Commencing the Bowdoin Conversation

Apr 03, 2013 |  Michael Toscano

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Commencing the Bowdoin Conversation

Apr 03, 2013 | 

Michael Toscano

On April 3, 2013, the NAS published What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students. We invite our readers to join the conversation by considering our findings and sharing their responses. If you have questions, musings, objections, corrections, please leave your comments below. We are also accepting reactions and reflections in the form of articles via email to

How did What Does Bowdoin Teach? enhance your understanding of contemporary liberal arts education? What lingering questions do you have? What lessons do you draw from our findings? Do you disagree with our conclusions? Does our description of liberal arts at Bowdoin resonate with your own experience as a parent, student, or faculty member? Do you have recommendations for how liberal arts education can be reformed?

We look forward to hearing from you.


| April 03, 2013 - 1:31 PM

This study is very enlightening and very disturbing. I would love to circulate it among my colleagues and students, but I don’t expect that (m)any of them would read such a long report. About at 15-20 page summary would be perfect, and I hope somebody connected with the study will write one.
The worst aspect of the situation at Bowdoin is that, with a few minor tweaks, it is probably much like those at a very large number of colleges and universities.


| April 03, 2013 - 2:09 PM

A quick comment on SAT scores.  The report compares Bowdoin’s scores from 1999 to those from other institutions in present day, which is hardly an apt comparison considering the growing applicant pool has increased college selectivity across the board between 1999 and now.  Moreover, the SAT itself has changed significantly in the interim.  The scores from 1999 for other institutions are not hard to obtain and their elision is telling.


| April 03, 2013 - 4:39 PM

To me personally, the negative opinion held by the NAS towards Bowdoin is a compliment to Bowdoin. I will not lose one night of sleep if I can send my kids to Bowdoin.


| April 03, 2013 - 8:38 PM

An incredible, uninformed, incomplete, disingenuous right wing screed

Uncle Willie

| April 03, 2013 - 9:31 PM

Read the report.  Use some of that unbiased critical thinking you’re supposed to possess before your Saul Alinsky playbook starts..


| April 03, 2013 - 10:15 PM

I applaud this alternative, however biased, perception of Bowdoin


| April 03, 2013 - 10:15 PM

I was worried when I heard this came out that it was from some important institution. I’m much more relieved to find out it’s a right wing, anti-multicultural organization. It matters as much as if the NRA had made this


| April 03, 2013 - 10:51 PM

I am a Bowdoin student in the class of 2016. I chose to matriculate here because I admired Bowdoin’s academic history. That said, I believe that this report accurately identifies a number of issues in both the student body and the administration. Say what you will about bias, but know that a number of students on campus believe that this report effectively characterizes the liberal nature of education at Bowdoin.


| April 03, 2013 - 11:35 PM

Glad to be able to read the finished study. Reaction to this event has been fairly evenly divided between those calling it an unfair damning of Bowdoin and an “I told you so” by older alums, a number of which stopped giving to Bowdoin for the very reasons of the purported left-wing slant of the entire College. In all probability I would guess those that have severed, or minimized, their connection with their alma mater due to the increasing political correctness and no more old boy tenets will be the least likely to respond.


| April 04, 2013 - 1:25 PM

This report is a hot mess. In the forward, Klingenstein basically says he wasn’t attempting to specifically indict Bowdoin but merely to use Bowdoin as an example with which to indict all “wealthy elite schools.” Oh come on. That is so obviously not the case. What is obvious is this - he has an axe. An axe that he’s been grindin’ away for nearly the past three years. So I’m a little surprised that his axe is so dull after all that work.

Holding onto so much pent up emotion over Barry Mills’ recanting of a passive-aggressive conversation the two of them had on a golf course a few years back seems almost understandable. Especially when the way it is recanted lends itself to whispers (real or imagined?) of being called the one thing that elite, conservative, white people apparently don’t like being called - a racist. Never a fun word to be called, for sure.

So, while this war of words was occurring between two wealthy guys who clearly should have moved on and forgotten that chest-puffing exchange they had, the rest of the country was, and still is, in real trouble. People losing jobs left and right, going bankrupt trying to afford medical treatments, fretting over the shortage of conservative professors at crazy expensive NE colleges, etc. So rather than Klingenstein using his intellectual perch to, say, contribute some conservative ideas to our national discourses on how to best alleviate some of these “main street” problems, he’s moonlighting on this gossipy report (and footing its bill).

I wasn’t surprised when I read it (and yes, I read the entire thing), to have found a subtle veneer of passive-aggressiveness (there’s that word again!) and masterfully restrained anger underlying the entire report. That’s impressive. Golf clap.

More golf claps for he and his team crafting a report that his colleagues will applause and most others will giggle and roll their eyes at. Yet, and this is the truly sad part, this report ultimately reveals absolutely nothing new (kids at Bowdoin prefer hooking up to dating…wow, really? tell me more…) and does absolutely nothing to change this so-called intellectual decline at Bowdoi-I mean all elite wealthy colleges - that Klingenstein is so riled up about. Talk about a missed opportunity.

I give this report a week, maybe two or three at most, before it fades away into relative obscurity.


| April 04, 2013 - 1:33 PM

It does a great job of basing its assessment off of a very specific logical premise, namely that the “finishing” schools of old were the “correct” way to educate, and that a more secular, “liberal” model of education is wrong. This report should at least advertise itself as what it truthfully is: an opinion piece.

chris emmet

| April 04, 2013 - 4:53 PM

As a Bowdoin grad who attended on scholarship,I have given a significant amount to the college for scholarship purposes.I spoke to Pres.Mills about what I perceived was a liberal bias & he claimed a balance even though the faculty is over 95% Democrat.I opened this question up in a political party class & students indicated this bias but conservatives said they could hold their own.I was the only person on campus to vote for Goldwater in ‘64 & was discriminated vs academically.I’m going to read the report & rethink my positions.


| April 04, 2013 - 5:54 PM

This report makes me worry less about Bowdoin, my alma mater, and more about the future of the type of “conservatism” on display here.  Its hysterical tone and shocking lack of knowledge of basic facts (gender—bestowing the characteristic of “masculine” or “feminine” on something—is indeed a social construct) demonstrates the unwillingness of the NAS (and, by extension, much of today’s GOP) to accept a fundamental truth: the world you knew is gone.  White men no longer rule the roost. 

There are people out there who are black and brown; women, who would rather you keep your judgments out of their bedrooms and your “legitimate rape” to yourself; gays and lesbians, who very much want to marry; poor people, who just want to get ahead…the list goes on.

I, for one, would like to learn about and be prepared for the world I’m going to live in, not the world of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  Bowdoin helped me to get there, and I will be forever grateful for the education I received from 1997-2001.

And if Bowdoin—a school currently ranked #6 on the “U.S. News and World Report” list of liberal arts colleges—isn’t your bag, I hear that Oral Roberts University might have some open spaces…

| April 04, 2013 - 6:33 PM

Does anyone else find it odd that on pages 44-46 of this “Study” there is a listing of Bowdoin’s Presidents and their religious affiliations which notes prominently that Barry Mills is “Bowdoin’s first Jewish President.”  I can’t help but wonder why the author thinks that is relevant?


| April 04, 2013 - 11:24 PM

As expected, some responses at the outset are all over the place. As in the case of Chris Emmett, I received a very strong undergraduate education that opened my eyes to the world (probably in part because I was forced to take a basket of courses I wouldn’t have if left to my own choice) mostly through scholarship aid. I have never forgotten what being at Bowdoin did for my life. And I have supported Bowdoin all along the way. And, yes, I graduated in the period prior to 1969.

But I have to say to Descartes that the notation about Mills’ religion was neither prominent nor outwardly anything other than Mills being the last in line of a history of Bowdoin presidents and their professed religions stated.
Historically, religion was important (just as it isn’t now) if you read the history of goals of the College from day one.

To Ben I have to ask why does Oral Roberts University come into play? Why not NC State or USC, or Concordia? Why a slap at a conservative institution?

