I arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, June 19, eleven days before the onset of nationwide protests that were to depose President Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. I moved into an apartment on 15 Bostan Street, a couple minutes walk from Tahrir Square. In true foreigner fashion, I found myself paying double-price for the taxi, dragging my suitcases into the lobby. Most apartment buildings in Cairo have a doorman—a bawab—and I spent our first conversation trying to explain that I was claustrophobic and was going to walk up eight flights of stairs to my apartment. He smiled and grabbed my suitcases as he stepped into the elevator. I started climbing.
The summer before, I had studied at Middlebury’s Arabic program with a friend who then recommended a language institute in Cairo. I took his advice, and this summer, I signed up for six weeks of an intensive language course and gave myself a week at the end to travel around the country.
In Egypt, like in every other Arabic-speaking country, people speak a local dialect of Arabic known as aamiyya. Aamiyya and fusha are like two languages that, while obviously related, are still noticeably different. I, like every other foreign language student, learned the latter—it is taught in schools, spoken in official capacities and used for all written Arabic. However, I soon learned that no one spoke it outside of a presidential address—ever. As I explored the streets near my apartment, I tried to pick up conversations with whoever was willing. Midway through one, the man I was speaking to paused, saying, “I can’t believe I’m speaking fusha right now”—obviously saying most of it in aamiyya. I was a Shakespearean character walking around twenty-first century London; all I was missing was the medieval outfit.
Between the 2001-02 and 2011-12 academic years, the College increased its funding for need-based financial aid grants from roughly $10.4 million to approximately $27.2 million.
Financial aid and grade point average (GPA) have no correlation, according to a nonscientific survey conducted by the Orient, to which 395 students responded.
The survey asked students about their academic success as it related to their financial and work situations.
Forty-six percent of the survey’s respondents say they receive financial aid, which is close to the actual percentage of students receiving grants from the College.
In the 2001-02 academic year, 39 percent of students received grants from the College. That number rose to 46 percent by the 2011-12 academic year, according to the College’s Common Data Set.
In recent years, the percentage of students receiving aid has increased on a class-by-class basis, according to the online Class of 2016 profile. Upon matriculation, 41 percent of the entering Class of 2013 received financial aid; this year, 48 percent of the Class of 2016 received financial aid. The average grant for all students has increased by $1,100 since the Class of 2013 matriculated, from $34,350 to $35,450. The average grant for students in the Class of 2016 is $38,740.
Director of Student Aid Michael Bartini said that he thinks the reasons for these increases in financial aid are two-fold.
“One, we are recruiting to a broader group of individuals,” he said. “Two, our cost has increased a bit faster than families’ incomes. As we broaden our perspective on who we try to attract and our cost increases, those two factors have led us to believe that our average grants are going to continue to increase probably faster than our increase in cost.”
In February 2003, the Orient reported that the comprehensive fee for the 2003-04 school year would rise to $37,790. According to the Office of Student Aid’s website, tuition alone cost $43,676 for the 2012-13 school year. (The total estimated expenses for this school year were $58,200.)
Because the cost of education has risen, “more and more families with higher incomes are qualifying for financial aid,” according to Bartini.
“I believe the majority of folks—whether you’re on financial aid or not—really struggle and plan about how to pay for college,” said Bartini. “There are a group of families who may not be receiving assistance from us, but they’re also feeling the pain.”
The College’s financial aid policies have also changed over the past decade. In 2008, Bowdoin eliminated loans from its financial aid packages.
In May 2012, the Orient conducted a survey of graduating seniors. The results showed that, of the 30 percent who would graduate with debt, the average amount was $25,895.
According to the U.S. News and World Report, 16 percent of Bowdoin students receive Pell Grants, which are awarded by the federal government based upon financial need. This year, students who qualify for Pell Grants can receive up to $5,500, depending on their financial circumstances and the cost of their college. Thirteen percent of the Class of 2016 received a Pell Grant this year.
In an email to the Orient, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Scott Meiklejohn said that his office is “committed to introducing the College to talented students of all backgrounds, school types and family incomes, in as many places on the globe as we can reach.”
That isn’t always easy. Faustino Ajanel ’16, a first-generation college student from Los Angeles, said that even applying for aid was an obstacle. Ajanel had problems filling out his CSS Profile—a form that allows students to apply for aid—during his senior year of high school.
“I was getting lost” filling out the form, he said. “I had to go to programs to ask for help filling it out and even the program directors didn’t know how to.”
For many of the students interviewed for this report, financial aid packages were significant factors in choosing to come to Bowdoin but were not always the deciding factor.
