Resuming the Bowdoin Conversation

Peter Wood

Note from NAS: The following op-ed appeared in the Bowdoin Orient today, inviting Bowdoin College students to meet with NAS president Peter Wood and to attend the conference “Global Illusions: Bowdoin’s Post-Citizens and the Future of American Higher Education” at the Inn at Brunswick Station in Maine next Thursday, February 6th.  We invite all interested students, faculty members, staff, and other individuals to see the schedule and registration information here.

Resuming the Conversation

Last April, the National Association of Scholars issued What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students. The 376-page report has attracted favorable and continuing interest around the nation and abroad. Harvey Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard, declared, “There’s nothing like this in literature—a complete, top to bottom treatment of a college. The analysis is excellent.” Professor Jean Yarbrough said in the pages of The Bowdoin Orient that “much of what the NAS report describes is, I am sorry to say, spot on.” Professor Stephen Meardon wrote, also in the Orient, that the report deserves a serious hearing. Even Professor Paul Franco, who heartily disliked the study, admitted that “some of the issues raised in the NAS report are of vital importance: the specialization and fragmentation of college curricula; the need for a more thoughtful and robust set of general education requirements; the excessive number of courses devoted to race, gender, and sexuality; and so forth.”

All of this would seem to indicate that What Does Bowdoin Teach? ought to be the starting point for a discussion. And indeed that has happened—at Williams, Amherst, Middlebury, and as far away as Minnesota, Ontario, Florida, and California. 

But at Bowdoin, What Does Bowdoin Teach? remains somewhat in the shadows. It is referred to at times by students and faculty members, but the college’s “official” position, enunciated by President Mills a week after the report was issued, is that what we wrote is an “attack” on the college, “mean-spirited” and “personal” in character, and therefore unworthy of any real attention.

I would like to invite the Bowdoin community to take a more careful look at the report. As it happens, I will be in Brunswick on the evenings of February 5 and 6, and all day February 7, and would welcome the opportunity to meet with students, faculty members, and administrators who would like to discuss matters raised in the report. (Email me at [email protected].)

On Thursday, February 6, beginning at 9AM, the Maine Heritage Policy Center will hold a conference at the Inn at Brunswick Station which will draw on What Does Bowdoin Teach?  The title of the conference is “Global Illusions: Bowdoin’s Post-Citizens and the Future of American Higher Education.”  The aim is to examine the idea, popular on many campuses, that students should strive to be “citizens of the world.”

The speakers will include Herb London (former John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University), Michael Poliakoff (Rhodes Scholar, classicist, former VP for Academic Affairs at the University of Colorado), KC Johnson (professor of history at Brooklyn College), John Fonte (historian and author of Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?), Susan Shell (professor of political science at Boston College), and me. Space is limited and those wishing to attend should contact Kate Clark at the Maine Heritage Policy Center at [email protected] or (207) 321-2550.  The 9AM panel has not been widely advertised to ensure that there is space for members of the Bowdoin community.

I hope you will consider joining us.

Peter Wood


National Association of Scholars

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