Somehow a key issue in all this is not getting any press. Does the current liberalism of Bowdoin, attempting to stay with the times, if that is a correct assumption, prepare students for the real world? How many students, say, in last year’s class, have secured jobs that they feel are a good fit? With all the choice and all the advisor guidance and all the debatable open commitment to agree to disagree, are the students going into the real world with open eyes? Or does everyone still have to get a trophy? No, the world is no longer what your parents or gandparents faced. But today’s world has its own problems and the need to both recognize those problems and deal with them in a realistic manner is probably a topic that isn’t offered in the broad, liberal range of courses that are bantered about in the study. While it is indeed sad that only 19% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, what is Bowdoin teaching in its classroom that can prepare those walking out the door to change this? Is a gay garden course really helpful to someone who wants to break the glass ceiling?

I mentioned before a fact not always taken into consideration when debating thought-provoking issues. That is the extremely important one of fund raising in a private, non-profit institution. Should you doubt the importance of this part of the overall Bowdoin program, investigate and learn accurate figures as to the staff employed, their costs and expenses, and the goals they must reach in order to sustain what Bowdoin wants to offer. The part fund-raising, in all its scope, plays in the annual success as well as down the road, is staggering. Any institution must be very careful not to shut off that avenue of alumni support.

Finally, any organization must stand on its own and be able to absorb an investigation by just about anyone or any group wanting to know more about it. Transparency is another word that has taken on a much broader meaning in the last decade or so and will become greater as more people want to know- and feel entitled to know - more about how things really function in various arenas. Bowdoin as an institution (if any institution can reflect the accurate feelings of 100% of the people in its employ) ought to be able to say “this is how we do it and this is what we believe” and feel good about it.

Oriental boy

| April 05, 2013 - 1:35 AM

The report stated that “critical thinking” is the sole characteristic of the “West” and can be only acquired through the disciplined study of it. I really doubt that the author himself has even an undergraduate degree, utilizing such idiotic,even disturbingly refreshing definition of “critical thinking.” Overall, this is just some 359 page long pissed off right wing extremist rant on Bowdoin’s promotion of multiculturalism and diversity and is scholastically very poorly written to have any merit for reading.

Oriental Boy

| April 05, 2013 - 2:37 AM

What really disappointed me was the reaction of the alumni though. Aside from the fact that this was a highly biased report, it wasn’t even subtle in expressing its racist connotation throughout the whole report.

I knew Bowdoin has been conservative school since its inception and should have expected that some of the alumni would be also very conservative. I do not have objection to that. As an international student who came from a country that is very conservative on issues such as gay marriage or homosexuality, on sex as a whole, I was even inclined to agree with some of the issues stated in the reports. The hooking up cultures and students having sex were, even to me, very shocking. I am not saying that they are ‘bad,’ but still they are definitely something I want to keep some distance from. Nonetheless, I respect them.

But what truly made me sad was the reaction of some of the alumni who go as far as to agree with ‘keeping Bowdoin as a white, conservative school.’ Of course they wouldn’t say white, but I could see that is actually what they were saying.

I came to Bowdoin because I was mesmerized by liberal arts education.And I never regretted my decision despite the high cost/risk of attending Bowdoin. Although Bowdoin is highly prestigious school in America, nobody has heard of it in my country. I still love Bowdoin because of the way it is. The people I met here and the classes I attended are the most invaluable experience I have ever gotten in my life. Coming to U.S for the first time, I expected some of the students to be racists, or at least have stereotypes against me. Nonetheless, they were all so nice to me. And I loved it. I thought every Bowdoin alumni would be just like the students here , believing in the same values that the school advocate. Now I realize, it really wasn’t the way it was in the past.

But seeing the reaction of alumni and even some of the attending students rooting for the argument that rejects the value of “global citizenship” and “multiculturalism”, I may have been wrong. I may have seen only a small fraction of Bowdoin.  I now realized maybe a great number of the alumni wouldn’t be happy to see a student from Asia attending in their Alma Mater. Maybe they would be really offended if I raise my hand in class to criticize the wrongs of Untied States, or to claim that Confucian thought is just as valuable as Plato. Maybe, they wouldn’t even consider me as a constituent of Bowdoin. The very thought, that my own alumni wouldn’t even consider me as one of them is both disturbing and humiliating. I may have come to wrong school. Perhaps, I should have gone to Berkeley or UCLA after all.

Carefully reading various comments on Bowdoin Orient, here and others left me with one impression: it sucks to be a non-white foreigner.


| April 05, 2013 - 11:12 AM

Juxtapose the article’s description of Mills at Bowdoin’s first Jewish President with the last closing paragraph of the article which refers to “Christian Philosophy” as something Bowdoin does not teach.  Clearly, the author (and their benefactor) want is a Bowdoin which is white, male, Christian, western, heterosexual and parochial. If I were choosing a college today, I would be far more interested in one which represents the ideals of freedom (religious and otherwise), openness, inclusiveness and broad-mindedness.

As an aside, the contention that The curriculum excludes courses on Christian philosophy is patently false.  There are at least two such courses taught currently.


| April 05, 2013 - 11:29 AM

To offer some additional perspective:  as a Bowdoin Freshman (20+ years ago) my first year seminar was “Chinese Poetry.”  As a closed minded 18 year old I assumed this course would be useless. But, learned extraordinary things in that class (taught by Kidder Smith) and gained a great deal of perspective about a world far beyond my own, seeing both commonalities and differences.  Today, as an international lawyer (with a JD from one of the Ivy law schools) I can tell you that my largest and most important clients are Asian. The mind-opening experience at Bowdoin contributed significantly to this.  PS I graduated with a philosophy degree and studied much of what the authors (falsely) claim is not taught at Bowdoin.

Apologies for any typos in my submissions as I am writing on any iPhone.


| April 05, 2013 - 11:53 AM

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.


| April 05, 2013 - 12:28 PM

“To attack the College for its focus on promoting the Common Good”

What on earth? How did you get that impression from the report?

What the report states, in a direct quote, is that current Bowdoin professors admit that they don’t know what “the Common Good” is, and that they are using it as a slogan. If you like the Common Good, complain to the college about their abuse of the term, not about this report, which is only conveying that news to you.

Also, the fact that the Asian guy above can read racism into a very clearly non-racist report is proof that the “victim studies” departments are doing their job. Very soon, we will reach the day when asking anyone to learn anything will be shouted down as bigotry. Actually, I think that day may have already come in some American high schools.


| April 05, 2013 - 1:25 PM


“Also, the fact that the Asian guy above can read racism into a very clearly non-racist report is proof that the “victim studies” departments are doing their job.”

THIS. This is the problem with conservatives. The ease with which they dismiss the thoughts and ideas of minorities. They do this by assuming that they are the final arbiters of what is racist and what is not racist. And when they’ve deemed something to be “clearly non-racist”, that is it. No room for discussion, for different opinion, for anything else. Period.

And just in case you were going to try to defend your position, they tell you that you’re just a pawn, a victim, a tool, of the great vast liberal conspiracy to indoctrinate us all in their “victim studies” (aka finally talking about and studying all the messed up stuff white people have done to brown people throughout history) program.


| April 05, 2013 - 1:59 PM

The “victim studies” label is incredibly misleading. Gender studies, to take one example, is not about victimhood but about how power is exercised and experienced. Which when done well requires a whole lot of critical thinking in and through “the West” Just, really quickly, why don’t the authors of this report consider a class on native representations (the Pocahantas one) part of the history of Western thought? Also, turning the clock back to when Bowdoin was “better”—before 1969—would also include not admitting women.

David Treadwell

| April 05, 2013 - 5:44 PM

I read the full report, and one statement alone (that a Bowdoin education is not rigorous) puts the lie to the rest. In fact, Bowdoin is tougher than it was in my day. (1960-64) I know Bowdoin, by the way, as I have served as Host Parent to several students; give mock interviews; served on the Board; etc. Also, the report neglects to mention that the department with the most Republican faculty at Bowdoin is the one dealing most directly with political thought: Government. The author would have been more honest had he focused on his alma mater Williams and not the school whose president he abhors. But I guess critical thinking and fairness don’t rank high on his list of desirable character traits. A final point: Bowdoin’s most troublesome lack of diversity, in fact, is in the economic background of students. Half the student’s parents can afford $60,000/year (after taxes), which means half come from the top 2-3% of the nation’s wealthiest families.


| April 05, 2013 - 6:23 PM

I don’t think the report encourages Bowdoin to go back to a time when it was mostly all white, all male, and (it never was) all eastern prep students (I was one of those from a Maine public high school from which the majority of Bowdoin students came, and not sure about now). Bowdoin was, in fact, in the same boat as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in those days. Right or wrong, YouTube-less or not, that is history and cannot be altered.