“I made my decision to come here despite financial aid packages, rather than because of” them, said a sophomore female who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.
A junior girl who receives $40,000 in aid said that, though she received better offers from other colleges, her “feeling about the school was more important than the money.”Academics & Financial Aid
Many students receiving financial aid work to earn spending money or to help cover costs. Students are allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours a week in on-campus jobs. Some, albeit few, students work additional hours off campus.
One sophomore female’s parents made her quit an additional off-campus job “because I wasn’t sleeping. The pressure [to work] comes from myself and it definitely impacts my academics,” she said. “When you’re at work, you’re not sleeping or doing homework or socializing, which are the three things you should be doing at school.
“I always finish my assignments on time...and I think because I’m really conscious of it, I focus a lot more on really getting things done,” she said. But working a lot “does make it harder.”
Students who work fewer hours on campus face less of a challenge balancing making money and academics.
“It definitely takes time to work—eight hours a week is not a pittance—but it’s time that I don’t feel like I need in order to keep up with studies,” said one senior male.
Financial aid can also serve to motivate the students who receive it, according to Anna Chase ’13.
“I work really hard for personal fulfillment, but in the back of my mind sometimes I want to do really well because I’m getting so much help to be here—sort of to prove that I deserve the help, deserve the aid, and that I can be the best student I can be,” she said.
If commitments become too much, the College provides several resources for students struggling academically or looking to improve study skills, regardless of their background or GPA. One of these resources is the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), which includes the Writing Project, the Quantitative Reasoning Program, and the Baldwin Program for Academic Development.
Director of the Baldwin Program Elizabeth Barnhart said that students have all sorts of reasons for seeking her help, but added that a lack of preparedness is perhaps the most common. She said that the diversity of secondary schools from which Bowdoin draws helps explain the varying degrees of preparedness within the student body.
“I try to help students understand the changes. What’s different from high school? Why is it that some people in your class sound like they know a lot more than you?” said Barnhart. “Is it that they’re so much smarter than you, or is it that they’ve had a very different kind of high school experience?”
Ajanel said his public Los Angeles high school’s curriculum was not designed to get him ready for a school like Bowdoin.
“I honestly was lost [my first semester] because my high school didn’t prepare me as well as other kids,” Ajanel said. “The main purpose of my high school was to allow people to graduate from high school, not to help people be ready for college.”
If students are not succeeding academically, Barnhart said, the College does a good job of encouraging them to seek out the Baldwin Program.
“Counseling, Dean’s Office, faculty, advisors—it’s kind of that network of referral,” she said.
Ajanel said he would not have gone to the CTL during his first semester if not for this network.
“People had to push me to go there. I didn’t want to ask for help,” he said.
Despite the success of the network of administrators and faculty, the College has sought new ways to help students from diverse backgrounds reach their full academic potential.
The minutes of the February 6, 2012 faculty meeting include a discussion on academic preparedness among entering first years. It describes the findings of a 2008-2009 working group “charged with looking at how we help students with different experiences and backgrounds succeed at Bowdoin.”
According to the minutes, “The group studied the transcripts of 40 students in the bottom 10 percent of the Class of 2007 as well as those of an additional 40 randomly chosen students in the class.”
The group recommended several programs to help students adjust to academics at the College, including an intensive advising program and a lower-level math class. The College has since launched the BASE advising program and begun offering Math 050: Quantitative Reasoning.
The BASE advising program pairs first-year students with specially-trained advisors. Faculty Liason for Advising Suzanne Lovett, one of the people behind the program, distributed a report on the success of the program at the February 6, 2012 faculty meeting, according to the minutes. The report indicated that students in BASE were far more likely to solicit and receive help from their advisors than students not in the program.
Lovett could not be reached for comment by press time.A balancing act
Some students who receive aid said that adding social and extracurricular activities into the balancing act of work and academics is complicated, though most have found few differences between themselves and their wealthier peers.
“I know people who are paying for everything on their own; they’re a lot more stressed out than I am. I have friends who are here on no financial aid, whose parents donate, and then I have friends who are like me,” said one sophomore female.
According to another sophomore female, money “comes up more in some circles than others.”But for her, the differences between students aren’t based on financial aid; instead, she said, differences are “because of what kind of happens to your consciousness when you’re raised with different levels of wealth.”
“There’s an isolated person here or there that likes to flaunt their [socioeconomic] status,” a sophomore boy said, “but you’d be hard pressed to find a person like that.”
Two students disagreed.
