When Craig McEwen left Sills Hall after teaching his last class of the fall semester, he was met with applause. Students, faculty and staff had gathered to celebrate the sociology professor, dean and community leader who was retireing after 30 years at Bowdoin.
"I want now to spend more time with [my wife] Maggie and with children and grandchildren," said McEwen, 66. "And I want to develop sustaining activities for the next stage of life."
During his three decades at Bowdoin, McEwen has been instrumental in reforming the College's curriculum, developing the McKeen Center for the Common Good, and inspiring generations of students to pursue sociology.
McEwen, a man of average height and greying hair, has subtle creases across his forehead and a teasing grin. His large glasses make his small eyes look bigger than they are.
"Bowdoin College has been incredibly fortunate to have him as a member of the faculty and as a dean for so many years," said Richard Maiman, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Southern Maine. Maiman helped shape divorce mediation in Maine courts with McEwen for many years, and calls him "one of the most significant academics we've seen in Maine."
Education and interest in sociology
McEwen grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., where his father taught English at the University of Michigan's engineering school.
"I grew up in an academic community, and took for granted I was going to become an academic," said McEwen. "I didn't think a lot about what I would do with my life."
He graduated from Oberlin College with a sociology degree in 1967. McEwen said he had done well in chemistry in high school and continued on that path in college, but discovered sociology and found that he liked it much better.
"I was much more intrigued by sets of social issues and sociological questions than I was with the laboratory work I found myself doing in chemistry," he said.
However, it was not until McEwen participated in a summer service activity at a Native American reservation camp between his sophomore and junior years that he cemented his interest in sociology.
McEwen's college roommate Ron Christensen, who coincidentally is now a professor of chemistry at Bowdoin said that he was a conscientious student.
"He was very disciplined and well organized and generally seemed to complete reading assignments and papers safely in advance of deadlines without the last-minute panic experienced by the rest of us," he said
"It was a time of turmoil and change in the U.S. and Oberlin was a hotbed of those activities," said McEwen. "The times certainly had an effect on what I wanted to do and what was most important to me."
McEwen went on to study sociology at Harvard, receiving both a masters and a Ph.D. His dissertation analyzed 13 programs for underage criminal offenders and focused on the social structure and behavior patterns of juveniles in Massachusetts. That project later became his first of four published books.
After completing his studies, McEwen saw an ad in the American Sociological Association job listing publication for a position at a small liberal arts college in Maine.
"I had never heard of Bowdoin College," he said. But McEwen had no second thoughts about accepting a teaching position at the College, even though he thought of it as the "20-degree weather place."
McEwen moved to Maine, along with his wife Maggie, whom he met in high school and married during senior year in college, "much to our parents' chagrin." They now have two children Ian, 38, and Kirk, 36.
Professor and mentor
McEwen was hired as an assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin in 1975 and earned tenure six years later in 1981, when he was appointed the Daniel B. Fayerweather Professor of Political Economy and Sociology.
Over the years, McEwen has designed and taught courses ranging from Maine Social Research to Criminology—one of his most popular courses and the only one he taught in his final semester.
"Professor McEwen is a wonderful lecturer who poses burning questions that help us think through our current system—what works, what does not work, and how we can improve the criminal justice system," said Rodolfo Edeza '13, who took Criminology in the fall.
McEwen's current and former students can attest to his effective teaching style, a mix of the Socratic method and lecturing.
"He had a reputation of being one the smartest people at the College. Period," said former student Tim Kuhner '89.
Kuhner, now a law professor at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, described McEwen as "incredibly open" and "welcoming" in and outside of the classroom. Kuhner completed an honors project with McEwen on community mediation and the two have stayed in touch since.
"He's still committed," he said. "It's been 13 years later and there Craig is, making a phone call, sending an email."
"That's one of the reasons that this is a wonderful job, to teach at a college like Bowdoin, to establish connections with students and get a sense of how students develop productive, exciting, interesting lives," said McEwen.
In addition to being a committed mentor, McEwen has also helped connect his students to useful contacts beyond the classroom.