Was Bowdoin well represented by minorities then? No. Was it racist? No. Did inter-discipline requirements make one more liberal? No. But it certainly made one more aware of the makeup of what is out there other than our interests.

But, as I suspect, most students have only at best an inkling of what they want to do following graduation, and a broader, more inclusive slate of background might have actually been more liberal.

Was breaking down the barriers to admit women a good thing at Bowdoin? Damn tootin’ it was. Some of you might know that President Chamberlain actually pushed for admitting women - this was in the the late 1800s - but to no avail. For a basket full of reasons, I’ll wager most of the current student body doesn’t know that. So, what is the point of that comment? Who cares about what a guy did at Bowdoin well over 100 years ago? Because he cared, that’s why.

I think we are missing the point with what is going on here. Liberalism, at least as it applies to Bowdoin, has changed. The dropping of the discipline requirements that were the basis of a liberal arts education meant that no longer was a student required to study a varied mix of courses designed to produce a well rounded product. Liberalism no longer means well rounded; it means a quotient of acceptance.

A study examining what liberalism means at Bowdoin, and how well that goal is being met, has been published. Some are attacking the study as not being professionally done; or, more importantly, sound in pedagogy, with the proper academic input, from an organization that is suspect because it does not have generally accepted liberal points of view. This is a red herring.

A study of any business or institution should be welcomed. Self-evaluation is hard to come by when those making the evaulations depend on a pay check to make it. A study of Bowdoin over three years and presented for review should not be stonewalled by the College. If the College, in the minds of those who present the product, deny this study, they should say so and why. No business, other than the federal government, can get away with stonewalling a report which questions its very practices.

Bowdoin is a business. It charges a stiff price, and delivers a product. It has employees who should be rated against employee performance in acceptable practices in their fields. A business must, to succeed, bring its product to the highest level there is. This report questions whether or not Bowdoin delivers what it says it does. Others are questioning whether or not the product is what it should be.

Anyone doubting that Bowdoin is a business needs to examine closely the makeup of the fund raising apparatus at Bowdoin: its size, its employees, its budget, and its goals. Without it, Bowdoin would be doomed. And a constant underlying worry in any Development office in any non-profit is whether ot not the alums are satisfied. If you’ve never thought about that, ask the Development people.

Today the Facebook society has more or less rejected what came before them, or at a minimum rejected those things as immaterial. It is true that they face different problems than their parents and grandparents did.

Every generation faces those same dilemmas. I repeat what I wrote before here. What is really at stake is how well is the current Bowdoin graduate prepared to cope with is out there waiting for them? Common sense tells us that racism is awful, that slavery and Jim Crowism are abominations, that it is patheetic that only 19% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Personally, I don’t feel the need for a course to tell me those things.

Learning how to defeat these inadequacies is what needs to be taught. I doubt seriously that a course in gay gardens would be helpful for a woman who wants to run Google.

Alex Williams

| April 05, 2013 - 7:30 PM

My thoughts on the matter:

@Micky - “Common sense tells us that racism is awful, that slavery and Jim Crowism are abominations, that it is patheetic that only 19% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Personally, I don’t feel the need for a course to tell me those things.” Me neither. None of my courses ever did. Maybe some courses, that I didn’t take, do cover such things. Who cares? Some people like to think about stuff like that.

@David Treadwell - thanks for your perspective.



| April 05, 2013 - 7:55 PM

How can this report claim Western Civilization curriculum is dead when I read Kant, Hegel, Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, Descartes, Max Weber, WEB Du Bois, de Tocqueville, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Pierre Bourdieu (in English AND French) in my four years at Bowdoin in the early 2000s?
Does it make a difference that those authors were assigned in history, Africana studies, gender studies, architecture and French classes?
But maybe there is some confusion as to what exactly a liberal arts education hopes to achieve. Let’s review what we know. LIBERAL: from Latin liberalis “noble, gracious, munificent, generous,” literally “of freedom, pertaining to or befitting a free man,” from liber “free, unrestricted, unimpeded.”
My experience was the epitome of unrestricted and as such my mind was encouraged to grow freely. I learned more about myself by learning more about others, including my neighbors, my country and my world. I learned how to think critically from the broad range of Bowdoin courses I had the privilege to take. And I hope all colleges continue to generously expand the curriculum and viewpoints present in and outside the classroom.

M. Mobley

| April 05, 2013 - 11:07 PM

Ha ha…good one NAS. Is this a spoof? Someone put a lot of work into such an elaborate April Fools joke. Wait, is this a serious report? Are you guys the same people who were outside the coffee shop today with the “Impeach Obama” poster with a Hitler mustache drawn on it?

The problem with people like NAS is that you are willing to defend traditional values and the like while keeping your heads deep in the sand and excluding “diversity” from your little circle of “traditional.”

According to you, “The new Bowdoin dedicated itself to the achievement of social justice and to reshaping America in the image of progressive politics.” Wow, just awful, huh? Social justice and progress. It just keeps me up at night, rolling and sweating, worrying about how my Bowdoin education encouraged me to be concerned about others. I wish I had been born a few decades - or centuries - earlier and could have been encouraged to perpetuate the same old discrimination that kept your wonderful and traditional Great White Men in power. Yep, I sure do miss regressive values.

Too bad none of you NAS writers ever had a professor inspire you to greater humanity. Bowdoin has a few of them kicking around; maybe you should go sit in on some classes before your next book report.

Mr. S

| April 05, 2013 - 11:20 PM

Was this report an april fools joke?

Im neither liberal nor conservative but if Klingenstein thinks Bowdoin is so screwed up, why doesn’t he just start his own school and hire conservative professors? If what he is saying is true and there is a demand for this, than it would be a great opportunity!

Paul Zummo

| April 06, 2013 - 11:39 AM

The screeching, negative reaction of here, undoubtedly from many who didn’t both reading the report, is probably an even greater demonstration of the report’s premise.


| April 06, 2013 - 12:32 PM

Paul Zummo

You nailed it. Scream (pick one) Hitler, NRA, racism, homophobia, sexism and then run the other way. No need to engage. No need to reflect. No need to question. Just put everyone in their box and dismiss any alternative point of view. Then call yourself educated. Some of this sillines will end when the current higher education bubble fueled by excessive student debt and federal government subsidies is burst.


| April 06, 2013 - 12:47 PM

Nobody is “screaming” anything, nor are we—and am I—coming from a place of ignorance.  This report, very simply, paints an untrue picture of the college that I attended; relies on biases, not facts, to reach its conclusions; and presents a view of the world—and of what higher education should teach about the world—that is woefully outdated, Eurocentric, and does not reflect the world into which modern students are graduating.

Go to the Bowdoin website and look for yourselves about the courses the college offers.  In the Government department, we’ve got introductions to comparative and American government; a course on the American presidency; Con Law; Advanced Comparative Politics; Modern Political Philosophy; American Political Thought; and many more.

The English department, part of my major, offers courses on composition, drama, fiction, Chaucer, the American Renaissance, literature of the Civil War, and many others.  Of course, as an English and Africana Studies major, I concentrated on African American literature while at Bowdoin, but I also took incredible courses on Milton and a terrific class called “Money and Literature” taught by Professor Ann Kibbie.

I’m not going to list the courses in History and foreign language, but you can find them yourselves—if you care to.  If instead you care to rely on the narrative that Bowdoin—and, by extension, all liberal arts institutions—have some bias against one cultural lens or another, you’re free to keep believing that—it just isn’t supported by the facts.  Those pesky facts, man.  They always get in the way.

On another note, I do agree that schools like Bowdoin should do more to offer overview courses to new students who do not have a solid background in criticism, theory, and the like.  I was fortunate enough to come to Bowdoin from a prestigious high school, and, when I began my study there, I immediately focused my coursework on particular “niche” subjects because I had a strong foundation from which to work.  As an educator myself, I acknowledge that one of the most heinous crimes of the American educational system is that many—if not most—students did not have the strong secondary education that I had.  Perhaps schools like Bowdoin would be well served to reconsider their policies about requiring those 100-level courses for those incoming freshmen who need to extra boost.

