivialize that apparently painful image through the shallowness of President Mill’s rely only serves to reinforce the charge. The university must never become a place of comfort for those whose convictions are not subject to challenge. Indeed, the diversity of ideas and vigorous debate are what the university forge is all about. One can only hope that wise and perceptive members of the Bowdoin community will seize upon this troubling report as another opportunity for self-reflection, to more seriously renew the Offer of the College instead of using it as a talisman against the barbarians at the gate.

  41. charles wick says:

    Oh my, methinks Pres Mills protests too much.

  42. Ken Briggs '63 says:

    President Mill’s response honors both rational criteria and civility. It refuses to stoop to the invective of this attack and thereby confers even greater dignity on a most distinguished college.

  43. Barbara Weiden Boyd says:

    Thank you to Barry Mills for his clarity of vision, his dedication to Bowdoin, and his defense of a curriculum that grows stronger every year.

  44. Howard Coon '84 says:

    The first comment is “perfect response”, but not in the way Professor Kaster thinks it is. Mr. Reuter implies he is not a fan of ad hominem attacks and then goes on to say that conservative ideas are “old, often misguided dogma” and that change requires thought, which only liberals can produce. OK then, let’s end the debate there.

    There is plenty wrong with the NAS study. It reads too much like an idealogical attack and not enough like a dispassionate review of the college. Still, even if the NAS got every single thing they said wrong except for the fact that liberal professors outnumber conservatives by more than 10-1, isn’t it worth seriously exploring how that might affect what and how the students learn?

  45. William Davies, '76 says:

    I dipped my toe into the stream of this comment thread early on, simply to add a voice of support for President Mills. I’ve left it open in my email off and on over the last two days, however, as I’ve been reading student history essays, so I can’t help take a stab at identifying a basic fallacy in the NAS report.

    It appears that proponents of the NAS viewpoint assume that history classes are a forum for advancing a political agenda. They assert that Bowdoin professors as individuals and the College more broadly, in setting curriculum, advance a liberal agenda. They assume that a liberal agenda is “un-American.” The implication is that history courses should instead be used to advance an alternative (conservative, “American”) agenda or, at least, that the College should insure that some professors are advancing that agenda. Of course this is all nonsense on several levels.

    First, Bowdoin history professors, like most historians, aren’t in the business of advancing a political agenda. I arrived at Bowdoin almost 40 years ago – not an apolitical time! – and majored in US History. I am quite sure that men like Bill Whiteside, Jim Bland and John Karl held political beliefs. I was aware of some of them, unaware of others. But what these men taught was history – the significant narrative chronologies and interpretive questions involved in whatever period or country was under consideration – not their own politics. What we read represented a spectrum of historiography. (I recall reading Richard Pipes on Russia. Hardly a left-wing choice.) Of course I haven’t taken a Bowdoin history course in a very long time, but I did just this morning watch a short video of Prof. Wells assessing the place of Hugo Chavéz in Venezuela’s history. It is one of the most balanced considerations I have seen of that controversial figure, grounded in fact and utterly devoid of political bias. I will surely use it in a senior elective I teach on Modern Latin America.

    More troubling to me as a historian, though, is the attempt implicit in the NAS stance to hijack the study of history. To turn history into boosterism is no more a valid academic undertaking than to turn it into a forum for denigration. What I learned from the Bowdoin professors I’ve named above (and others), and what I suspect Bowdoin students still learn, is how to ask historical questions, how to come to (always provisional) answers based in logic and evidence, how to deal with ambiguity and how to write history in a way that does justice to all the available viewpoints while not dodging the responsibility to advance the viewpoint one thinks most valid. Sometimes that endeavor leads to fairly dark conclusions about the history of any country. Do we really want to maintain, for instance, that American society at the turn of the twentieth century didn’t fail fully to deliver the promise of America to African-Americans? On the other hand, one can also come away from this endeavor with a positive – almost Whiggish – sense of progress. It’s a long way from Plessy to an African-American president. Both dynamics exist in tension in the history of any country. Replacing the teaching of history with a kind of glossy postcard of America – or anyplace else – would represent a huge loss for students and, ultimately, for American society.

    I have been teaching history in independent schools for the past 36 years, and now head a very fine department. If I have managed to do a good job of teaching history, it is almost entirely because I learned to love it, and to take it seriously in all its complexity, at Bowdoin.

  46. M. Alvord '82 P'13 says:

    I’ve always appreciated the education I received at Bowdoin, though never thought it was a perfect institution and wasn’t sure it was the best choice for my kid. But Bowdoin was chosen and I honestly could not be prouder of what my kid has accomplished as an undergraduate or more appreciative of the support and guidance provided by the remarkably capable staff and faculty of the College (with shout outs especially to folks in Neuroscience, History, German and Theater departments). I agree with Chris Potholm that Bowdoin’s “rich past is but prologue to (the College’s) outstanding present and future.” We look forward to the celebration in May of Bowdoin and the talented, hard-working, accomplished and well-educated Class of 2013, members of which will undoubtedly, like the song says, “Bring thee fame by deeds well done.”

  47. Howard Coon '84 says:

    Mr. Davies, a couple of questions for you in the interest of furthering the discussion. . .

    I tend to agree that Bowdoin history professors do a good job at balance. I took courses from Karl, Levine, Whiteside and Howell and can’t recall thinking that their presentation was anything but fair. (Of course, I was politically clueless as a student and so may have missed it if they were biased.) In any event, would you agree or not with the premise that a professor’s choice of topics, materials and emphasis will be colored by his worldview? If not, can you defend your answer? If yes, would you consider that important in assessing the balance in the learning environment?

    Outside of the classroom, what do you make of the College’s emphasis on “diversity” and “sustainability”? I wonder if students are exposed to alternative points of view on these topics, whether they are ever fairly debated or even called into question. Can they be debated or questioned on a campus that expresses such firm, unalterable commitment to these ideas?

  48. Barbara and Ed Gaias says:

    Thank you for reassuring us, as we are parents of 2 polar bears: ’11 and ’15.
    -Note to self: “Ignore the ignorance.”

  49. Dick Calhoun, parent says:

    Barry – great comments, and way to make everything crystal clear. You are showing true class to these bullies.

    I’m a moderate that voted for Obama his first term, but for Romney this past term. From my unbaised perspective: Toscano, Woods, and Klingenstein are not worth anyone’s time. You have more important things to do as a leader of a such a fantastic school.

    NAS’ propaganda campaign died the moment Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck talked about it… not that it was worthy of anything to begin with! They can hire all the PR firms they want, the only thing they’re doing is hurting their own credibility.

  50. Mike Connor says:

    President Mills,

    I am a proud alumnus and, since I am still serving in throw US Navy for 33 years and counting, surely a great disappointment to the profilers at NAS.

    I don’t think it is even necessary for you to engage in public discourse or ‘damage control’ in a case like this.

    NAS is entitled to their opinion. Your students, parents, alumni and donors know better. You learnedly something about the public perception of the collegein some circles. Also, people who are mosrly wrong can be a little bit right–you should consider that.

    Lastly, you should remember the adage about pig wrestling. When you wrestle a pig, it’s not very satisfying. You get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

    Mike Connor ’80
    Vice Admiral, US Navy

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