The Bowdoin Project: Professor Rael offers herd of unicorns in NAS response
I was pleased to read Professor Patrick Rael’s article in the Orient responding to “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” Professor Rael and I disagree about many things but I welcome his comments as at least an effort to reckon with some of the substance of our critique of liberal arts education at Bowdoin.
As to the disagreement: Rael draws a colorful picture of what the National Association of Scholars (NAS) report “presupposes,” and then spends his time knocking the stuffing out of the presuppositions.
If I were to declare that the Bowdoin history department presupposes the existence of unicorns, I could with similar enthusiasm debunk the history department. But the history department doesn’t presuppose unicorns, and the NAS doesn’t presuppose, as Rael would have it, a time “when scholarship was both apolitical and non-ideological.” Nor do we call for a form of history that ignores black people, Native Americans and women. Nor we do believe history should exclude “the marginalized.” Unicorns, unicorns. Rael has offered a whole herd of unicorns.
The Bowdoin Project: NAS Responds to President Mills
We are pleased to see that Bowdoin College president Barry Mills has responded to "What Does Bowdoin Teach?" In an essay, “Setting the Record Straight,” published in the college’s official news outlet, the Bowdoin Daily Sun, April 10, Mills cites the college’s openness to criticism and commitment to academic freedom as reasons to “answer the charges” in our report.
While we welcome President Mills’s decision to engage the report, we are disappointed with the very limited approach he has taken. He offers a broad emotional response and then picks a handful of topics in which he erroneously thinks we got ours facts wrong. Our larger disappointment, however, is that President Mills leaves unaddressed the central themes of the report: unnoticed bias against views that differ from prevailing progressive ideas; curricular incoherence which results from a vision of the students as autonomous consumers, compounded by an ever-increasing narrowness of faculty specialization; the contradictions between the college’s vaunted commitments to openness and critical thinking, on the one hand, and its overriding ideological commitments, on the other; the displacement of intellectual standards by appeals to social justice; the college’s willingness to flatter students to the point of compromising educational desiderata; the erosion of intellectual community and its gradual replacement by popular enthusiasms; and the college’s retreat from positive efforts to foster self-restraint and other qualities of good character that are intrinsic to liberal arts education. On each and every one of these, President Mills is silent.
President Mills does make clear that his willingness to answer us at all required him to overcome considerable distaste. The report, he says, is “mean-spirited and personal.” It “exaggerates” and “misrepresents” and this is “the considered opinion of many members of our community.”
The Bowdoin Project: NAS study to use unbiased approach
In its October 14 editorial ("Klingenstein's Study"), The Bowdoin Orient questioned the validity of the Bowdoin College study that I am conducting. You say that the study cannot be "objective" because it is funded by Tom Klingenstein and it "appears to be driven by a clear agenda."
Your editorial also notes that the National Association of Scholars (NAS) has "never conducted a study on only a single college before" and that "the motive for this study is not genuine intellectual curiosity."
The editorial finally and "most importantly" faults the study as something that "does not recognize the critical thinking abilities of Bowdoin students."