To the Editors:

How does Professor of Social Sciences Jean Yarbrough conclude that the college lacks "intellectual and political" diversity ("Bowdoin should examine its lack of diversity," April 22, 2011)?

Bowdoin courses cover an immense range of subjects, times and perspectives. Students engage innumerable approaches to questions of aesthetics, religion, philosophy, nature, society and other topics foundational to a broad humanities education. "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?" How do they not?

As for "political" diversity, I have no idea about the views held by Bowdoin professors. Nor do I care, unless some use their classrooms to promote political advocacy over critical thinking.

To hire on the basis of personal political belief is folly. Rather than impose ideological litmus tests, we consider curricular need and candidates' merit and promise as scholar-teachers.

We may debate what should be taught and how. Some will stress great books and the western canon, while others may consider the experience of the historically marginalized. Some will prefer traditional methodologies while others will champion new techniques and approaches.

There is, doubtless, a politics to this. Thankfully, it is secondary to intellectual commitments that prevent advocates of particular positions from turning the academy into a political football. Scholars care first about the principles that set scholarship apart from punditry: accuracy in using evidence, rigor in collecting data, fairness in evaluating arguments and honesty in presenting findings.

Responsible educators do not subordinate their teaching to their political concerns; they equip their students with the tools necessary to evaluate the merits of competing positions. Most of what we teach at Bowdoin is about communicating in a way that rises above the shouting that consumes the public forum. This is how we serve—by modeling modes of discourse that offer more than what can be had on cable news and talk radio.


Patrick Rael

Associate Professor of History