Mytheos Holt, The Blaze, April 8, 2013
Bowdoin College, an elite university located in Maine, has recently found itself the nexus of a massive influx of controversy.
Bowdoin President Barry Mills reportedly engaged in a golf game during the summer of last year with philanthropist and investor Thomas Klingenstein who, while not being a graduate of Bowdoin, was himself interested in the college’s approach to education. The result was an apparently awkward conversation during which Klingenstein complained of Bowdoin’s excessive celebration of “racial and ethnic difference,” in his words, rather than of “common American identity.”
It is unclear precisely how sharp the conversation got, but it evidently distressed Mills enough that he decided to mention Klingenstein (albeit not by name) in his subsequent commencement address as a particularly unpleasant golfing partner who’d interrupted his backswing to spout racist platitudes.
Needless to say, Klingenstein found this response galling. What he decided to do about it, however, is almost certainly unprecedented: Klingenstein decided to commission researchers to do an academic report on Bowdoin’s culture, both academically and outside the classroom, to see just what the college was teaching its students. The result was a 355 page report by the conservative National Association of Scholars that systematically broke down Bowdoin’s entire culture and worldview with extreme frankness. TheBlaze took a look at this report, and spoke to one of its authors, and you may be alarmed at the results.
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
A) Identity Politics
National Review’s Eliana Johnson, another reader of the report, summarized a few of its highlights on this point in an article last week:
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. It highlights, for example, the 36 freshmen seminars offered at Bowdoin in the fall of 2012. They are designed to teach writing and critical-thinking skills and to introduce students to the various academic departments. Some of the subjects are unsurprising: The Korean War, Great Issues in Science, Political Leadership. Others seem less conducive to critical thinking and fruitful classroom discussion: Queer Gardens, Beyond Pocahontas: Native American Stereotypes; Sexual Life of Colonialism; Modern Western Prostitutes.
Queer Gardens, an exploration of the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and of “the link between gardens and transgression,” simply “does not teach critical thinking as well as Plato’s Republic,” the report notes; nor does any subject that has “no canon of works that embody exemplary achievement in the difficult dialogic task of critical thinking.”
To many observers, such information might itself seem demonstrative. Yet the evidence goes beyond even these scattered examples. For example, in the section of the report that deals with distributional requirements, the authors observe:
When Bowdoin adopted the 2004 version of its distribution requirements, it took care to also provide a fuller rationalization for them than had been the case in previous iterations. In the new redaction the requirements were linked to a programmatic commitment to the ideal of “diversity,” which was in turn given a prominent place in the college’s new statement, “A Liberal Education at Bowdoin College.” Diversity serves an interesting function in the search for an underlying principle to give “coherence” to both the requirements and cohesion to the larger curriculum. It gives a warrant for politicization while at the same time frees faculty members, departments, and students to go their own ways. In effect, the elevation of diversity to the level of governing principle institutionalizes the incoherence that it ostensibly corrects. As far as divergent departmental interests go, it is an agree-to-disagree arrangement that demands very little of anyone other than deference to one of the shibboleths of the Left.
Nor does this concern with presumptively underrepresented subject material or peoples stop in the classroom. The report’s section on Academic Preparedness recounts several faculty members agonizing over how affirmative action admits are academically ill-prepared for the university’s rigor, in spite of their professed commitment to “diversity.” In fact, the college apparently provides surreptitious extra help to these students to prop them up through their tenure at Bowdoin, in spite of their publicly professed belief that diversity and academic standards are not at odds. The report notes:
In the Minutes of the Faculty, the “underpreparedness” of students is most emphatically linked with the college’s pursuit of racial diversity. This probably reflects a genuine gap in the level of academic performance of black students and members of other racially-defined segments of the student population. That is not something, however, that we can document, and even if true it might disguise a larger problem. “Majority” students may generally perform better than black students, but majority students may also be “underprepared” in significant ways. Indeed, that’s what the data nationwide attests, and there is small reason to think that Bowdoin is an exception.