I would disagree with Mr. Zummo that the reaction to the report has been “screeching.”  (Bowdoin did teach me a great deal about loaded terms, and that is certainly one!)  I would argue that the reaction of me and many of my fellow alumni/ae—both of Bowdoin and of other prestigious liberal arts colleges—has been disbelief and shock that our alma mater could be painted in such a harsh and untrue light.  I am not at all suggesting that there are no ways in which Bowdoin can improve.  I am, however, suggesting that a report this biased and, frankly, statistically invalid would be a good place to start.

I am currently getting my Master’s in American Studies at Fairfield University, a Jesuit school in southern Connecticut.  Over the last several years, I have taken courses in historiography, art, music, literature, Women’s Studies, and film.  Paired with my Bowdoin education, my work at Fairfield has provided me with a rhizomatic view of my country that is so much more colorful and multi-dimensional than it would have been had I been limited to the types of outdated courses recommended by the study.

Paul Zummo

| April 06, 2013 - 12:50 PM

Some of this sillines will end when the current higher education bubble fueled by excessive student debt and federal government subsidies is burst.

It won’t end though, because one side of the political aisle is invested in making sure the indoctrination factories never close.


| April 06, 2013 - 12:51 PM

I’ve found the claim that Bowdoin DOESN’T teach regular history courses to be rather hard to defend. But I did notice this class in the History department:

“Community in America, Maine, and at Bowdoin {formerly Community in America 1600-1900)”

This is an excellent proof of the one of the study’s central claims, about the growing obsession of small liberal arts colleges with themselves, and the shrinking role of shared national narratives.


| April 06, 2013 - 12:52 PM

“aka finally talking about and studying all the messed up stuff white people have done to brown people throughout history”

You mean like ending slavery?


| April 06, 2013 - 3:25 PM

@Ben wrote of the Report:
“presents a view of the world—and of what higher education should teach about the world—that is woefully outdated, Eurocentric, and does not reflect the world into which modern students are graduating.”

then Ben concluded
“Paired with my Bowdoin education, my work at Fairfield has provided me with a rhizomatic view of my country that is so much more colorful and multi-dimensional than it would have been had I been limited to the types of outdated courses recommended by the study.”

Ben you sound like a nice guy… but it’s game, set and match with you. Your mind is closed. The acacademy that is steeped in Gender, Ethnic, and Sexual Identity studies is just better than that “Eurocentric” stuff that existed before 1969. 300+ pages of examination, examples and discussion and you just wave it off as biased and backward looking. Ben, can you at least admit that whole “Queer Garden” thing was a bit ridiculous? Or am I just being closed minded?


Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 5:01 PM

“aka finally talking about and studying all the messed up stuff white people have done to brown people throughout history”

Talk about biased.  How about all the “messed up stuff” brown people have done to brown people, and brown people have done to white people throughout history? 

The simple fact is that people have done “messed up stuff” to people throughout history, regardless of skin color.  White people hold no corner on the market in this regard.

There was slavery in Africa long before blacks were sold, typically by their fellow black Africans, to whites to be transported as slaves.  American Indians held slaves long before Columbus arrived.  Romans held fellow whites as slaves.  Slavery has existed throughout most if not all of the history of mankind - relatively modern western Caucasians didn’t invent the practice, nor did they participate in it any more than was typical throughout history. 

Anytime you start studying only the evil things that one race has perpetrated, without contrasting to similar acts by other races, and without also studying the good that race (or nation or tribe) has done, then you are the one being biased and bigoted, if not downright racist.

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 5:07 PM

Several comments have brought up the issue of “social justice.”  The problem is that “social justice” simply does not meet the literal definition of the words.  On the contrary, as the term is currently used, “Social justice” means convincing one group of people that their ancestors were victimized, and therefore even though this injustice did not happen to them personally, they deserve special perks and retribution of one sort or another.  “Social justice” isn’t about any sort of justice at all - it is about convincing a minority group that they are victims, and then giving them greater power or privileged than every one else has.  Social justice is a form of racism itself.

“Social justice” as used by progressives/liberals is anathema to actual justice and equality.

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 5:31 PM

How do so many commentators here fail to understand the distinction between requiring a well rounded basic core curriculum, versus a student chosen biased curriculum selected from a smorgasbord of primarily narrow and specialized classes?  The former doesn’t disallow taking optional specialized courses in addition to the core curriculum.  Nor is it in any way racist or ‘white biased.’  The latter, however, isn’t likely to ever result in a well rounded unbiased education.

A well rounded core curriculum is designed by well rounded EDUCATORS to provide a balanced education to students, who come to learn, after all, from those who have a greater knowledge than they do.

How is a student supposed to ensure that they are receiving a well rounded education, when they haven’t the education yet to even be able to know what that consists of?  How are they to receive a well rounded education, which helps ensure they are able to fully integrate themselves into a healthy society, if they are allowed to choose only courses which focus on very narrow areas?

Some people here seem to be missing the forest for the trees… perhaps because their education only consisted of those very trees, and thus they lack the education, experiences, and critical thinking skills necessary to discern the forest.


| April 06, 2013 - 5:33 PM

@Victor wrote: “Ben you sound like a nice guy… but it’s game, set and match with you. Your mind is closed.”

Victor, I truly and respectfully do not understand how you can infer this from my comments. 

Let me pose it to you this way: for many years, American students learned about American history in a certain way.  This particular story of our history emphasized the contributions of particular people while de-emphasizing the contributions of others.  Furthermore, it all but wrote out a huge swath of people—from American Indians to women—who played a role in the formation of our great nation.

The movement, in the 1960s, toward presenting American history via multiple narratives was, at least as I understand it, a response to this.  I believe that the inclusion of African Americans, gays and lesbians, American Indians, Hispanics, women, and the like provides a fuller, richer understanding of the complex, “messy” ways in which America works.

In his comment above, @Rational writes, “How about all the messed up stuff’ brown people have done to brown people, and brown people have done to white people throughout history?”  To me, as an educator and as a scholar, this misses the point.  I did not study African American literature and history at Bowdoin in order to uncover ways to blame my ancestors—a bunch of Dutch white guys from New Jersey, if you want to know the truth—for the evils of the world.  Rather, I studied it because it gave me a different, unique perspective on events about which I thought I already knew a great deal.  Adding these classes to any curriculum—whether they are taught at Bowdoin, Harvard, or somewhere in between—allows space for multiple voices in the conversation about what America was, what America is, and what America has the opportunity to become.

The impression I got from this report is that its authors do not believe that these multiple voices add to the conversation but that they create a cacophony of noise that somehow forces students to lose sight of what is really important.  In the report, the NAS wrote that 18% of the curriculum is comprised of courses in what it calls “studies” programs.  The report then goes on to state, “Eighteen percent of the curriculum may seem a small figure, but not if the proper percent is zero” (19).

Why is the “proper percent” zero?  Why do the authors of the report believe that teaching students to see the world from a myriad of viewpoints should not only be discouraged, but should not be allowed?  What do they believe is damaged about a student’s mind by trying to understand an historical event from another person’s perspective—especially if that perspective has been underrepresented in the past?  It is in these parts of the report that a particular bias comes through loudly and clearly to me.  It may not to you, but it does to me.

I’m going to shut up soon—I promise!—but I have to reply to the comment that @Rational just posted.  He wrote that these kinds of classes serve to “[convince] one group of people that their ancestors were victimized, and therefore even though this injustice did not happen to them personally, they deserve special perks and retribution of one sort or another.”  Again, as a straight, white male who majored in both English and Africana Studies, I just don’t see it that way.  I did not take classes in African American history or women’s studies because I want to take part in some ongoing process of victimization.  I took these classes because, as I mentioned above, they allowed me to understand America from several different perspectives; in turn, I became a better thinker, educator, and, frankly, citizen because of it.

