Conformity, Partisanship Dominate Elite College, Say Scholars

Apr 03, 2013 | 

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Conformity, Partisanship Dominate Elite College, Say Scholars

Apr 03, 2013 | 

Conformity, Partisanship Dominate Elite College, Say Scholars

New York, NY (April 3, 2013)—The National Association of Scholars today released What Does Bowdoin Teach? The 360-page meticulously-detailed study treats Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine as an example of what happens when liberal arts education is dominated by political partisanship. Former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett said, “The report is perhaps the most deep and specific to date on how progressive ideology has altered the character of American higher education.”

“Elite colleges market themselves as devoted to intellectual and personal freedom,” said Peter Wood, principal author of the study. “But colleges like Bowdoin pressure students to conform to a narrow spectrum of ideas, opinions, and behaviors.” 

Bowdoin is ranked sixth in the nation among liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report. Said Wood, “We picked Bowdoin because of its outstanding reputation. We wanted to find out if the reality matched.” He added, “It doesn’t. Bowdoin has many smart students and excellent faculty members, but it huddles them into a single view on issue after issue.” 

The report cites the college’s positions on race, gender, gay marriage, and climate change as examples of Bowdoin’s doctrinaire approaches to social and political issues. William Bennett observed that the report’s authors “have painstakingly and truthfully used Bowdoin College as an example of how many liberal arts colleges are failing their students. Bowdoin illustrates the intellectual and moral deficit of the American academy.”

“The result,” said Wood, “is a very impoverished version of a liberal education. Bowdoin students—indeed students at all our top liberal arts colleges—are shortchanged. They deserve better.”  The study was funded by philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein who wanted to test the college’s claims that it fair-mindedly represented all points of view. 

NAS advocates for excellence in higher education by encouraging commitment to high intellectual standards, individual merit, institutional integrity, good governance, and sound public policy. To learn more about NAS, visit

Contact Peter Wood, President, National Association of Scholars: (917) 551-6771;

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Stephen F..Loebs,Ph.D..

| April 03, 2013 - 4:08 PM

This Report is an academic sham. Its methodolgy is not rigorous and its conclusions are misleading,There is only one author who has academic credentials and he is not an objective analyst. The other authoe has no academic credentials.The only sponsor has a clear bias.The authors take many reports out of context.Their sources for the report are limited to documents in the public domain.NAS has done a huge disservice with this publication.

Robert L. Paquette

| April 03, 2013 - 5:13 PM

Congratulations to Peter Wood and his staff, for, contra Mr. Loebs, the report comports with most of what I have witnessed at a peer elite liberal arts institution during my 32-years of service.

NAS deserves sustained applause for performing a great service to the movement for higher education reform.


| April 05, 2013 - 6:53 PM

While I have posted comments under the “What Does Bowdoin Teach” blog, a summary here referencing the two posts above.

What is at stake here is not that the people who have spent three years making this study are professionally, using accepted educational principles with proper pedagogy, reporting a study that was not requested. Nor that the group represents a conservative slant.

What is important is that the College, as an institution that delivers a product for which its clients pay a stiff price, justifies that product in terms of how it reaches the finished item and how that product then fares in the real world.

For the College, as represented by its administration and its staff, to stonewall this report would be an egregious error. No institution can stand as its own pinnacle of success if its only evaluations are made by those who receive paychecks for being a part of that institution. Any business should welcome an outside query, and particularly one that questions it, if for no other reason than for the opportunity to demonstrate what is stands for.

Bowdoin is a business. It charges a rapidly escalating fee and graduates a student, providing that most of the rules are met. If it delivers a top education, almost regardless of how that occurs, it should be able to point out in any number of ways what that success is.

On the other hand, if questioned, it should be able to defend its actions, over the years particularly, in achieving its goals.

A Bowdoin education is not a “product”? We are talking people here, not widgets? Cold, crass numbers have no place in education? Think again. For any number of reasons, until the gifts, foundations, and investments run out, any educational institution can close if the income doesn’t match the outgo. As in any other business.