"He's always willing to introduce you to people and wants to expose students to way more than the classroom," said Morgan Hampton '11. "That's the most valuable part of what he did for me at Bowdoin."
Hampton, now a teacher in New York, originally wanted to study math and biology, but said a class with McEwen "completely changed my outlook on my life." Hampton graduated as sociology and Africana studies double major.
"In his conversations, it is always clear that he puts students and teaching first," said Nancy Rogers, a law professor at Ohio State University, who co-authored a book with McEwen on law and mediation. "He'll never agree to a project or schedule a scholarly meeting that will shorten his time with students."
Some of McEwen's former students have even gone on to become academics in the field.
Nicola Biesel '80, now a sociology professor at Northwestern University, credits McEwen for helping her become passionate about the subject.
"It was because of him that I learned to love sociological research," said Biesel, who worked as a research assistant for McEwen for two summers.
During her first semester at Bowdoin, Biesel said she aced the first exam in her Introduction to Sociology class while her friend, who attended a "poorly-funded high school where she had never written an essay," failed it.
"Craig taught her how to write one—and she went on to get a Ph.D. at Columbia," said Biesel. "That is the kind of teacher he is."
Reformer: Dean for academic affairs
McEwen's teaching career was interrupted in 1985 when Alfred Fuchs, then dean of faculty, felt overburdened with administrative responsibilities, leading him to create a provisional part-time position that McEwen filled.
As assistant dean, McEwen was responsible for overseeing and supporting faculty recruitment.
"The faculty had grown significantly larger and Bowdoin, like other colleges, was trying to insure recruitment of a diverse faculty and to be more consistent in its procedures for recruitment and hiring," said McEwen.
McEwen, who continued to teach part-time, served as an assistant dean from 1985 to 1987 before becoming an acting dean the following year. When he returned to teaching full-time, he was unaware that another opportunity in the dean's office would present itself.
McEwen, who said he had no desire to become a dean, was on the search committee for a new faculty dean.
But when the committee failed to find a successor to Dean Chuck Bites, then-president Bob Edwards asked McEwen if he would head the Office of Academic Affairs for one year.
"It's the story of Barry Mills in a way," said McEwen, who became dean of academic affairs in 1999. Mills was heading the search committee to find Edwards' successor when a fellow trustee nominated him for the presidency.
Mills and McEwen spent five years working together until 2006, when McEwen wanted to return to teaching.
"The job was hard for Craig because he takes every problem with him and worries," said Mills. "That's what's so wonderful about the guy—he wants to make sure he's doing everything well and fair."
Mills recalled a fundraising trip to Hong Kong, during which McEwen wanted to visit some archaeological ruins.
"After about an hour drive," said Mills, chuckling, "we arrived to this set of buildings, and this sliver of a wall that had been hundreds of years old and was the only thing left!"
"There wasn't much to see but we saw it," Mills added.
McEwen's keen interest in seeing the ruin reflects his profound love for the past. He enjoys finding ways of relating history to the present and finding new meaning in ancient artifacts.
"Craig being the sociologist and lover of the past as he is, it was very funny as we tried to find this place," Mills added. "There wasn't much to be fascinated by it."
Mills described McEwen's leadership style as "thoughtful and methodical."
"Though I was president and he a dean, he was a mentor to me, helping me understand academic environments," said Mills. "When I came to Bowdoin, I came without a background on the academic side to the College, so Craig was a very important leader and mentor to me to help me."
During his time as dean for academic affairs, McEwen took up curriculum reform.
In the late 1970s, the faculty had successfully voted to change the distribution requirements mandating students take two courses in humanities, social sciences, math/natural science and "non-Eurocentric" studies. All courses counted for one or more of these requirements.
In its reaccreditation report in 1996, the New England Schools Association of Schools and Colleges urged Bowdoin to rethink its curriculum.
"The College was under external pressure, and there was increasing dissatisfaction among faculty and College leaders with the vague set of distribution requirements," said McEwen, who then led a faculty commitee through a two-year process of curriculum review and redesign of distribution and general education requirements.