I would encourage anyone who reads this report and who doubts the validity of these programs to visit your local college or university and try to audit a class.  Usually, you can do so for free or a reduced cost, and every college and university—even the most conservative ones—may have something available to you.  (Even Colorado Christian University, listed by the Young America Foundation as one of the top conservative colleges in the country, offers a class on the American West to its history majors; this class is a “concentrated study of the history of the Trans-Mississippi West [that pays special] attention to the Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnic groups who played a significant role in the West.”)  Try hanging out for a few classes and see what happens.  You might throw up your hands in disgust, or you might find something interesting to chew on…

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 5:48 PM

Ben wrote:
    “He wrote that these kinds of classes serve to “[convince] one group of people that their ancestors were victimized, and therefore even though this injustice did not happen to them personally, they deserve special perks and retribution of one sort or another.” “

Reread what I actually wrote Ben.  I said NOTHING about “these kinds of classes” with regard to social justice.  I wrote about what “social justice” actually means, as the phrase is actually used.  Social justice is about wealth and power redistribution based on highly questionable justifications that have nothing to do with actual “blind justice.”

You are conflating entirely separate issues, then jumping to conclusions which are unwarranted.


| April 06, 2013 - 5:59 PM

@Rational, you feel that “social justice,” as it is currently defined, is about “convincing a minority group that they are victims, and then giving them greater power or privileged than every one else has.”  In other words, you believe that power is being “redistributed” from white men to African Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, women, and the like.  Is that an appropriate characterization of your position?

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 6:05 PM

In my comment about social justice, I should also have included class warfare - e.g., it’s not just about racial ancestry and victimization, but also about the “haves” and “have nots.”  About trying to force equal outcomes (if not reverse discrimination), rather than ensuring equal opportunities for all.  “Environmental justice” is in the exact same vein as “social justice.”


| April 06, 2013 - 6:17 PM

So @Rational, with that being said, what do you feel we should be teaching our children—at the elementary, secondary, or collegiate levels—about the contributions of African Americans, American Indians, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, women, and the like to the story of America?  Do you believe that their stories have no place in the discussion?  That it is damaging to or dangerous for students if we teach them events from multiple perspectives?

I’m not trying to be snarky or disingenuous here.  You and I are quite obviously at opposite ends of the spectrum with this discussion, and I’d love to take the opportunity to hear where you’re coming from.

Alex Williams

| April 06, 2013 - 6:20 PM

“Some of this sillines will end when the current higher education bubble fueled by excessive student debt and federal government subsidies is burst.”

It’s statements like this that keep me awake at night. The NAS is supposed to be committed to the ideals of higher education. Regardless of your political persuasion, I implore you to consider the great things the academy (and Bowdoin) has given us. I’m usually not one to appeal to American exceptionalism, but this country’s great record of promoting higher education and funding basic scientific research.

I don’t want to comment to closely on any of the arguments raise by other posts, but briefly:

@Victor Yes - I am inclined to agree that the “Queer Gardens” course was weird and probably subpar (Notice that they we got rid of that class).

@Rational - I don’t understand what all your ranting about “social justice” is relating to. I barely even heard that term while I was at Bowdoin. Ben’s point is that none of Bowdoin’s classes are designed to promote the idea of “social justice”. So where do your concerns fit in? It seems like semantics that aren’t bringing us anywhere.

Again, I encourage everyone to read my long response on my website. My only point is that I want this dialogue to be constructive, and so far it hasn’t been:

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 6:28 PM

re:  Ben| April 06, 2013 - 5:59 PM

“In other words, you believe that power is being “redistributed” from white men to African Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, women, and the like.  Is that an appropriate characterization of your position?”

No, Ben, that’s absolutely NOT an appropriate characterization of my position - far from it.  We all ought to have the same opportunities and justice as each other, regardless of race, gender, or sexual preferences.  Social justice is about giving one race or minority MORE power, opportunity, privileged, etc. than others.  As I have already stated, “social justice” is anathema to real justice for all.


| April 06, 2013 - 6:30 PM

@Rational wrote:

“We all ought to have the same opportunities and
justice as each other, regardless of race, gender, or sexual preferences. Social justice is about giving one race or minority MORE power, opportunity, privileged, etc. than others.”

And this is happening where?  In America?

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 6:41 PM

re: Ben | April 06, 2013 - 6:17 PM

Again, Ben, you are misconstruing what I’m saying, or drawing unwarranted conclusions.  When we are teaching history (world or American) to our children, we ought to be doing so with emphasis on the most significant occurrences - there is only so much time in classes, after all.  We should be doing so without regard to race, gender, and so on.  When you focus in on race, gender, etc., you wind up without time to teach the most pivotal and important occurrences, and so you are presenting a narrow and biased learning experience, rather than a well rounded one. 

A well rounded basic science education, for example, includes brief mention of Marie Curie.  NOT because she was a woman, or from a ‘woman’s viewpoint’ (although the difficulties of woman scientists at the time which she dealt with might be briefly mentioned) - but because of her incredible contribution to science.  The lesson is about what she discovered, how it contributed to the advancement of science, not about how it felt to be a downtrodden woman in science during her time. 

Once a university ensures that it’s students have a solid well rounded framework in history (e.g., core curriculum courses in world and American history), then the student is encouraged to branch out into more specialized areas which they are particularly interested in.  Say, in your example, African American history. 

When a university, however, allows or encourages students to delve solely into specialized areas, without first having a solid well rounded framework to build on, it only ensures an incomplete and biased result, with knock on misunderstandings and problems that benefit neither the student, nor society at large.


| April 06, 2013 - 6:48 PM

@Rational, I agree with half of your comment:

“When a university, however, allows or encourages students to delve solely into specialized areas, without first having a solid well rounded framework to build on, it only ensures an incomplete and biased result, with knock on misunderstandings and problems that benefit neither the student, nor society at large.”

I agree—and I agree even more as I’ve been thinking about it in greater depth—that students need to have a solid foundation before they can move ahead to tackle larger questions.  Since many secondary schools do not or cannot provide such a foundation, it is up to colleges to do so.  Heck, it’s up to colleges to teach students how to use commas properly, so they might as well teach them about different political philosophies and literary criticism!

Where I disagree—and where, I fear, we may have to agree to disagree—is that I feel you—and the report—is giving students a short shrift.  If you can give me evidence that students are leaving Bowdoin with a giant “Fuck you!” to critical thinking, then I’ll have to agree with your perceptions.  But the reality is that they aren’t; that learning “specialized areas” is in fact increasing, not decreasing, the value of their education.

I appreciate that you took the time to elaborate on your positions, and I am grateful that this report, as ridiculous and wrong-headed as I find it, has allowed people to try to break out of their own “filter bubbles” to discuss these issues.  Heck, usually we just watch Ann Coulter scream at Michael Moore and then fight traffic on the way home…

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 6:48 PM

@Alex Williams

“all your ranting about social justice”

What ranting?  I posted one small comment about the meaning phrase and there was nothing remotely close to ‘ranting’ in it.  Apparently you missed Mobleys’ comment entirely.  Every post I’ve done since was in direct response to questions or comments from others about it.  Am I not supposed to answer questions for me posted by others?

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 6:53 PM

re: Ben | April 06, 2013 - 6:30 PM

“@Rational wrote:  “We all ought to have the same opportunities and justice as each other, regardless of race, gender, or sexual preferences. Social justice is about giving one race or minority MORE power, opportunity, privileged, etc. than others.”

And this is happening where?  In America?”

Which part, the first about equality, or the second about social justice?  If the second, have you never listed to Obama, Van Jones, Anita Dun, Kevin Jennings, etc.?  Are you not aware of the increase in curricula and courses both in K-12 and universities that are specifically advocating “social justice?”  Do you think that just because this concept hasn’t been brought to full fruition in the USA, that it’s ok or even beneficial to teach such concepts to impressionable kids?

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 6:58 PM

apologies for the separate post, in my previous one, replying to re: Ben | April 06, 2013 - 6:30 PM, I had meant to also include:

Are you aware of the Pigford settlement, and the billions of tax dollars going to ostensible African-American farmers, when the settlement is going to tens of thousands more people than could possibly have been farmers during the time period in question? 

Are you not familiar with affirmative action quotas, which result in less qualified people having to be hired to avoid legal prosecution, based solely on the fact that they are minorities?


| April 06, 2013 - 7:03 PM

@Rational, you wrote: “Do you think that just because this concept hasn’t been brought to full fruition in the USA, that it’s ok or even beneficial to teach such concepts to impressionable kids?”

My short answer is “yes,” because I believe it is beneficial to teach students to appreciate and understand history from a multitude of viewpoints—even to those white girls who are going to grow up to be the white women who are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action.

