Bowdoin responds

Courtesy of Claremont Institute Chairman Tom Klingenstein, Bowdoin College was the subject of unwanted attention this past week. Tom funded a study of Bowdoin just released by National Association of Scholars President Peter Wood and his NAS colleague Michael Toscano. The book-length study sets out to answer the question What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students.

The Wall Street Journal’s David Feith answers a different question in his WSJ column “The golf shot heard round the academic world.” Feith answers the question: Why did Tom Klingenstein fund the study? Tom himself wrote about the underlying incident two years ago in the Claremont Review of Books column “A golf story.”

The NAS study must represent some kind of a milestone. Peter Wood is a distinguished scholar. In his academic career he was, among other things, a member of the Anthropology Department at Boston University, where he also held a variety of administrative positions, including associate provost and president’s chief of staff. He is the author of Diversity: The Invention of a Concept.

In the NAS report, as my daughter Eliana notes, Wood and Toscano undertake to provide a “full-fledged ethnography.” Eliana writes that report constitutes “the most comprehensive assessment of the academic culture, customs, and values of a college conducted to date” and that it renders a highly critical judgment. Peter Berkowitz also examines the study in the RCP column “The sad state of liberal education at Bowdoin.” Bowdoin is a stand-in for just about every elite (i.e., admission to which is highly competitive) institution of higher education in the United States, so the report should be of interest beyond the Bowdoin community.

The Bowdoin Orient interviews Wood and covers the report in “NAS releases 360 page critique of the College.” The Orient takes a look at the source of the study in “What is the NAS?” The Orient editors respond to the report in “Bowdoin’s project.”

Bowdoin has issued its initial response to the NAS study. Bowdoin Communications VP Scott Hood released the following statement on April 3:

The National Association of Scholars today released a report titled “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” We will review the report because we encourage open discourse on the effectiveness of American higher education and because we support academic freedom, which is the essence of a liberal arts institution.

Bowdoin will continue to assess its effectiveness by relying on many factors to evaluate our academic and residential life programs, including the accomplishments of students, faculty, and staff, and the achievements, loyalty, and support of alumni. The College will also look to the informed judgment of foundations, corporations, and other outside donors that are well versed in assessing the quality and efficacy of the institutions they support, and we will depend on the rigorous decennial reaccreditation process. Collectively, these and other internal measures provide us with the qualitative and quantitative means to consider carefully how we are doing currently and what we must do to prepare for the future.

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. A Bowdoin education trains young men and women of varied backgrounds to think critically, solve complex problems, apply sound judgment, embrace lifelong learning, and make principled decisions in support of the common good. This is both our mission and our record.

I trust intelligent readers to do their own translation of Bowdoin’s statement, but they will also want to consider this interesting exchange between Bowdoin College President Barry Mills and Bowdoin Assistant Professor of Economics Stephen Meardon.

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