This fall will mark my 23rd year of teaching political philosophy and American political thought at Bowdoin. I dearly love this college and want to do everything that I can to see Bowdoin be the best that it can be.
But love requires honesty, and Thomas Klingenstein's essay provides us with the opportunity to examine one area where we are notably deficient: intellectual and political diversity.
In his essay, Mr. Klingenstein estimates that the actual number of conservative/Republican faculty is 4 percent. I do not know how he arrived at that number, but using figures from the Bowdoin College profile at the website CollegeData, there are 177 faculty engaged in the full-time teaching of undergraduates, 4 percent of which would equal seven. I have not made a scientific study of this, but that number, small as it is, strikes me as too high.
Having recently served as chair of the government department, I know first-hand the efforts we as a college have made to recruit racial and ethnic minorities, and those efforts are bearing fruit.
It is now time to make a serious effort to foster greater intellectual and political diversity. This is a position that all those who truly care about this college should share, no matter what their political affiliation, because it will make us a far better and more effective institution of higher learning.
But do not take my word for it. John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty," one of the central texts of modern liberalism, argues that "the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind."
Do our curriculum and our faculty represent a suitably wide range of intelligent views on the great questions of human existence and of how we should live? Alas, the questions answer themselves.
No one should imagine that this imbalance results merely from the lack of capable and productive scholars who take positions on the other side of the aisle.
For the past few years, I have been involved with leading scholars in history and government at both the Jack Miller Center at the University of Virginia and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute at Princeton in programs designed to mentor a rising generation of young academics interested in American history and political thought. So, I know that there are highly qualified people out there on the job market at the entry level, and that there are senior faculty with distinguished records whom we could try to recruit.
What we need is a willingness to act, coupled with presidential leadership. President Mills has done much to foster a climate that is welcoming to students and faculty from different religious faiths, and I warmly applaud those efforts.
We need look no further than last week's Veritas Forum, where over 250 students turned out to hear a friendly and intelligent debate on secular vs. Christian views of the good.
Now it is time for President Mills to think about how we can promote greater political and intellectual diversity on campus and make ourselves an even better college.
Whatever our political differences, this is a goal that I hope all of us, who are committed to the fostering of lively debate and intellectual growth, can share. I wish President Mills well and am ready to help in any way that I can.
Jean Yarbrough is the Gary M. Pendy, Sr., professor of social sciences at the College.