BRUNSWICK – Bowdoin College entered the national spotlight last week when the National Association of Scholars (NAS) published a voluminous – and sharply critical – report on the state of the liberal arts at Maine’s top private college.
NAS released the study April 3 during a Manhattan Institute press conference in the University Club of New York in New York City.
“The report is perhaps the most deep and specific to date on how progressive ideology has altered the character of American higher education,” said former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett.
“Bowdoin has supplanted the ‘classical liberal’ principles of reasoned argument, the West, the universally true, and the potential for discovering the truth,” Bennett said. “Instead, its regnant orthodoxies are ideas such as ‘global citizenship,’ ‘social justice,’ and ‘sustainability.’”
“American education is as troubled as it’s ever been,” said NAS President and lead author of the report Peter Wood. “We wanted to find out what people learn when they get a degree from an elite American college,” he said.
The overall thrust of the study – What Does Bowdoin Teach? – is that Bowdoin, in Wood’s words, is dominated by progressive ideology and is hostile to western civilization. The study’s findings are summed up in the final paragraph of the report:
“What does Bowdoin not teach? Intellectual modesty. Self-restraint. Hard work. Virtue. Self-criticism. Moderation. A broad framework of intellectual history. Survey courses. English composition. A course on Edmund Spenser. A course primarily on the American Founders. A course on the American Revolution. The history of Western civilization from classical times to the present. A course on the Christian philosophical tradition. Public speaking. Tolerance towards dissenting views. The predicates of critical thinking. A coherent body of knowledge. How to distinguish importance from triviality. Wisdom. Culture.”
The 360-page study is the product of an 18-month examination of Bowdoin’s history, curriculum, pedagogy and culture and was funded by philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein. NAS researchers studied speeches by Bowdoin presidents and deans, formal statements of the college’s principles, official faculty reports and notes of faculty meetings, academic course lists and syllabi, books and articles by professors, the archive of the Bowdoin Orient newspaper and more. (The entire text of the study can be found here.)
Klingenstein, who sits on the board of NAS, decided to fund the study following a game of golf with Bowdoin President Barry Mills.
During that game of golf, Mills and Klingenstein had a dispute over Bowdoin’s admission practices and curriculum. Klingenstein argued that Bowdoin’s emphasis on multiculturalism detracts from a common American identity. Mills disagreed. The dispute was featured in Mills’ 2010 convocation address and in a response to that address which Klingenstein wrote for the Claremont Institute.
Bowdoin’s initial response to the report, which came via a campus-wide email, said the college would “review” the report. However, campus sources told The MAINE WIRE that Mills has made it known that the college intends to ignore the study. How open-minded!