“There’s a clear divide between socioeconomic status,” said a junior female. “I can’t just do the same things...It makes it difficult to talk to your friends about these situations. It’s also a learning process for me, to make them understand what I’m going through.”
Ajanel said he thinks Bowdoin students do not discuss wealth or privilege frequently enough, and that most students make little effort to understand his background.
“I actually feel unsafe now when I go back home. I started to lose my street smarts, I guess,” Ajanel said. “Right here everything is calm—nothing that fast, no violence, no drugs, no gangs—but when I go home, I live through that again. I experience that all over again.”
For all the students interviewed, navigating financial situations is trickier when it comes to off-campus activities.
“I’ve never been out to eat [in Brunswick] except when my friends’ parents take me out,” said the sophomore male.
“There are times when I really wish I could go to New York for a weekend,” one sophomore girl said. “When people are comparing their summer plans, that’s when I feel it most.”On campus, though, money is less of an object.
“I definitely think Bowdoin makes a lot of effort to make things equally accessible to everyone. You don’t pay to go to most of the events, it’s a package deal. There’s a ton of stuff you can do without spending any other money,” said a sophomore female.
The senior male agreed.
“Everything’s pretty equal opportunity,” he said.
“Bowdoin does a really good job—you don’t have to spend any money really,” said another sophomore female.
One sophomore male who receives $40,000 in aid found that getting rid of his meal plan significantly reduced his expenses.
“I can never go to the dining hall with people,” he said, but he tries to make up for it by having friends over for dinner. “Other than not going to the dining hall, everything’s pretty much the same,” despite his financial situation.
“Work doesn’t make it harder,” he said. “I still do a lot of extracurriculars. I have time for social stuff.”
I write in response to the editors’ request for my opinion of the NAS report with regard to the government department and to the report in general.
First, although the NAS study purports to be an “ethnography” of Bowdoin over the past 40-plus years, it fails to provide a comprehensive answer to the question “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” As others have noted, the report makes much of the fact that history does not require (or even offer) a course on the American founding, but that does not mean that Bowdoin students are denied the opportunity to study this subject. As the report finally gets around to acknowledging (footnote 1155), the government department offers a survey of American political thought that treats the founding in depth (the NAS likes survey courses!), and has done so for the last 25 years.
Second, the report calls attention to many of the narrow and/or ideologically charged first year seminars on offer, but it passes over more traditional seminars without comment. The government department regularly offers a number of such classes, including “Human Being and Citizen” and “Fundamental Questions: Exercises in Political Theory,” both of which introduce students to the great books of political philosophy. What’s more, every major must take at least one course in political theory to complete the requirements for the major, ensuring that Bowdoin graduates in government (the largest major on campus) will have some familiarity with classic texts. On a related note, at least five government courses assign The Federalist Papers. Although the report generally exempts the government (and economics) departments from criticism, it seems less interested, even by its own lights, in what Bowdoin does well.
March 28, 2014 5:12 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the average GPA of all students in 2005 was 3.25. The correct statistic is 3.23.
President Barry Mills delivered a report on athletics at a faculty meeting on February 4, providing a rare look at the College’s efforts to recruit athletes and opening a discussion about their collective performance in the classroom.
According to Professor of Latin and Greek Barbara Boyd, at one of the fall faculty meetings earlier in the year, Professor of Religion Jorunn Buckley voiced her concern with “a number of students that she said were underprepared for the academic work at Bowdoin, and noticed that some of them were athletes.”
Several members of the faculty began actively discussing the issue during the meeting, and Mills returned at the February 4 meeting with information to answer some of their concerns, citing the difference in cumulative grade point average between athletes and non-athletes at Bowdoin as the “smallest or next to smallest of any school in the NESCAC.”
The collective GPA of female athletes is slightly higher than that of the general female population, while male athletes are just a shade below the male average. According to a Bowdoin Academic Affairs web page, at the end of the fall 2005 semester the cumulative GPA of student athletes, including members of club teams, was 3.22, almost indentical to the all-student cumulative GPA of 3.23. The College has not updated these statistics since 2005.
“It’s absolutely a point of pride within our campus community and the athletic department,” said Tim Ryan, althetic director, about the negligible GPA difference between athletes and the student body at large. “It’s a testament to the work our coaches do to bring highly talented students to campus who are dedicated to their academic interests.
Multiple professors on campus pointed out that they were not concerned with athletes in general, but rather a select few who seemed to be underperforming academically.
“Basically [Mills’] message was that, on average, the GPA of athletes is on par with the rest of the College. Averages can be misleading,” said biology and biochemistry professor Bruce Kohorn. “It would be better to look at the individual GPAs of individual athletes and perhaps those of specific teams.”
