An eight-member reaccreditation committee from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) has presented an initial summary of its findings to the College. In a preview of a report to be submitted to the NEASC, the team commended Bowdoin for its commitment to a liberal arts education and change since the last accreditation, but expressed concern about the College's planning for the future and focus on academic advising.
"The team clearly recognized the strength and vitality of this college community?the excellence of this faculty and commitment to teaching, the strength of our students, the loyalty of our alumni base," said President Barry Mills, following the presentation.
"They really have grasped, in important ways, the excellence of the College, the commitment and reflection of our core mission of liberal arts education, and the commitment to the common good."
Every 10 years, more than 225 colleges and universities in New England seek accreditation from NEASC's Commission on Institutes of Higher Education (CIHE). As part of the reaccreditation process, Bowdoin conducted a self-study report on its mission, goals, and future plans, and submitted it to a team of educators from Middlebury College, Swarthmore College, Wellesley College, Carleton College, and other institutions.
Headed by David Oxtoby, president of Pomona College, the team met with groups of administrators, students, and faculty from November 12 to 15 to assess Bowdoin's fulfillment of NEASC's accreditation standards.
After assessing the College and submitting a full set of recommendations and commendations to NEASC's CIHE, the commission will make an accreditation decision in a matter of months.
"We really appreciated your openness, candor, and willingness to talk about lots of issues," Oxtoby said at a Wednesday meeting to present initial findings. "We really think this is a truly unique place. We learned a lot about what you do and how you do it, and we'll take lots of wonderful ideas back to our own campuses."
The committee observed that Bowdoin "has made major progress defining its purposes since 1996," when an accreditation team last visited. The committee also said that the College's mission statement contains the correct attitude about a liberal arts education and is specific about Bowdoin's distinctive features.
Bowdoin's academic program also got top marks.
"Both faculty and students seem deeply engaged in learning and teaching, and have expressed satisfaction with the academic program," Oxtoby said.
The team said that the College's new distribution requirements express the goals of a liberal arts education, majors are clearly outlined and structured, the curriculum has been internationalized, and restricted class sizes are commendable. The art and science programs have received needed boosts with more space and faculty, and the Museum of Art and Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum provide "great teaching assets," according to Oxtoby.
However, the group said, the College must monitor its academic advising program. The team noted that advising is important for the new curriculum, and that while the faculty seem dedicated to the notion of advising, there is a need for more collaboration and assistance among the already-busy faculty.
Oxtoby also commended the faculty's growth in 10 years, which has "enhanced the curriculum and reduced the student-faculty ratio to 10:1." He said he is pleased with the efforts to increase faculty diversity and commended Bowdoin's support for faculty excellence with competitive salaries, a strong sabbatical policy, and integration with the capital campaign. Nonetheless, the team said there should be more transparency and clarification in the reappointment, promotion, and tenure policy, as well as the merit review procedure for salary increase.
Furthermore, the committee praised Bowdoin's diversity, noting the rise in students of color on campus from 13 percent in 1996 to 26 percent now. While they praised admissions and the resources invested in financial aid for increasing the percentage, the team said it is "imperative" to focus on curricular and extracurricular programs to assist these minorities and student groups.
In terms of physical space, the team observed a significant investment in facilities over the past 10 years. The College has focused on student life and academic priorities, while considering a master plan that may include the acquisition of Brunswick Naval Air Station land.
Financially, Oxtoby explained that Bowdoin is in a "strong position" with its budget and balances, solid endowment returns, and planned fundraising. The College recognizes the importance of financial management, he said, with a strong investment committee, complex and diversified strategy, and prudent spending policy.
Still, the team said Bowdoin must maintain efforts to connect with alumni and trustees as it handles finances, using the magazine, the Web site, and other publications to stay in touch.
Overall, the committee emphasized that while Bowdoin has made improvements since 1996, it must continue to do so while adjusting to modern demands. Oxtoby said that "in a period of tremendous change, there is a danger of losing sight of what the key goals once were at the College."
In a public meeting seeking community input, members of the College expressed similar concerns. After seeing Bowdoin change over the past 20 or 30 years, they said that the College must maintain its historical roots and not lose its familiar feeling.
Mills said he welcomes the recommendations by the committee and identified what he believes Bowdoin should focus on. First, he said, is "long-term planning in an environment of finite resources." Second, are improvements in the academic advising systems for students. Third is the importance of a "faculty governance system that will both be responsive to the needs of the faculty" and will allow for future interactions that are efficient and effective.
Finally, he said, the College must assess its actions and keep its goals in mind for education.
"We must assess this college and community, and pay close attention to assess the effectiveness of what we do," Mills said. "At the same time, it's important to remember that we are an education system. It's not always about numbers and percentages. It's about education, values, and judgment issues that are not always easy to identify."