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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Manhattan Institute bashes Bowdoin College in report

Published: April 19, 2013
Section: News

A bizarre situation has arisen at Bowdoin College, which is shedding a negative light on the elite liberal arts school and others that share the same educational and cultural ideals. This month, a report titled “The Bowdoin Project” was released under the direction of Thomas Klingenstein, an investment professional and board member of the National Association of Scholars (NAS). The report was championed by the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

This 360-page study took 19 months to complete and cost more than $100,000. It details criticism and perceived faults in the academic, social and cultural aspects of the school. Despite being a study of only Bowdoin College, the report analyzes characteristics that many world-class and well-known colleges share.
What makes this affair even more interesting is what seems to have precipitated the study. Klingenstein and Bowdoin President Barry Mills played a round of golf together in the summer of 2010 as a way to raise funds for the school and attract donors. Klingenstein reportedly told Mills while the latter was in the middle of his swing that, “I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons . . . And I would never support Bowdoin or Williams because of all your misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.” This bold statement is credited by the fact that Williams College is Klingenstein’s alma mater.
Mills then “walked off the course in despair,” according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
President Mills repeated the statement said by Klingenstein during that year’s convocation address, although he did not mention Klingenstein by name.
The report states that “this is a campus dominated by a progressive ideology that is rather hostile to American nationhood, and certainly to Western civilization.”
The report goes on to say that Bowdoin does not teach, “Intellectual modesty. Self-restraint. Hard Work. Virtue. Self-criticism. Moderation. A broad framework of intellectual history . . . tolerance towards dissenting views. The predicates of critical thinking. A coherent body of knowledge. How to distinguish importance from triviality. Wisdom. Culture.”
“The Bowdoin Project” includes detailed criticism of the perceived liberal closed-mindedness of the Bowdoin community, prevalence and promotion of promiscuous sexual activity, and the school’s focus on less conventional courses and topics, in addition to many other subjects.
The report was prefaced with a message from Klingenstein purporting that the project was not the result of a personal vendetta against President Mills. Despite its great volume, the report used many indirect resources such as course catalogs, minutes of meetings and student newspaper articles. The researcher contacted approximately 100 current members of the Bowdoin community, but the vast majority declined to comment or only spoke off the record. Only three interviews were conducted with Bowdoin students for the report, and one of the three participants has already requested to have his name and interview removed from the report.
Mills took the week after the report was made public to look at the document in its entirety and put together an appropriate response. He did not argue with the group’s right to publish the report, stating, “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.”
Yet, Mills believes that the report is mean-spirited, personal and includes exaggerated and misrepresented claims about the school. He also said that he does not believe that those involved in the study have spent enough time on the Bowdoin campus to experience the school. In his statement he did not address every detail of the initial report, but provided a brief overview of Bowdoin’s opposition to it. Members of the college’s community and beyond have taken to social media to voice their concerns—so much so that the Bowdoin Daily Sun had to close the comments section on their website.
Major concerns that Mills expressed were about the accusations that the school is un-American, that history majors are not required to take a single course in American history and that the school does not offer any courses devoted to the overall political, military, diplomatic and intellectual history of America. Mills cites numerous courses that Bowdoin offers that deals with these subjects and states that although not required, 98 percent of graduating history majors have taken an American history class on their own.
In addition to the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe covering the issue, conservative pundits Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have also publicly voiced their opinions. The report comes at a sensitive time in the college admissions schedule with many high school students currently deciding what school to attend. Bowdoin Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Scott Meiklejohn, has stated the report does not seem to be impacting enrollment levels for the Class of 2017.

Mills’ response to the report was followed by a response by the group that put together the report. Klingenstein was pleased that the president responded, but believed Mills’ defense to be “inaccurate or unresponsive” and that “he didn’t respond to the major points. There are certain things, what I would call foundational ideas, where Bowdoin is not open to competing points of view,” according to The Bowdoin Orient.

The 360-page report can be viewed on the NAS website. The Bowdoin Orient stated that “now that the report has been addressed by a series of national media outlets, one might hope that this saga—now well into its third year—will finally be put to rest.”