Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bowdoin & Diversity…yah shurr.


Now that you’ve gone and brought up the subject, thank you, we do have a few things to pass along.

To begin with, M.D. Harmon, opinion columnist in the Portland Paper, recently penned a column on this very subject.  Titled “There’s more than one kind of diversity – but not at Bowdoin,” it refers to a research project by the National Association of Scholars that will be publicly released tomorrow.  The NAS report is labeled “The Bowdoin Project,” and you can read about it’s public release here.  The NAS project page lists several ‘preliminaries’ for your study.

We found this little nugget of particular interest:

In particular, we highlighted Bowdoin’s reimagining and refashioning of its curriculum and of its faculty.

To review, the curriculum in 1968 featured a well-coordinated system of general education requirements; as of 1969, those requirements were abolished, and students could graduate from Bowdoin having completed 32 courses of their choosing, provided they fulfilled the requirements of a major. This has had lasting effects on Bowdoin's curriculum.

Note that Harmon is a Bowdoin grad.  Here’s an excerpt from his column, which you can read here:

Finally, the preface says the college falls flat when it comes to intellectual diversity: "We estimate that perhaps four or five out of approximately 182 full-time faculty members might be described as politically conservative. Bowdoin doesn't dispute the imbalance is extreme; instead it argues that its liberal faculty faithfully represents many views, including conservative ones."

The Bowdoin Orient published an article on the report as well.

As chance would have it, some eleven years ago we had a relationship with The Bowdoin Patriot, an intermittently published campus conservative publication.  They had done an interview of then new President Barry Mills, which, unfortunately, we cannot recover electronically and pass along to you.  But we are working to solve that problem.

In response to the Mills interview, we submitted a letter to The Patriot, which they graciously printed.  We did have that in our archives, and it is shown in full just below.  From our words, you’ll be able to get the gist of Mills’ thoughts.  We hope you enjoy it.


20 February 2002

To the Patriot:

Congratulations on another stimulating issue, although sadly….let me take that back….although gladly, it ends with an amazingly revealing interview with Barry Mills, Bowdoin’s new President.

I, naïf that I am, am stunned at the duplicity of President Mills in the interview. He begins by rolling out all the usual bumper stickers of academe: “academic freedom”; “freedom of ideas”; “every viewpoint should be acceptable”. He worries that “across the whole band of political spectrum, people ought to be able to say what they think and be respected for it”.

He then proceeds to demonstrate clearly that College policies, especially as they relate to faculty hiring, are diametrically opposed to such “freedom of ideas” and broad representation of the entire “political spectrum.” Let me explain.

In the interview, you cite the one-sided faculty debate post 9-11. President Mills spins away from your point, and responds by saying that it’s “very dangerous to think about selecting faculty based on their political beliefs”, and “I would be very worried if we started creating quotas or even designed a faculty around political views.” (Elsewhere in the same edition, you estimate there might be five conservatives on a faculty of 160. Even if you are off by a factor of five on that estimate, one could hardly conclude that faculty hiring was politically neutral!)

Following his resolute stand that faculty selection should be based on anything but politics, he proceeds to describe how he (the College?) endorses doing just that. The difference is, identity politics is used as the standard, in lieu of the “dangerous,” but more conventional ideological politics that you questioned him about. The politics he chooses to apply in faculty selection (and student admissions as well, I have no doubt) are the politics of race, gender, diversity (funny, how it never applies to political thought), multiculturalism (moral relativism), socio-economics and the like. Selection based on these is, of course, a de facto way of establishing the political tilt he so sincerely warns us of earlier, and which you documented with anecdotal statistics.

There are two distinct problems with his whole line of thought. First, when you begin by restricting the political spectrum within which you define “academic freedom” and “freedom of thought”, you put the lie to the very concept. Freedom of thought and speech within the Vatican is no doubt far different than freedom of thought and speech within society at large. I assert that President Mills’ and Bowdoin’s (as well as countless other schools) notion of academic freedom and freedom of thought is in fact exactly the opposite. Only those freedoms that have been endorsed by the anointed and tenured faculty right-thinkers, and by default, the entire administration, are countenanced.

Second, the campus atmosphere has no checks and balances to see that true, unconstrained political thinking (and thereby the freedoms cited) is the norm. Entrenched, politically correct faculty, if not responsible for selecting their administration, certainly have the ability to control it through the power to make it fail. Incoming freshman are unlikely mature enough in their political convictions to detect the political bias before it swallows them whole, or to confront it. (With the obvious exception of the Patriot staff, that is!) President Mills represents no threat to faculty biases, having been educated himself at the feet of these “free thinkers”.

How disingenuous of Bowdoin, its President, and the hundreds of others like them to laud themselves as the keepers of intellectual objectivity and freedom of thought. They are too blind to see how they define it, and themselves, only within their own approved intellectual free space. They like to think they are a pillar of what this country stands for, but have they looked at the famous red-blue map that reflects distribution of political thought across the land?

In light of current events and the illumination they offer, I suggest that Bowdoin and its peers are more like madrassahs preaching their elite liberal and socialist theology than the shining towers of intellectual objectivity they want us to believe they are. And the entrenched, unaccountable faculty is mullahs dispensing correct-thought kool-aid to the innocent open minds of arriving students, who are too often in awe of such renowned scholars. For most, the inculcation takes hold before they know what hit them.