Alex Williams

| April 06, 2013 - 11:02 AM

My biggest issue of the report is that it is not conducive to fair discussion. Mr. Wood has said that the report “is infused with a pretty healthy respect for the intelligence of Bowdoin students and alumni”

This is disingenuous. The report brings up important issues for the College to consider. Indeed it has recognized them before the report was even published.

It’s a shame because the NAS could have presented an interesting, thought-provoking viewpoint that would have been seriously considered and discussed by the Bowdoin community. But the report is more interested in applying pressure to Bowdoin’s administration and turning the public against the college, than it is in offering constructive criticism that would improve the academy.

Read my whole response below:

Robert Pilpel

| April 06, 2013 - 6:23 PM

  Your report is like fresh air and sunlight spreading over regions blighted by toxic smog!
  I got my BA at Stanford (‘63) and my JD at Yale (‘66) so I’ve had a front-row seat on 50 years of moral corruption and intellectual sterility.
    I’ll trace the 1960s origins of academe’s current regime of thought-crime and doublespeak in a separate comment. For now I’ll just say that you have done Bowdoin an inestimable service by providing the college with such a wide-ranging in-depth analysis of its culture, and if there by any on campus whose intellect has survived decades of ideological suffocation they’ll be profoundly grateful.
    Every “elite” institution desperately needs a Bowdoin Project of its own, and I hope the example you’ve provided will mark the beginning of an era of nationwide collegiate introspection that will “deconstruct” the intellectual stagnation that results when dogma and intolerance squelch free inquiry and intellectual integrity.


| April 07, 2013 - 12:41 PM

This report is in the same vein as the predictable “what our 17 year olds don’t know” ones.  Yes, there is a major industry that has grown up that celebrates hand-wringing, especially about the loss of traditional American values (hmmm, like discriminating against minority groups?)  This liberal bias in colleges will be the end of American civilization!  Ah yes, Buckley’s Yale in the ‘50s was such a simpler and more pure time…

Bowdoin, and all other private liberal arts schools, is part of the education free market.  Judging by the number of people who want to attend (and pay tuition), a Bowdoin education is considered a good value by those in this market.  Do you really think that those that are choosing Bowdoin (or any other liberal arts school) are making this decision blindly?  Your “buyers beware” report will fall on deaf ears, and rightfully so.


| April 08, 2013 - 9:43 PM

How do liberals ascend to control virtually all of America’s top universities and colleges? They must be really smart.

george seaver

| April 09, 2013 - 9:24 AM

  Bacchanalia in a Republic

The calamitous fall of the culture in the United States today, as represented by Bowdoin, is not the first time this has happened to a republic. The Bacchanalia during the Roman Republic in 186 BC and later the time of Caligula during the Roman Empire come to mind. But the clearest, on scene description of this process occurred in 1784 through the letters of Abigail Adams, during her and John’s posting to Paris as part of the Commission representing the newly won republic of the united colonies.

She saw with surprise and disgust the liberation from all familiar morality, marriages without loyalty or faithfulness, Paris with 50,000 prostitutes, half the children born without marriage, 6,000 infants abandoned each year to the Foundling home, a third to die, impotence and rejection of religion, the printing of paper money as fast as it was spent, factions so separate that they were oblivious to their mutual contempt, except for the lowest who in 5 years would make their presence known. Abigail could not see many people working, and always there was the concern that America, too, might go this way.

It is also true, as Abigail viewed this scene, that “in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees already marked by the woodsman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history…But that woodsman, though they worked unceasingly, worked silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread”, so Dickens told us of then. We all know that the cultural conditions of then and now do not work. The question is whether our republic will be around when that becomes apparent to all.

Robert Farris

| May 13, 2013 - 10:09 AM

There is nothing “free market” about private liberal arts schools like Bowdoin in which the vast majority of students take out federal student loans provided at the taxpayer’s expense to pay for the cost of attendance. So stop pretending the fact that they can get students somehow means the market thinks the school provides good value. The students only come because the federal government is willing to provide credit to unworthy borrowers- and then provide many program to “forgive” the debt.

As for the weird job position- nearly half of all the law students the graduated last year would disagree with that position. The fact the government has so badly distorted the price signals means people don’t make these education decisions based on price point and market demand.