And if “social justice” is indeed the wave of the future, it looks like the NAS might want to be taking some of the courses they are so opposed to—they don’t want to be the only ones left without a government-funded chair when the music stops!

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 7:11 PM

re: Ben | April 06, 2013 - 6:48 PM

Thanks Ben.  We certainly do agree on the first half.  Ideally, a university takes the scaffold provided by k-12, and builds it into a solid framework.  After all, we only get one or two history classes in middle-high school - so even at a very good high school, we really only come out with a scaffold to build on. 

On the second half - I wouldn’t say we necessarily disagree.  I haven’t read the entire report yet, and so have been posting in part with regard to general educational principles, and in response to other folks comments.  Nor, of course, have I done my own survey of what Bowdoin actually requires and teaches.  If, however, they no longer require a solid well rounded core curriculum, as I gather is now true at many universities, then we as a nation have a very serious problem on our hands.  The same is true even if they are requiring a core curriculum, but no longer well rounded and instead rotted with skew towards emotional pleas of the day rather than fact, and trivia or minor issues that crowd out more pivotal or key events.

It sounds as if you an I may be largely in agreement even here, however - but just how much would all be based on whether there really is still a solid well rounded core curriculum or not. 

Regardless, I’ve also enjoyed our exchange and have appreciated your comments.


| April 06, 2013 - 7:16 PM

@Rational, I think we’ve done more in a few hours of back-and-forth comments than both of our major political parties have done in years.  We should take this show on the road!  wink

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 7:21 PM

re: Ben | April 06, 2013 - 7:03 PM

“My short answer is “yes,” because I believe it is beneficial to teach students to appreciate and understand history from a multitude of viewpoints”

It isn’t at all necessary to teach “social justice” to teach students to appreciate and understand history from a multitude of viewpoints, quite the contrary.  “Social justice” is twisted, and teaching kids that being a victim with an entitlement mentality is somehow reasonable and a good thing, does nothing to further education and worse, it takes up time that’s necessary to build that well rounded solid scaffold we talked about.

“—even to those white girls who are going to grow up to be the white women who are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action.”

You are speaking to one, although I have never benefited the slightest from affirmative action.  I work in a highly male dominated and very technical/scientific field, and while I have seen racial minorities benefit from affirmative, I have yet to see a woman benefit from them although I don’t doubt it happens.  That said, it’s still wrong - and remember, I say that as the class you claim benefits the most from it.

“And if “social justice” is indeed the wave of the future, it looks like the NAS might want to be taking some of the courses they are so opposed to—they don’t want to be the only ones left without a government-funded chair when the music stops!”

I’m sorry, but that’s like saying that since, in pre-WWII Germany, Hitler’s Nazi party was the ‘wave of the future,’ everyone ought to have just given up on better systems and jumped on the bandwagon.  This push towards “social justice” is wrong, and any decent educational facility and it’s staff ought to be doing everything in their power to stop it, not jumping on the bandwagon and propagandizing their students in hopes that they’ll get more government funding as a result. 

Rational Db8

| April 06, 2013 - 7:27 PM

re: Ben | April 06, 2013 - 7:16 PM

“@Rational, I think we’ve done more in a few hours of back-and-forth comments than both of our major political parties have done in years.  We should take this show on the road!  wink”

LOL!  Ok, I’m with ya, let’s go!  :0)


| April 07, 2013 - 12:25 AM

@Ben, In our back and forth earlier today, I missed an earlier quote of yours from April 4 that merits a response:
“This report makes me worry less about Bowdoin, my alma mater, and more about the future of the type of “conservatism” on display here.  Its hysterical tone and shocking lack of knowledge of basic facts (gender—bestowing the characteristic of “masculine” or “feminine” on something—is indeed a social construct) demonstrates the unwillingness of the NAS (and, by extension, much of today’s GOP) to accept a fundamental truth: the world you knew is gone.  White men no longer rule the roost.”

My potato farmer Irish immigrant ancestors, who came here long after slavery, are having themselves a good laugh in heaven about being part of the white power structure that “ruled the roost”. You see, grouping all “whites” together is just as corrupt and grotesque as grouping all “blacks” together. Herein lies the problem with the “studies” programs. They rest on faulty constructs (“whites” excercised undue and unjust power and are grasping as the last vestiges of their power slip away). These programs continue to teach generation after generation that people like me (you know, those “Whites”) oppressed our way to the top. Their main product? Resentment and discord. Ben, you say conservatives will not accept a fundamental truth that the world we knew is gone. Fundamental truth? According to whom? I’m not even sure what you mean!

Our current President and I were born in the same month of the same year. I laugh as I hear him, and his supporters, continually charactarize the unfairness of the country that provided him the opportunity to attend an elite high school and two Ivies and ultimately elected him President twice. My view of the US and the West is quite different from his. Although I didn’t enjoy all his advantages, I still have managed to rise beyond anything those Irish immigrants could have dreamed of for their descendents. In spite of my relative disadvantage to the priveleged and connected Obama, I have no desire to agitate for the start a “View of the Decscenents of Poor White Potato Farmers” study program at Liberal U.

I’m still amused at the summary dismissal of this NAS report. All it has done is hold a mirror up to an increasingly disconnected and distorted world. My observation is that many don’t seem to like the reflection coming back.

Rational Db8

| April 07, 2013 - 1:01 AM

re: Victor | April 07, 2013 - 12:25 AM

Well said Victor.  I would add that the primary definition of gender is sex, e.g., male vs. female vs. hermaphrodite etc.- in other words, a function of biology, not a social construct.  Ben’s definition “bestowing the characteristic of “masculine” or “feminine” on something—is indeed a social construct” is a secondary and less common usage of the term.  Frankly, I wonder if an older dictionary would even include it - or if the social construct version is a recent addition based on the very issues we’re discussing here.

Anyone have a twenty year old dictionary handy?  :0)

Rational Db8

| April 07, 2013 - 5:54 AM

This is the result of affirmative action:  Lifeguards who are poor swimmers (replace the “(dot)” with a period, and see:  youtube(dot)com/watch?v=dHDseHidt1w&feature=player_embedded), or firemen who can’t pass the physical and/or written exams.

Heck, if we’re going to have affirmative action, then I believe it ought to be equally applied to all sports teams, including professional teams.  I believe in the USA, the “African-American” race makes up about 13% of the population, “Hispanics” about 9%, and Asian, what, maybe 5%?  Whites are roughly 72% of the population.  So we ought to mandate that any sports team - basketball, football, etc - is composed of 72% whites, 13% “African-American,” etc., etc.  After all, that’s only fair, right?


| April 07, 2013 - 7:48 AM

For myself, I appreciate the level-of-effort it took to produce the Toscano/Wood report and I, likewise, am grateful for the fact that people are still capable of this kind of in-depth analysis, whether or not you side for or against the report’s conclusion.  What is striking to me and what I don’t like, however, is the dishearteningly puerile and caustic reactions from many who have written in opposition to the report.

Peruse the most negative comments so far received and you will understand why the Toscano/Wood report is so alarming; simply put, we are losing the capacity for cogent argumentation and respectful rebuttal.

The most derisive reactions reflect a panicky-like “shout down” and are devoid of referential examples or reasoned debate; it is a tendency that is, regrettably, becoming the norm among individuals who find themselves clearly in over their heads.  The irony here is their education (perhaps at Bowdoin!) did not provide them with the necessary tools for competent argument.

The mantra I use with my adult daughters is very simple, “You are what you consume.”

Peter Cohee

| April 07, 2013 - 1:55 PM

Whether one agrees with or takes exception to the study, everyone interested in American higher education should applaud Peter Wood and Michael Toscano for this work.

Allan Bloom, Roger Kimball, David Horowitz and many others have long asserted the dominance of the left on campus and have decried the resultant deterioration of real education. But their accounts could only be anecdotal - shocking stories from here and there.

Wood and Toscano have attempted to devise a way to really know if these complaints and fears are justified. They’ve developed a method, if only in beta version, for finding out. They studied one institution, expecting that what they find there might be generally true.

They’ve made their findings public and their own biases patent.  They’ve exposed their work to criticism, which will not doubt be severe.  That is intellectual courage. If they’re wrong, we’ll soon know; if they’re right, then people should pay attention, agree with them, and take steps to improve college learning. Their method, once refined, could also be applied to high schools, many of which endure the same tyranny: the subordination of teaching and learning to certain preconceived social and political objectives.

