A "Comprehensive Assessment" or "Failed Attack"? You Decide.

Michael Toscano

On April 3, 2013, NAS released What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students. It has garnered widespread debate among journalists, bloggers, academics, and television and radio personalities. Here are some of the most significant commentaries and reactions to the report. The links below introduce the controversy and major arguments surrounding the report. We invite you to keep the conversation going: read the report, take a look at what others are saying, and contribute your own insights and observations in response.

The Sad State of Liberal Education at Bowdoin
April 3, 2013
By Peter Berkowitz – Real Clear Politics

“Bowdoin proclaims its devotion to liberal education and the virtues of open-mindedness, critical thinking, and freedom on which it depends. But the college reinterprets these virtues to serve partisan ends. The process by which Bowdoin transforms open-mindedness into closed-mindedness, critical thinking into dogmatic apologetics, and freedom into anarchy is manifold.”

Queer Gardens, Pocahontas, and Prostitutes
April 3, 2013
By Eliana Johnson – National Review Online

“What Does Bowdoin Teach? — a report released today by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) — is the most comprehensive assessment of the academic culture, customs, and values of a college conducted to date. It is a devastating appraisal….The report documents an increasingly fractured academy that has no common curriculum and in which so-called identity studies take priority over a study of the West.”

What Parents Don’t Know About Bowdoin
April 3, 2013
By Amity Shlaes – Bloomberg News

“Courses with traditional names also increasingly emphasize identity. In 2006, Bowdoin introduced a new requirement, a first-year seminar, ‘designed to help introduce students to what it means to undertake serious intellectual work at the college level.’ In 2012, about 10 of the 35 first-year seminars emphasize the difference in identity groups and affiliate with identity-studies programs: ‘Africana Studies 12: Affirmative Action and United States Society,’ ‘Anthropology 13: Beyond Pocahontas, Native American Stereotypes,’ ‘Gay and Lesbian Studies 17: The Sexual Life of Colonialism.’ Students are getting a common education of a sort – in political correctness – not one fostering color-blind citizenship.”

College Teaches Course on ‘Queer Gardens,’ Suffers Low Academic Standards
April 3, 2013
By Alec Torres – The College Fix

“The report reveals that Bowdoin’s curriculum not only lacks a semblance of core requirements to teach students fundamental subjects, but is also filled with “incoherent and trivial courses” such as a class entitled “Queer Gardens” (dropped due to a lack of student interest) which surveyed the horticultural achievements of gay and lesbian gardeners.”

Communications VP Scott Hood re: Bowdoin's Response to NAS Report
April 3, 2013
By Scott Hood – The Bowdoin Orient

“We are proud of our students and our commitment to build and support a community that resembles America and the world. We are proud of our faculty who represent intellectual rigor across the disciplines and who are both excellent teachers and engaged scholars. We are also proud of our alumni who are leaders in all walks of life.”

Bowdoin College Suffers From 'Moral Deficit,' Report Argues
April 3, 2013
By Dan Berrett - The Chronicle of Higher Education

"It relies almost exclusively on documents and data in the public domain: speeches by the college's presidents; articles and letters to the editor in the student newspaper; accounts in the national news media, including The Chronicle (Mr. Wood has been a contributor to its blogs); minutes of faculty meetings; college manuals and documents; federal data; and books on higher education."

A Failed Attack on Bowdoin by the NAS
April 4, 2013
By John K. Wilson – Academe Blog

“The NAS is so desperate to attack Bowdoin that one finds it scouring the descriptions of departments, looking for any words it finds appalling, such as this: ‘Courses in Gender and Women’s Studies investigate the experience of women and men in light of the social construction of gender and its meaning across cultures and historic periods. Gender construction is explored as an institutionalized means of structuring inequality and dominance.’”

An Exchange With President Mills
April 4, 2013
By Stephen Meardon – The Bowdoin Orient

“Dear President Mills,

I was sorry to hear my colleagues chuckle at the mere mention of the NAS study at today’s faculty meeting. I am sorrier to say that, to my ear, you encouraged them….

The chuckles were the sound of people resting comfortably with the conviction that the ideas in the study, probably a good deal different from those that dominate around here, need not be seriously entertained.”