Each admissions cycle, Bowdoin is limited, like all other NESCAC schools, to 77 athletic recruits—students who gain admission aided by the fact they play sports. Bowdoin has a self-imposed, flexible cap of admitting around 120 student athletes in each first-year class. This means a total of 43 athletes are admitted solely on the basis of their academic achievements. No other NESCAC school has a similar limitation.
President Mills instituted the cap of 120 when he came to Bowdoin in 2001.
“I believed that we could have competitive and excellent teams, and at the same time, given our small size, it would leave enough space to admit people with other interests,” he said.
Ryan echoed Mills’ interest in bringing a diverse student body to Bowdoin each year.
“One of our goals at Bowdoin is to have a community that’s comprised of people with many different interests,” said Ryan. “We work with the parameters that are in place for us regarding athletes and we’re pleased with the success that we’ve been able to have both in the classroom and on the playing field.”
After Mills’ February faculty meeting remarks, faculty members launched into a larger discussion about the relationship between college athletics and academics.
“One of the issues that came up was students missing classes on Fridays due to away games,” said Boyd. The administration “talked about how that had all been worked out and there wasn’t supposed to be any missing of classes. But then some faculty members said ‘Actually, no,’” there had been incidents of it.
While unanimously agreeing that there is value in participating in athletics, some professors said they felt that athletes at Bowdoin are pressured to dedicate an inordinate amount of time to their sports.
“There are some very bright people who don’t have the time or energy to reach their potential in the classroom,” said Kohorn.
“If teammates are saying ‘Oh, don’t take that class because of practice,’ then that’s really detrimental to the academic program of the institution,” said Boyd.
Student-athletes, too, acknowledged the strain that practices, games and other team functions can put on their studies.
“Every single time between classes in-season, even if it’s just 45 minutes, I have to be doing something,” said Kelsey Mullaney ’16, a member of the field hockey team, in an interview with the Orient. “If I don’t, then I’m going to be up late. Procrastination isn’t an option.”
“Two hours a day at practice translates to a 2-hour practice, a half-hour dinner with the team, minimum, and a half-hour of cleaning up and getting ready to do work,” said Ezra Duplissie-Cyr ’15, a member of the men’s club rugby team. “Before you know it, it’s eight o’clock and half of your day is gone.”
Duplissie-Cyr opted not to play a varsity sport at Bowdoin because of the additional time commitment.
“I’ve heard [varsity athletes] complain about getting back from a game at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night,” he said.
Despite this, many athletes reported athletics having a positive effect on their academics.
“It creates a schedule for me,” said Spencer Vespole ’13, who plays water polo in the fall and coaches the women’s water polo team in the spring. “Outside of the season I don’t really know what to do between 4:30 and 6:30. I’ll fall asleep.”
“As a junior, I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m pretty much always in season,” said Griffin Cardew ’14, a member of both the football and lacrosse teams. “I feel like I work best when I’m in season because I tend to procrastinate [otherwise]. It forces me to be organized and have a schedule. When I have an hour or 45 minutes to get work done, that’s when I have to do it.”
According to Mullaney, being a member of a sports team has improved her academic experience as a first year in multiple ways. Because field hockey is a fall sport, she said she developed her study habits during her busiest time of the year.
“It would be much harder starting with lots of free time and then going into a sport,” she said.
However, several athletes confirmed the concern that Boyd had—that student athletes often choose classes around their sports commitments, as a way to more prudently manage their future schedules.
“There were classes in the afternoon that I couldn’t take [because of practice], which sucks because they aren’t offered in the spring,” added Mullaney. “That’s really frustrating.”
“There have been a couple of night classes in the past that I would’ve been interested in taking, but I didn’t just because I would’ve missed practice,” said Cardew. “So to a certain extent it’s affected it, but I wouldn’t make any complaints about it.”
According to Professor of Economics Jonathan Goldstein, athletes at Bowdoin have little incentive to dedicate time to schoolwork at the expense of their athletic careers.
“At Bowdoin, 85 percent of grades are As and Bs,” he said. “What that says is that the opportunity cost of shirking academic responsibilities to pursue extracurricular activities is very small.”
However, not all professors on campus said they agree that student-athletes should always have to be students first.
“The people who disparage spending a lot of time on athletics are thinking from a perspective that it’s a wasted endeavor,” said Assistant Professor of Economics Erik Nelson. “Presumably, you would think you’re a better person for devoting more time to your mind than your body, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. People who are worried about athletes and the amount of time they spend with the sport think that there’s some kind of wrongful imbalance. I don’t know why, necessarily.”