The committee's changes were approved in May 2004 and went into effect in 2006. The Class of 2010 was the first to fulfill the new distribution requirements.
"What's better now is that we have a sharper shared definition of areas of learning that are important for students and that we highlight in our teaching at the College," said McEwen.
"If there was a Thomas Jefferson of that effort, he was it," said Mills, who worked with McEwen to redraft the definition of a "liberal arts education."
Mills said that in the entirety of their work together, he could not recall a point when they disagreed; their styles were "just different."
"He is very much a mediator," said Mills. "What Craig studies in academic settings very much fits his style of leading."
Scholar: Research on mediation
Over more than 30 years of research, McEwen has published four books and over 100 articles and papers, which primarily focus on mediation and dispute resolution.
Before the 1970s, there was no tradition of mediation in the mainstream U.S. court system. McEwen, with colleague Richard Maiman, studied Maine's pioneering mediation work in small claims courts. Mediators met with parties to help find a mutually acceptable resolution to their case before a judge would decide it for them.
McEwen later became a mediator both of small claims and divorce cases during the early 1980s.
"He had the foresight to realize that this new process [alternative dispute resolution], while very promising, really needed to be studied objectively," said Maiman. "There were a lot of fairly large claims being made for the virtues of mediation as an alternative to adjudication."
McEwen and Maiman received several National Foundation of Science grants in 1979, and they went on to research the impact of mediation in small claims cases on clients and courts. They later co-authored a book on divorce lawyering with Lynn Mather, which received the Herman Pritchett Award for best book on law and courts in 2001.
McEwen does not often talk about his accomplishments.
"Unlike other academics who want to impress you with how much they know, Craig never does that," said Maiman.
However, when working with his colleagues, McEwen is an assertive and well-respected scholar.
"Whether we're co-authoring or serving on a committee with him, when Professor McEwen speaks, people listen," said Nancy Rogers, who co-authored a book with McEwen about mediation and policy.
"He is not only knowledgeable but also offers unusual insight," she said.
Rogers recalled one situation in which McEwen's listening skills made a meaningful impact. While sitting on an Ohio Supreme Court advising committee meeting, which was responsible for making a recommendation for lawyers to be more willing to consider mediation, McEwen listened for an hour before suggesting that the committee conduct a survey to find out what was the most influential way to change an attorney's view.
Rogers said that after the chief justice sent out the survey, the committee changed its recommendation to reflect the survey results. The Supreme Court accepted the committee's recommendation, thereby changing its entire approach.
Leader: Founding the McKeen Center
McEwen is a strong advocate for community learning, and he worked with former Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley to translate faculty and staff ideas about community engagement and service learning into a proposal to found the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good.
"Learning doesn't happen just in the classroom," he said. "The more that students have varied opportunities, the richer their Bowdoin experience."
Prior to the establishment of the McKeen Center, the Community Service Resource Center (CSRC), founded by student leaders, was the hub of service on campus.
McEwen noted that the McKeen Center is unusual because it is a "joint enterprise of academic and student affairs."
"We recognized and wanted to support course-based learning in the community that happens outside of classroom, and connections between the two," said McEwen.
The McKeen Center helped Mills' capital campaign in the mid aughts significantly, as alumni and donors enthusiastically donated to the institution.
For McEwen, the McKeen Center is more than just a place that connects students to service; it builds upon the long-standing history of the common good as part of the College's identity.
A new stage: Retirement
After all he has done for Bowdoin, leaving will be hard for McEwen.
"The challenge is to imagine a year from now when I don't return to the classroom," he said.
Retirement, however, for McEwen will provide new opportunities and he says he will have time to catch up on things he has never gotten around to doing, like repairing antique radios.
"I want to learn much more about how old—from 1927 to 1940—wooden tube radios work so that I can restore them," said McEwen. "I have about 25 in varying states of repair."
"It's very hard to imagine what comes next," he continued. "The challenge now will be that this will be a lifelong sabbatical."