I, too, am saddened to see the childish vitriol entered here under the rubric of “Conversation.” Ron is right: those demonstrations tend to prove the authors’ thesis.

Fare forth, and fight the good fight!

M. Monbley

| April 07, 2013 - 9:25 PM

I am still amazed at the concern people have over affirmative action - efforts to help groups of people overcome the prohibitive legacies of history. This is why the social justice themes some of you are so uncomfortable with are so critical.

Nobody wants lifeguards who can’t swim and there are surely problems with some - maybe many - specific affirmative action implementation strategies. That is reason to embrace the possibility of reform, not to dismiss the entire project.

A flippant example about sports teams needing to be 72% white doesn’t cut it. Fifty years ago, NBA teams would never play five black players at once and African American athletes were often excluded from the same hotels and restaurants their white teammates enjoyed. White athletes NEVER suffered that kind of discrimination based solely on skin color. That’s why we don’t have affirmative action for white ballplayers.

It really isn’t that tough to trace these threads back through our history, but to do so one has to read some different, dare we say “diverse,” books. The fact that people still can’t understand the purpose of “social justice” is all the more evidence for the value of liberal arts education.


| April 08, 2013 - 1:12 AM

Welcome back to the conversation. It’s nice to see you’ve calmed down and hopefully dispensed with your incendiary response of inferring that conservatives who disagree with you resemble Hitler. As a former liberal myself, it is a response to criticism that I well recognize.
I further hope you’ve taken some time and read the NAS report instead of continuing to mock it as an “April Fools Joke.” What’s the risk of using that liberal arts education to do some primary research? What’s the harm is seeing what the other side has to say? Is it possible you might open your mind and discover that humanity is granular and complex and doesn’t fit into your neat little boxes.
As stated above, my poor dirt farmer white anncestors didn’t oppress anyone. I haven’t either. A well connected black guy, exactly my age, got elected President of this “white” country twice. Four generations of “whites” from my family haven’t hurt anybody, yet you continue to paint with broad racist brush in referring to some “white” power structure that is keeping people down. Where do you expect a “get even” approach based on color to get us as a society? When does it end? With my “white” childern, their children or perhaps a generation or two beyond?

M. Mobley

| April 08, 2013 - 1:24 PM

Hey Victor,

I did not infer that conservatives resemble Hitler. The comment I made described an “Impeach Obama” group that put a Hitler mustache on Obama. Conservatives inferring that Obama resembles Hitler, a ridiculous claim.

As for you and your white ancestors, I will say this: one does not have to have literally or directly oppressed anyone to benefit from the legacies of privilege that come with being white in America. I am also white and come from immigrant relatives who worked hard and were good people and all of that. I recognize the importance of that work and the foundation it built for me to succeed.

I’m not ashamed of being white, nor do I feel guilty about it, but I also recognize that simply by being born a white male and growing up in a suburb I benefited from a lot of things, tangible and intangible, that I would not have had I been born somewhere else. The idea of “some white power structure” the way you put it sounds amorphous and imaginary and denies the existence of very real policies that perpetuated and enforced such a structure. Ending those policies in practice doesn’t automatically, as the right side of the spectrum likes to imagine, make everything better. The past matters and it clings to us whether you want to believe in it or not.

It’s not a broad brush that paints racism onto your body; rather, it’s a brush that paints imbedded advantages onto groups of people. You don’t live as an individual, or even a family, in America. Like it or not, you are connected to a bigger picture.

As for your “when does it end” question, I don’t think there is an answer to that. Should there be? Is there a time limit on trying to create a more perfect society? This country was built on the idea that a little group of Puritans could draw a circle around themselves and define that small group of people to be the chosen ones. It was built on the theory and fact of exclusion; overcoming that precedent does not require a time limit. The process ends when the circle grows big enough to recognize all of the people who actually inhabit the circle. When communities in 2013 continue to inherit the benefits and limitations of four decades of overt and clearly delineated exclusion then it is not time to stop working. The fact that we have made progress and Obama is President is a good sign, but you can’t just wash those centuries away because you see a black man at the podium.

I am glad to hear that you and your family “haven’t hurt anybody.” Congratulations, you are a nice guy. That doesn’t change the fact that we all live in a country where plenty of people have been hurt, whether you did it or not.


Jeff L

| April 08, 2013 - 3:13 PM

In an old episode of the Simpsons, Lisa used the familiar “tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt” ... to which a confused Homer responds, “takes one to know one.”

Reading those above who dismiss this report in its entirety ... wow, takes one to know one. The arguments are so thin, so vapid, it’s embarrassing, not so much to the individiuals making them, but indeed to Bowdoin.

Is it really best to dismiss the report in its entirely, to regard the entire project as some sort of right-wing witch hunt, to assert that there’s not a grain of truth to anything the authors lament? There’ just nothing in the criticisms that ring true, nothing in the report about which those who care for Bowdoin should reflect upon? Nothing about Bowdoin that needs to be corrected?

I suppose so long as U.S. News & World Report says it’s #6, then apparently not. And since the President is identified as a Jew, well, you know what that means.

This is the best you can do?


| April 08, 2013 - 3:17 PM

@M. Motley

Nice try to just sweep aside the personal individual experiences of millions to support your racialist world view.

Your argue that the story of the US revolves around a small band of exclusive Puritans. This simplistic cliched response is quite revealing of your intellectual programming. And its conservatives like me that are the so-called simpletons!

You tell me, and others like me, that we “don’t live as individuals in America.” There you have it, you delivered the money line. Sounds a lot like, “You didn’t build that.”

Sadly, I know it’s futile to try and reason you away from your collectivist point of view. Even more sadly, I know there can be no common ground between us. There are millions of us who have no intention of following you to the logical conclusion of your twisted vision of “social justice”. We’ve seen where it leads and it’s not a happy ending.

Robert Pilpel

| April 08, 2013 - 10:16 PM

One of the many core fallacies in the Divisive Studies curriculum is the notion that “social constructs” are features of objective reality.

“Social constructs” is one of those mushy terms like fascist, sexist, racist and imperialist. It has no objective correlatives but serves merely as an invitation to scour the literature for confirmations of one’s own opinions.

Worse, the concept is simpleminded, based as it is on the assumption that there’s a monolithic culture in this (truly) diverse and multifarious nation. 

Only people too young to know better and those whose livelihoods depend on the perpetuation of such non-analytic terms are unable to recognize their abysmal vacuity.

I refer of course to the academic cliques of race, gender, class and sexual-preference hustlers who people the Divisive Studies shanty-town and whose militancy and intolerance of dissent are sure signs that they themselves know they’re engaged in con game.

Race, gender etc. are merely a grove of tall trees in a trackless forest rich in its variety of flora, but the Divisive Studies quacks would have us believe such “constructs” are determinative in people’s lives, outweighing the endless variety of emotion, aspiration, disputation, etc that constitutes real life in the real world.

The idea that deconstructionists can find anything other than a reflection of their own dogma in their analyses of “texts” is a supreme example of cranial-rectal inversion.

Rational Db8

| April 09, 2013 - 1:14 AM

Re: Monbley
The reason some of us are concerned about affirmative action is because it not only doesn’t serve the purpose for which it is intended, it is divisive, corrosive to the unity of our nation’s citizens, and it actually harms the very people it is meant to help.  Worse, it results in lifeguards who cannot swim, firemen who cannot meet basic requirements, and professionals who are not the best qualified for their positions and sometimes are outright incompetent - which can result in serious harm also.  It also obviously discriminates against innocent people who worked hard to gain their qualifications, yet lose out to someone who isn’t as qualified (perhaps because they didn’t work nearly as hard, or perhaps because they grew up in a disadvantaged area, who’s to say?).  What is there to like about any of those outcomes?

There are plenty of other ethnic groups that suffered extensive severe discrimination and hardship, and yet they have managed to thrive, and often become more qualified than the typical white candidate.  They didn’t need affirmative action to do so.  Clearly affirmative action hasn’t helped blacks in general, as they are still struggling badly.  The sports example you so casually toss off is quite relevant.  If affirmative action were helpful or needed, it would have been necessary for blacks to play sports.  In this area, they have obviously managed quite well, regardless of the history of discrimination, and all without any affirmative action at all.  The example also clearly points out how absurd it is to require quotas of less competent individuals rather than allowing selection based on merit.  Clearly you don’t like the picture when affirmative action is applied equally to all.  So you support discrimination.  Hum….

