Claremont Institute chairman Tom Klingenstein happened to play a round of gold with Bowdoin College Presdient Barry Mills last year. In a convocation address that he gave at the start of the school year, Mills told a story about that round of golf in the context of a call for greater intellectual diversity on campus.
Tom responds to Mills’s address in the essay “A golf story,” in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Tom argued that Mills was not particularly serious about his call for greater intellectual diversity on campus; it is the essential point of Tom’s essay. Tom seeks to shame Mills into making good on his commitment to increase intellectual diversity.
Tom’s essay was inspired by Mills’s blind but unflattering reference to him in the convocation address. Tom’s essay revealed Mills to be something of a fabulist. The conservative interlocutor of Mill’s speech is depicted none too subtly as a troglodyte and — what else? — a racist. As Tom points out, there seems to be some projection going on.
Tom’s essay received good coverage on campus in the weekly Bowdoin Orient. The Orient reporters sought out the powers-that-be for a comment on Klingenstein’s essay: “Mills told the Orient that he had seen the article, but declined to comment.”
Mills left the talking to Scott Hood, the college’s vice president for communications, who wrote in an email: “At Convocation in September, President Mills expressed his views on a number of subjects. Mr. Klingenstein has a different view.” Yes, that is one way to put it. Hood is of the “when you’re in a hole, stop digging” persuasion when it comes to public relations.
The Orient’s story on Tom’s speech was the most widely read story in last week’s Orient. The Orient follows up today with paired op-ed columns, one by Professor Jean Yarbrough supporting Klingenstein and one by students Sean McElroy and Alex Williams criticizing him.
The students focus narrowly on Tom’s critique of the Bowdoin curriculum. Professor Yarbrough — a highly regarded and long-time member of Bowdoin’s government department — provides devastating corroboration of Tom’s larger point regarding the lack of true diversity on the faculty:
This fall will mark my 23rd year of teaching political philosophy and American political thought at Bowdoin. I dearly love this college and want to do everything that I can to see Bowdoin be the best that it can be.
But love requires honesty, and Thomas Klingenstein’s essay provides us with the opportunity to examine one area where we are notably deficient: intellectual and political diversity.
In his essay, Mr. Klingenstein estimates that the actual number of conservative/Republican faculty is 4 percent. I do not know how he arrived at that number, but using figures from the Bowdoin College profile at the website CollegeData, there are 177 faculty engaged in the full-time teaching of undergraduates, 4 percent of which would equal seven. I have not made a scientific study of this, but that number, small as it is, strikes me as too high.
Having recently served as chair of the government department, I know first-hand the efforts we as a college have made to recruit racial and ethnic minorities, and those efforts are bearing fruit.
It is now time to make a serious effort to foster greater intellectual and political diversity. This is a position that all those who truly care about this college should share, no matter what their political affiliation, because it will make us a far better and more effective institution of higher learning.
Professor Yarbrough asks: “Do our curriculum and our faculty represent a suitably wide range of intelligent views on the great questions of human existence and of how we should live?” She responds: “Alas, the questions answer themselves.”
Professor Yarbrough calls on President Mills to follow up on his call for greater political and intellectual diversity on campus. She tactfully omits any mention of the fractured fairy tale that portrayed Tom as a right-wing troglodyte. The fabulation with which President Mills framed his call for greater diversity reflects something important about the mindset that results in the condition that he decried.
The Orient also carries a news story giving faculty reactions, ranging from neutral (Government) to haughty disdain (English), an extremely snotty letter from one Miles Pope. Bowdoin seems to have gone into a defensive crouch on the thesis that there is no such thing as an intelligent conservative.
UPDATE: A Bowdoin correspondent writes to point out this Orient article that provides an amazing contrast between Bowdoin’s official concern over “diversity” with its utter indifference to the intellectual and political diversity at issue in Klingenstein’s essay.
Tom Klingenstein writes to comment: “You were correct to imply that the criticisms of my essay address a side issue, the history offerings. But even those don’t score points. They were all criticisms of what I did NOT say. I stand by, and reaffirm, everything I said.”