“Students are adults by the time they’re in college,” added Nelson. “It’s up to them to decide how they want to allocate their time and the risk they run by dedicating a lot of time to a particular activity.”
Even though the College’s student athletes have limited time to spare for schoolwork, academics are a major concern for the Athletic Department.
“When we go through the hiring process of coaches, we talk about the importance of the academic performance of our students,” said Ryan. “We hope to attract people who are philosophically aligned with the idea that students are here to be students first.”
Whether they like it or not, coaches at Bowdoin must look to recruit players who will meet the approval of the Office of Admissions.
“Regardless of how good a player someone is, the school’s not going to accept them if they don’t think they’re qualified,” said Tim Gilbride, the head coach of men’s basketball.
As for non-recruits, the definition of “qualified” at Bowdoin is fluid when compared to other peer institutions.
“There’s nothing formulaic [for us],” said Head Football Coach Dave Caputi. “Ivy League schools have something called the Academic Index. The highest score you can get is 240 points. Good essay, bad essay, glowing teacher recommendations, lukewarm teacher recommendations: none of that factors into it in the Ivy League formula. Bowdoin’s is not a quantitative evaluation; it’s a qualitative evaluation.”
“Standards have changed over time as the school looks for different things, students from different areas, or whatever the case may be,” said Gilbride. “Every year someone from admissions will talk to Tim Ryan and say ‘Here are the parameters.’ Sometimes they’ll actually sit down with us coaches as a group and say, ‘Here are cases of kids who’ve been admitted or not admitted, and here’s why.’”
Once given a clear picture of what to look for in recruits’ academic profiles, coaches work hard to project which of their target players stand a good chance of admittance.
As a result of the non-formulaic approach in admissions, Bowdoin coaches must pay particular attention to their athletes’ non-athletic performance. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Scott Mieklejohn, declined to comment for this story.
“We save all the information of kids we’ve admitted in the past and say to ourselves ‘How did Admissions read this kid?’ So we’ll do some pretty lengthy analysis for future reference,” said Caputi.
“Some guys are borderline, academically,” said Gilbride. “Your initial information might be testing scores and GPA in a recruiting sheet. Then we’ll ask for more information: What’s he taking for courses? Is he taking AP classes? What courses are on the schedule next year? If that stuff’s very strong, then we can think that it might work out.”
Like all Bowdoin students, athletes have the opportunity to utilize many academic resources. Coaches make sure to let their players know what is available on campus.
“I talk to my players pretty regularly, especially the first years,” said Gilbride. “Sometimes people aren’t aware of the resources available to them. Occasionally, if they come in and struggle academically they’ll be embarrassed, because they’ve always been so successful as a student [prior to college]. I tell them to meet with the professor or join a study group. It’s advice I’d give to any first-year students.”
Coaches are also concerned about keeping close tabs on their players’ grades.
“All freshmen and anyone who got below a 3.0 in the previous semester go to a study hall once a week for an hour,” Cardew said of the lacrosse team.
Most recruits succeed in the classroom once at Bowdoin, and many excel. Eighty-four Polar Bears were named to the NESCAC All-Academic Team this past fall, and 77 were named for the winter season.
“I think that’s a measure of the job the admissions office does,” said Coach Caputi. “It’s a measure of the standards we have and us trying to find kids who are a good match.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Longtime Orient adviser Sandy Polster died yesterday at his New York home after battling cancer for more than two years. Bill Wheatley, a close friend of Sandy’s and former executive vice president of NBC News, notified friends of Sandy’s death in an email yesterday evening to which the following obituary was attached. “As you know, Sandy loved to write. Accordingly, he composed his own obituary, which he asked be sent to you,” Wheatley wrote. Sandy advised The Orient for 12 years, presiding over a marked increase in the professionalism of the paper. Which is not to say that he was satisfied: “One hundred percent of The Orient is 40 percent overwritten,” he once said. To a student body with a four-year memory, his perspective was invaluable. He is missed, but his guidance steers us still.
WRITER’S NOTE: Greetings from the beyond, wherever it is. While death is life’s only certainty, most don’t know the when and how. I did, and I decided it would be fun if my final writing assignment were my own obituary. —s.Sandor M. Polster 1942-2013
Sandor M. Polster, who worked closely with Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw as writer and news editor in the 1970s and 1980s, died on March 21 at his apartment in New York. He was 71. The cause was complications from gastric cancer, which he had battled for more than two years.