Bowdoin and the other indoctrinaire colleges will not achieve their advertised goals until such time as they are willing to appoint an administration from outside their circle of enlightenment that challenges directly the preconceived and institutionalized political and social theologies of its entrenched faculty. And the faculty, in the interest of self-preservation, will not allow that to happen, at least “not over their live body”.

How sad that students, many unknowingly, I’m sure, are immersed in such a fog of self-righteous academic splendor. Their education will not be complete, I am afraid, until such time as they rebel against the corporately approved knowledge base, and hold administration and faculty accountable for truly educating them, even if it means abandoning the entrenched politics that, if self-delusion suits you, aren’t there.

I wonder how many parents are truly aware of the prejudicial political climate that exists on campus, and how it will affect the son or daughter they confidently send away with fat checks to cover expenses. If I could, I would write an open letter to every one, explaining the intellectual tilt, and attach ample supporting documentation. I have no doubt that a very goodly number of them would respond quite favorably, asking that their darlings get three bowls full each and every day. But I also have no doubt that a meaningful number would be appalled, and would quickly create student body openings for other willing and innocent minds to fill.

As for me, I can have precious little effect on the state of affairs, other than to wring my hands and grind my teeth. But there is one concrete way open to me. My annual check to Bowdoin, from which I did not graduate, and which could best be described as a mere pittance, can be withheld. And that I shall surely do in the name of true academic freedom and politically balanced points of view. I cannot, in good conscience, support an institution that in its very fervor to be apolitical is so transparently just the opposite.

Keep up the good work. You are, figuratively and literally, true “freedom” fighters on the Bowdoin campus. Your mission is noble and profound. If you’ll forgive me a moment of “sage adult” arrogance, I contend that only years from now will you fully recognize just how important that mission is and was. Keep on questioning and challenging; if others don’t learn from it, you surely will! I salute your efforts.


Pat Rockefeller, Bowdoin ‘04, was a principal in The Patriot’s operation.  He also wrote for the Bowdoin Orient, and a related column of his, which also ran in February 2002 is just below. It emphasized that intellectual diversity should be the focus at Bowdoin,  and it isn’t.  We’d like to know what Pat is doing now, and where.  If we make contact, we’ll give you an update.


February 15, 2002

Efforts need an intellectual focus

At the much-touted Diversity Panel Discussion on Wednesday night, the one conclusion everyone seemed to agree upon was that diversity is good.

What troubled me was that something seemed to be lacking from the conversation. The panel and audience all agreed that we needed more diversity. But to what end? When the question of our endgame-what goals we're hoping to achieve-came up, the panel was, for all intents and purposes, stumped.

And therein lies the problem.

Diversity, while "good," is not, in and of itself, an end. Racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, socioeconomic, (insert favorite type of diversity here) diversity is all well and good, but what does the College want to accomplish with it?

Answers-and I'm paraphrasing a bit here-ranged from "We want diversity so we can continue to build more diversity…" to talk of a "critical mass" of self-perpetuating, diverse students. To be honest, this made me think more of a Cold War-era nuclear arms race than a well thought out plan for the College's future.

To the panel's credit, it admitted to an uncertainty in its mission, but that admission doesn't let it off the hook. Bowdoin College has to decide what its goals are, and then set about to achieve those goals. Simply diversifying for the hell of it is not a goal.

Wil Smith, one of the panelists, mentioned that he was skeptical as to whether the school would continue to fund diversity-enhancing efforts if the endowment runs into hard times. One of the strongest ways for the College to ensure the continuation of that funding is to develop a clear and decisive image for the future, and to work toward that goal.

If I were on the Board of Trustees during hard economic times and someone came to me asking for money to enhance diversity, not explaining what he or she wanted to accomplish with it, I wouldn't fund it, either.

When a problem arises, "put more money into it" is too often the answer.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't finance some of the diversity-promoting programs we have. We have to decide first what we want to accomplish with that diversity.

So here is my plan.

When George Will was here last year, he said intellectual diversity is the only kind of diversity that matters. While I'm not sure I completely agree with that, he makes a good point. Bowdoin is an institute of higher learning. Therefore, our efforts to diversify should be directed towards enhancing our education.

With this as a goal, diversity becomes more about what students can bring to the proverbial table than the color of their skin. I fear we put too much emphasis on what people look like and not enough on what they think.

If beauty is truly on the inside, we need to make sure that our efforts to diversify take that into account. Otherwise, we may end up with a campus that looks like a rainbow, but where everyone thinks the same things. What fun is that? What would we learn?

I find well-informed debate to be one of the most educational activities I can engage in at Bowdoin. There are a lot of smart people with strong opinions, and if I can argue my side, I can also learn from theirs, forcing myself to question my own beliefs. At the end of a debate, I can reassess my opinions, hopefully having learned something.

For such intellectual debate to work, however, we need students with diverging views and opinions. It doesn't matter what color their skin is, or where they're from, or how much money their families make. I would rather learn more about what's in their heads and in their hearts.

So, get a bunch of students, blindfold them, and sit them around a table. Let them talk, and see where the conversation goes. If everyone agrees, Bowdoin cannot be diverse enough. If there is disagreement and passionate debate where people are both challenged and educated, model the future of Bowdoin on that.


The above should keep you busy for a bit, or at the very least, inspire a long spring night’s sleep.  Either way, we expect a little gratitude, sincere or not.

PS: Isn’t it time for Bowdoin to adopt a ‘mascot of color?’ Where is student body outrage over the outdated symbol of old white men and their oppression of the masses?  Shouldn’t it be replaced with something like this????

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