In an effort to communally commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, the Bowdoin College Republicans (BCR), the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF) joined forces.
The three groups gathered at the flagpole in the evening of September 11 to share memories of the event. Bringing together participants from three different campus groups, the event offered diverse perspectives on 9/11.
"There were people from New York, people who looked outside their classroom windows and saw the towers, and then there were people from Bangladesh...it was a unique combination of individuals," said BCR President Steve Robinson '11.
Much debate has followed the remarks of President Barry Mills in his convocation address; Mills addressed the intellectual diversity of the College and stressed it is important to promote an environment in which atypical ideas can be voiced.
"Diversity of ideas at all levels of the College is crucial for our credibility and for our educational mission," said Mills in his address. "The deep sentiment is that we are out of touch."
Robinson said that the 9/11 memorial allowed his group, along with the BCF and the MSA, to gain visibility for their ideals and to breakdown preexisting notions.
"By having an event that's positive and uplifting, we're hoping to change previous assumptions about Republicans and conservatives in general."
In his convocation speech, Mills warned that the liberal persuasion of the College might prevent other views from being heard.
"I have no statistics to quote for Bowdoin, but if we are representative of elite liberal arts colleges, we are, in the main, a place of liberal political persuasion," he said.
The Orient conducted a survey of the students' perceptions of the political landscape on campus. Approximately 16.5 percent of students, 289 people, responded. The survey was advertised via e-mail and the student digest, and did not require username authentication.
Fifty-one percent considered themselves to be aligned with the Democratic Party. Thirty-four percent did not align themselves with a political party, and nine percent aligned themselves with the Republican Party.
Seventy-six percent of respondents reported that the Bowdoin student body as a whole leans toward the same political views, and 64 percent characterized the prevalent political persuasion as liberal.
Mills addressed the danger of the perception of Bowdoin as a place in which ideas trend toward the status quo, in which intellectual diversity may be stifled.
"We ought to be a place where people can express their views in an unvarnished way," he said in an interview with the Orient.
In the Orient survey, 61 percent of respondents believed that Bowdoin students are willing to engage different political viewpoints, while 28 percent disagreed.
However, Mills stressed that in his speech he was not speaking to political diversity alone, but intended to address the importance of intellectual diversity on campus in a broader sense. He reported that individuals from BCF and other underrepresented groups on campus had reached out to him following his speech to thank him for addressing the issue of underrepresentation on campus.
"It didn't surprise me exactly...the extent to which people feel uneasy on the campus. It's a conversation that worth continuing," said Mills in the interview.
Mills' remarks have generated much discussion about ideological diversity on campus with regard to students and faculty.
"It's troublesome that you can count the number of conservative professors here on one hand," said Robinson. "The College Republicans would like to see an increase in intellectual diversity and more honest discussion of social and political issues."
In his speech, Mills cited a statistic from a 2007 study by Professors Neil Gross and Solon Simmons from the book "The Marketplace of Ideas, Why do all Professors Think Alike?"
Nationally, they found, "about 44 percent of the professoriate is some kind of liberal and...only nine percent is some kind of conservative, with the remainder somewhere in the middle."
Fifty-six percent of survey respondents reported that they perceived the faculty as leaning toward the same political views. Of that 56 percent, 49 percent characterized the prevalent political persuasion of the faculty as liberal. 53 percent of respondents reported that the political views of professors influence how they teach.
Professor of Government Christian Potholm described the political landscape of the College as predominately liberal.
"At Bowdoin there seems to be more enthusiasm for diversity to one's left than to one's right—very rarely do you hear a professor say "I wish we could see a conservative [point of view] on that subject," he said.
Said Mills, "it is the faculty's role to set our academic program, and I think it is their responsibility to decide for themselves the level of intellectual discourse that they want to create on the campus."
"I think all departments, especially departments in the social sciences, would benefit from honest appraisal of the true diversity of ideas on the controversial issues in that discipline," said Potholm.
Robinson echoed that sentiment, stating that "a lack of intellectual diversity will lead to intellectual complacency, which is the antithesis of a liberal arts education."
"We all have to work very hard at creating an atmosphere in which students can be free...saying something that's diametrically opposed to what the professor or peers are saying," said Potholm.
"The conservative professors tend to be [better] known, and the way their politics figure into the classroom is a distinction," said Caitlin Callahan '11, co-president of the Bowdoin College Democrats (BCD).
"I think I was quite clear in my talk that it is my view that intellectual diversity within the disciplines and programs is important," said Mills. "That it is important to continually evaluate whether we are as open as we might be to different perspectives. And that ultimately this is a decision for our faculty."
Intellectual diversity is by no means limited to discussions of political ideology, however. Mills emphasized that his remarks were aimed at encouraging the right of organizations such as the MSA, BCF, gender and sexual diversity groups, and others to have a presence on campus.
"True diversity involves ideological diversity, not just of background but of race or ethnicity," said Potholm.
Robinson spoke to the fact that the number of acknowledged student conservatives at the College is disproportionate to the national population.
According to the survey, the percentage of republican students on campus is proportional to the percentage of conservative professors in the professoriate—nine percent.
"The Republicans should be able to take care of themselves. I'm not here to moderate the debate," said Mills.
"Our numbers are low, [there is] a stigma associated with being a Republican organization," said Robinson. "There [are] a number of people more in the closet—closet conservatives...it doesn't enrich their education here if they can't be honest about their own views."
On Monday the BCD held their first meeting of the year and over 30 people came, including many new faces.
"It's normal for us to have a group that size for our first meeting," said BCD co-president Katy Shaw '11.
The Orient survey found that 82 percent of respondents felt that certain political views are more visible on campus than others. Of those, 65 percent said liberal views were the most visible, 10 percent said that very liberal views were most visible, and seven percent felt the most visible views were either conservative or very conservative. One-percent reported moderate views are most visible.
"One important role that we can play is engaging the prevalent liberal sentiment and philosophy intellectually. We are doing our best to bring conservative ideas into the Bowdoin College community," said Robinson.
Twenty-eight percent of survey respondents believe that Bowdoin students are unwilling to engage different political viewpoints, while 61 percent disagreed.
"One of the things I've really enjoyed while working at elections at Bowdoin [is that]...I've found that Bowdoin students can have energetic political discussions," said Callahan. "There might not be formal spaces for political discussion, but that doesn't mean it's not there."
"I think there may be more diversity at Bowdoin than many other NESCAC schools, which is all the more reason why we should continue to move in this positive direction," said Potholm.
"I don't have an agenda which is designed to change Bowdoin, [but] I think it's important for the community to understand how it is perceived outside of the Bowdoin bubble," said Mills.
Added Mills, "In large measure, what I certainly intended in the talk was to set [a] challenge for the community...not to provide the answer but to provide the challenge for consideration."