What Has Happened to Liberal Education?
April 5, 2013
By Linda Chavez – Washington Examiner

“Wood and Toscano do more than catalogue the obvious excesses of the modern academy, however. Wood brings his training as an anthropologist to the examination of campus life and culture, painstakingly researching the college’s records, including minutes of academic meetings, to reveal how Bowdoin’s mission changed over the past 40 years. In a series of appendices and within the actual report, the authors document the decision-making process that has transformed Bowdoin into the school it is today….

If Bowdoin were unique in its abandonment of traditional liberal education, this study might be of no more than passing interest. What the authors found at Bowdoin, however, exists to some degree at many if not most elite colleges and universities. This study deserves widespread dissemination and discussion – first among Bowdoin’s alumni, donors and the parents of current and potential students. But anyone interested in the future of higher education in America should take note.”

National Association of Scholars Releases 360 Page Critique of the College
April 5, 2013
By Linda Kinstler and Marisa McGarry – The Bowdoin Orient

“Totaling 360 pages, the report applies conservative ideology of the past three decades to virtually every aspect of Bowdoin policy, academic affairs, and student life. The report assails Bowdoin on topics as wide-ranging as sustainability and climate change, gay marriage, and affirmative action.”

The Golf Shot Heard Round the Academic World
April 6, 2013
By David Feith – The Wall Street Journal

“Published Wednesday, the report demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.

The school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to ‘sustainability,’ or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to ‘global citizenship,’ or loving all countries except one's own.”

Coming Out as a Campus Conservative
April 8, 2013
By Steve Robinson - The Bowdoin Orient

"Life at Bowdoin College became much harder after I came out of the closet—and admitted that I was a conservative.

What was supposed to be an open-minded, tolerant community suddenly became an unfriendly crowd. I lost friends and gained enemies. Professors never treated me the same. Campus became a political battlefield."

An Anatomy of Indoctrination
April 9, 2013
By Bruce Bawer – Frontpage Mag

“At Bowdoin, as at other such colleges, diversity in the contemporary academic sense – meaning a fixation with group identity – is at the root of academic life today….So diversity-minded is Bowdoin, in this sense, that identity-studies programs constitute no less than 18 percent of the curriculum. While Bowdoin doesn’t demand that students take any courses in 'English, philosophy, foreign languages, European history, American history, world history, government, religion, psychology, or sociology,' and doesn’t even require history majors to take so much as one course in U.S. history, it’s compulsory for history majors to take a certain number of courses in non-Western history. Not to mention that there’s a proliferation of student clubs based on group identity. Long lost is the idea that it should be an objective, when bringing together kids from a wide variety of backgrounds to be educated, to transcend such categories; on the contrary, the idea is to produce young adults for whom class, race, and gender labels are the very pillars of self-knowledge.”

How Not to Defend the Liberal Arts
April 9, 2013
By Samuel Goldman – The American Conervative

“The authors’ tin ear for readers’ sensibilities is in evidence throughout the report. In particular, the report shows no sympathy for students who doubt, with some justification, that old Bowdoin had room for them. Acknowledging such doubts does not mean agreeing that cheerleading for 'difference' is the best remedy. Rather, it should be the starting point for the argument that traditional liberal arts education has something to offer all serious students.”

Subverting Bowdoin
April 9, 2013
By Norman Rogers – American Thinker

“Bowdoin is a political monoculture. Democrats outnumber Republicans among the faculty by more than 20-1 in humanities and social sciences. The students overwhelmingly voted for Obama.

Intellectuals have a long history of being seduced by pathological ideologies. In a previous generation it was communism and socialism. Now it is a weird amalgam of racial grievances, anti-capitalism, philosophical relativism, and radical environmentalism.”

The Stunning 355-Page Mega Report That Reveals the Radical Curriculum at One American College (and How a Golf Game Gone Awry Led to it All)
April 9, 2013
By Mytheos Holt – The Blaze

“What did that report find? That Bowdoin College, and indeed most of its peers in the elite liberal arts college community, is in fact:

A) Obsessed with identity politics to the point of using them as an excuse to teach irrelevant and/or trivial courses, and to admit underqualified and undereducated students
B) At once entirely unconcerned with fostering healthy sexual behavior in students and consumed with making sure they follow inconsistent and ideologically motivated norms; and
C) Disingenuous in their purported support for critical thinking, which only extends as far as thinking critically about topics which the college finds institutionally inconvenient.

