Bowdoin and the Common Good

Michael Toscano

One would be foolish to deny that a good college provides both individual development and preparation for serving the common good—provided that one does not become obsessed with self in the process—my future, my career, my goals, my style, my thing. We hear a lot of that these days. That is why I periodically mount the stump on behalf of the common good.”

A. LeRoy Greason, twelfth president of Bowdoin College, “Bowdoin and ‘The Common Good,’” August 23, 1985.

The phrase “the Common Good” is Bowdoin’s signature trope. Much of the college’s political agenda is pursued under the auspices of "the common good." Our seventh Preliminary of the Bowdoin Project, “The Common Good’s Uncommon Usage,” explores the expression’s origin. For Joseph McKeen, the college’s first president and the man who first uttered the phrase at Bowdoin, an education in pursuit of “the common good” referred to the inculcation of virtue and piety in students which would prepare them to obey the laws of the young republic and for exemplary citizenship. While today “the common good” is held as college canon, it has in fact gone in and out of fashion. Forgotten by the late 1960s, “the common good” reemerged in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century and now designates a commitment to diversity, sustainability, sexual liberty, gender politics, and same-sex marriage. Students at Bowdoin today receive an education in this new version of the common good.

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Since September 2011, NAS has been conducting an in-depth, ethnographic study of Bowdoin College in Maine. We asked, “what does Bowdoin teach?” and examined Bowdoin’s formal curriculum, its residential and student life policies, and its co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. We have dedicated a page on our website to the Bowdoin Project. The full report will be published there in April. In the meantime, we will continue posting a series of Preliminaries which will provide context for the report.

The Bowdoin Project >

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