You condescend and patronize asserting that those of us who don’t happen to agree with your interpretation must not have read any diverse books.  What a silly assumption.  Similarly, you assume that because we believe “social justice” to be a very twisted and destructive force for all in this nation, that we must just not understand it, and must not have had a liberal arts education.  Please disabuse yourself of these ridiculous notions.  We not only understand the purpose of “social justice” quite well, we believe that it is a very detrimental force for our entire nation and EVERY citizen in it, including those it is most supposed to help.  We also know that it is directly contrary to the very foundation of our nation - equal opportunity for all.  Something implementation of “social justice” renders impossible.  Rather than just considering the intention of “social justice,” we are looking at the big picture and the long term outcome - and it’s not pretty.  Perhaps you could benefit by actually widening your own view.

Robert Pilpel

| April 09, 2013 - 11:34 PM

The problem with slogans like “social justice” isn’t simply that they’re abstractions, it’s that they finesse the key issue of applying the term to concrete situations. One man’s social justice is another man’s apartheid.

To declare that your response to real-life situations is a manifestation of social justice is like saying it’s “good” or “beneficial” etc. There are very few policy disputes where only one side claims “fairness” or “justice” will be best served by their proposals.  In other words “social justice, racism” etc are epithets or endorsements depending on the speaker’s views.

If you look closely at the rationales for affirmative action you see one group of people being disadvantaged because of their ethnic origins and another group given preferential treatment because of THEIR ethnic origins, and the argument that one group deserves special advantages because of the “legacy” of this or that injustice is just another way of advocating blunt-instrument bills of attainder, which the Constitution explicitly rejects. 

Every time you invoke “social justice” and apply it to real people you get grotesque distortions far more unjust than those attributable to any “legacy.” There is no group of people whose past is clear of atrocities and injustices. That’s why we shouldn’t penalize people for the crimes of their forebears! “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” 


| April 10, 2013 - 5:33 PM

Here is President Mills’s response, which should serve to put the final nail in the coffin of this ridiculous report.

Peter Cohee

| April 10, 2013 - 6:05 PM

Ben, I’m sorry that I can’t agree with you. I find Mr Mills’ reaction impassioned, certainly, but not at all substantive. I was disappointed. Instead of his blustering and harrumphing, I would have liked him to say that, while they are unhappy about the report, they will take time to rebut what is false and take seriously what is true. That would have been presidential - and scholarly.

Rational Db8

| April 10, 2013 - 6:28 PM

re: Ben | April 10, 2013 - 5:33 PM

I’m sorry, but that reply doesn’t come close to a final nail.

If it’s true that Bowdoin refused to grant NAS access to classes, professors, and students, then it’s pretty self serving and disingenuous to castigate them for not basing the study on those things but on available written documents, public speeches, etc. 

I’d also love to know how Bowdoin has verified that all of their students have a solid foundation in history from high school?


| April 10, 2013 - 6:51 PM

President Mills wrote, “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.”

Peter, that leads me to believe that the college will be rolling out rebuttals in the coming weeks because let’s be honest: there is so much to rebut.

Again, I point you to AmCon:

Peter Cohee

| April 10, 2013 - 7:27 PM

Ben, you are more assured by that brush-off than I am.  I would not be led to believe anything until facts are, in fact, presented.  And I think we are both honest; no exhortation to be so is needed.


| April 10, 2013 - 7:32 PM

Peter, it would be nice to see some “facts.”  The NAS report certainly didn’t contain any.

Peter Cohee

| April 10, 2013 - 7:45 PM

Ben, it is clear you have your mind made up and will not be gainsaid. I myself do not enjoy that same self-assurance and thus will wait until I know more.


| April 10, 2013 - 9:17 PM

Looks like the truth is out:


| April 10, 2013 - 10:10 PM

The President’s reponse was certainly impassioned but short on substance. I am still chuckling at the 100 or so comments in response to the linked article. The way it reads is that everything in Bowdoinville has been normalized now that the report and its nasty mean authors and far out extremist organization have been summarily dismissed as part of the vast right wing conspiracy. Keep it up folks. Your reactions and writings just keep proving our point about the epistemic closure that exists within the academic community and the American Left. Sorry, this report is going to have a long shelf life.


| April 11, 2013 - 12:36 AM

What might be a for real, genuine affirmative action at Bowdoin, in a genuine act to demonstrate that Bowdoin truly believes what it preaches, is to insure as close to humanly possible a 50-50 split of faculty with liberal and conservative “leanings”. That’s right. Find the best in each field and make sure balance, or quota, is met.

If as President Mills said Bowdoin respects the military, why not re-start ROTC?

My daughter, in the Class of 1993, called me the day the entrance to the library was blocked by the lesbian activist group demonstration. She asked me to call President Edwards to complain about not being able to enter the building. I suggested she ask to see the President herself with a group of her friends who felt as she. She got nowhere. From that time on it appears that liberalism would take over the College. It appears that it did.

A classmate told me in talking with current students, as he lives in Brunswick, that when he asked them why they didn’t react more strongly to the current of far left life at Bowdoin, he was told “if we do, we’ll never get into graduate school. You be the judge, dear reader.

Rational Db8

| April 11, 2013 - 10:42 PM

I tried to participate in the conversation connected to Dr. Mill’s NAS rebuttal at:

Originally my comments showed as ‘waiting for moderation.’  For most of the day.  Then they disappeared.  I posted a comment to the moderators at about 6:30 pm, pacific time, asking them politely to check the automatic spam filters to see if my comments were there.  I was quite pleased to get a rapid email response, and was informed that they weren’t posted because they had a policy against anonymous posts. 

Ok, my mistake.  So I gave them my name, and asked them to add my name and post the comments.  Again a rapid response, stating that they could only approve comments, not add names.

Ok, so I’m sorry for the hassle, please email them to me and I’ll resubmit.  Nothing.  No reply.  The next day, around 11 am pacific time, I emailed again.  After about 10 minutes, they emailed two comments to me.  I thought I had submitted four, but might be in error.  Anyhow, I resubmitted them with my name almost immediately.  I also submitted a couple of new posts.  The posts were shown as in moderation for some time (e.g., visible to me, but not posted and visible to anyone else), and finally after hours, one or two was posted, while one or two more were still in hold. 

Now I check back, and there is a notice that having received 150 comments, they are no longer accepting comments because of the load on moderators required to handle submissions.  Ok, it’s their publication, their choice, so that’s ok too.

However, they DELETED quite a number of existing posts, including all mine.  It takes moderator time and effort (albeit not much) to delete posts, yet reducing moderator time and effort was ostensibly the reason to stop accepting posts.  Most of those deleted, I believe, were either questioning Dr. Mills, or not towing the Bowdoin line, not cheer-leading Dr. Mills.

So much for open discussion.  Hello censorship.

It seems to me that the Bowdoin Daily Sun just helped confirm the lack of tolerance for dissenting views within the modern liberal arts college.  What a shame.


| April 18, 2013 - 4:33 PM

It’s been a week since I last read over the comments pertaining to this meteor over the ramparts of Sills Hall. Have to say I am somewhat surprised that the comments dropped to zero in that period of time. The initial flurry of comments, mostly from the same writers, seems to be over. As expected, the vast majority of alums, as in most cases where opinions might be welcomed from all avenues and ages, were silent. A shame. What will be interesting to see is the level of giving from alumni up to and after this brouhaha. I hope I am wrong, but a detailed reply addressing some of the issues raised such as shunning contact with students and faculty while writing the report, probably won’t be forthcoming soon. This interregnum is an ideal place to refute the study with facts, or take some or much of it as constructive criticism. To totally write it off as a hack attack would be an egregious error.


| April 29, 2013 - 10:53 PM

Eleven days since I wrote of my surprise that the comments had dropped to zero then. And zero since that date, as well. Seems as though a few of those who took time to write have gone back to their families, their jobs, and their lattes. Can it be true that the thousands of alums of this institution can’t spare a few minutes to posit, one way or another, some input? I’d guess the administration is quite happy that this is all making the inexorable trip to the dustbins of history.