Setting the Record Straight
April 10, 2013
Barry Mills, president of Bowdoin College - Bowdoin Daily Sun

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

Bowdoin President Defends School After Report
April 11, 2013
By Jenna Russell - The Boston Globe

"Many of the report’s conclusions echo longstanding criticism of liberal arts schools. The authors find that Bowdoin has too few conservative faculty members and that its culture fosters 'closed-mindedness' ­toward conservative views. They see problems in its academic requirements and course offerings; its endorsement of multiculturalism and sustainability initiatives; its 'assault on tradition' and 'draconian anti-hazing rules,' and its academic demands on students 'found to study, on average, a mere 17 hours per week outside the classroom.'”

NAS Responds to President Mills
April 11, 2013
By Peter Wood and Michael Toscano - The Bowdoin Orient

"While we welcome President Mills’s decision to engage the report, we are disappointed with the very limited approach he has taken. He offers a broad emotional response and then picks a handful of topics in which he erroneously thinks we got ours facts wrong. Our larger disappointment, however, is that President Mills leaves unaddressed the central themes of the report."

Bowdoin and the National Association of Scholars, Part II

April 12, 2013
By Samuel Goldman - The American Conservative

"Bowdoin’s president Barry Mills offered a response. Fairness demands that it be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the NAS report. It doesn’t stand up very well. Mills refutes a narrow interpretation of the report’s more exaggerated claims. But he evades some serious issues that they raise."

NAS Study, Though Flawed, Points to Bowdoin's Problems
April 12, 2013
By Jean Yarbrough - The Bowdoin Orient

"Although I do not agree with all the findings of the NAS report, I believe that it highlights serious problems with the current state of education at Bowdoin and at elite institutions in general. The question the report raises is: at a time when college costs are prohibitively expensive, are we offering our students the best liberal arts education that we can? President Mills has offered his initial response to the NAS study. My hope is that the administration, the faculty, and the student body—to say nothing of the alumni who generously support the College—will take the report as an opportunity to engage in a thoughtful examination of Bowdoin’s educational mission."

What Bowdoin Can Do to Disprove the NAS Findings
April 12, 2013
By Alex Williams - The Bowdoin Orient

"In short, the NAS report ignores the student body, and instead appeals to people who have little to no first-hand experiences with the Bowdoin community today. It targets members of the public who have not sent their children to NESCAC schools, or who have only interacted with these schools in the distant past. It targets politicians, who are looking for a reason to cut government support to ballooning student debt. It targets these groups with the hope that they will place external pressure on Bowdoin, so that we conform to their pre-conceived and misguided notions of higher education."

Django and Plato: Building Curricular Conversancy
April 12, 2013
By Judah Isseroff - The Bowdoin Orient

"What concerns me is the extraordinary academic distance that we can maintain from our peers. What concerns me is that while Bowdoin does a tremendous job of nurturing our aptitude for engaging with very pressing questions about identity, it does not fully commit to our immersion in history’s political, ethical and theological discussions. I cite simply the fact that there are two political theory professors at this entire school. We must come to grips with the fact that while many students do read a smattering of the great books, we are left almost entirely to our own devices when it comes to providing a structure for our educational endeavors."

Bowdoin: Were the Good Old Days Really So Good?
April 12, 2013
By Frank C. Strasburger - The Bowdoin Orient

"'The Bowdoin Project' is not without insight about some of the contradictions and shortcomings one finds, not just at Bowdoin, but at most other contemporary liberal arts colleges and universities, as well. Unfortunately, the report’s value is nearly buried by its unrelenting drumbeat for what its authors dare to claim is nothing less than the unvarnished truth, in contrast to the progressive ideology they identify with Bowdoin. 

The problem, at least as I read it, is that their purported “truth” is itself an unarticulated ideology that underlies everything they say, yet it is by no means self-evident: that the privileged, white, heterosexual, Christian, American male represents the apotheosis of human civilization, and movement in the academy away from that notion represents a sharp decline in the quality of education."


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