This is one of those stories that is both incredibly amusing and frustratingly sad.
First, the background. An investor and philanthropist named Thomas Klingenstein played a round of golf with Bowdoin College President Barry Mills. Klingenstein expressed his frustration with what he perceived as the college’s lack of intellectual diversity and close-mindedness to certain viewpoints. What happened next is a matter of some dispute.
In his address, President Mills described the golf outing and said he had been interrupted in the middle of a swing by a fellow golfer’s announcement: “I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons,” said the other golfer, in Mr. Mills’s telling. During Mr. Mills’s next swing, he recalled, the man blasted Bowdoin’s “misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.” At the end of the round, the college president told the students, “I walked off the course in despair.”
Word of the speech soon got to Mr. Klingenstein. Even though he hadn’t been named in the Mills account, Mr. Klingenstein took to the pages of the Claremont Review of Books to call it nonsense: “He didn’t like my views, so he turned me into a backswing interrupting, Bowdoin-hating boor who wants to return to the segregated days of Jim Crow.”
The real story, wrote Mr. Klingenstein, was that “I explained my disapproval of ‘diversity’ as it generally has been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference,” coupled with “not enough celebration of our common American identity.”
For this, wrote Mr. Klingenstein, Bowdoin’s president insinuated that he was a racist. And President Mills did so, moreover, in an address that purported to stress the need for respecting the opinions of others across the political spectrum. “We are, in the main, a place of liberal political persuasion,” he told the students, but “we must be willing to entertain diverse perspectives throughout our community. . . . Diversity of ideas at all levels of the college is crucial for our credibility and for our educational mission.” Wrote Mr. Klingenstein: “Would it be uncharitable to suggest that, in a speech calling for more sensitivity to conservative views, he might have shown some?”
At any rate, Klingenstein commissioned a study to examine the education and culture of Bowdoin. The results of the report, which can be found here, are not a surprise to anyone remotely familiar with the state of college education today.
Funded by Mr. Klingenstein, researchers from the National Association of Scholars studied speeches by Bowdoin presidents and deans, formal statements of the college’s principles, official faculty reports and notes of faculty meetings, academic course lists and syllabi, books and articles by professors, the archive of the Bowdoin Orient newspaper and more. They analyzed the school’s history back to its founding in 1794, focusing on the past 45 years—during which, they argue, Bowdoin’s character changed dramatically for the worse.
Published Wednesday, the report demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.
The Klingenstein report nicely captures the illiberal or fallacious aspects of this campus doctrine, but the paper’s true contribution is in recording some of its absurd manifestations at Bowdoin. For example, the college has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.
One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Queer Gardens” (which “examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces”), “Sexual Life of Colonialism” and “Modern Western Prostitutes.”
Regarding Bowdoin professors, the report estimates that “four or five out of approximately 182 full-time faculty members might be described as politically conservative.” In the 2012 election cycle, 100% of faculty donations went to President Obama. Not that any of this matters if you have ever asked around the faculty lounge.
The response of one of the faculty members to this finding demonstrates the effects of life in a cocoon.
“A political imbalance [among faculty] was no more significant than having an imbalance between Red Sox and Yankee fans,” sniffed Henry C.W. Laurence, a Bowdoin professor of government, in 2004. He added that the suggestion that liberal professors cannot fairly reflect conservative views in classroom discussions is “intellectually bankrupt, professionally insulting and, fortunately, wildly inaccurate.”
Perhaps so. But he’d have a stronger case if, for example, his colleague Marc Hetherington hadn’t written the same year in Bowdoin’s newspaper that liberal professors outnumber conservatives because conservatives don’t “place the same emphasis on the accumulation of knowledge that liberals do.”
Even more revealing are the comments at this section of the NAS website, where several students and other observers chimed in, many critically. This comment is representative:
I always find it interesting when people pass off “studies” without doing any real first-hand research. As a female who attended the college during what could be called the “good old boy” days that the authors seem to be longing for, I feel that nothing in this report echoes of truth. To attack the College for its focus on promoting the Common Good, seeking a diverse student body and educating students on a global topics that cover different races and ethnicities really just points out the incredible narrowmindedness of the authors. Most of the criticisms of the College focused on characteristics that make me proud to be an alum. And as an alum who interviews high school students, I can also say that these are the very same characteristics of the College that attract driven, intelligent and well-rounded students each year.
It’s hard to not read this report and feel that the authors long for a time when the school was predominantly white males from eastern boarding schools. To that I say, good for Bowdoin. Be everything these authors do not want to be. Because that is the direction I, as an alumna, would like to see you continuing to move in.
Well done. The author of these two paragraphs does more to affirm the premise of the report than the report ever could. Not only does she blithely dismiss the report’s authors as individuals pining for the days of Jim Crow and white male domination, she completely misses the point of the report. So in calling out the authors for being narrowminded, she helps prove that it her side of the debate that is narrowminded and unable to get beyond certain stereotypical thinking.
As I said it’s funny but also mainly sad when you reflect on the quality of education and the indoctrination being done to our young skulls full of mush. And is it any wonder why we continue to push kids towards a college education even when, in many cases, it really isn’t necessary to most people’s careers? College is less and less about providing a well-rounded educational experience and more about teaching young adults to think “the right way.” If you were a left wing power broker, wouldn’t you want as many people as possible to be placed in these indoctrination centers?