A study that will examine intellectual diversity at Bowdoin began three weeks ago under the direction of the National Association of Scholars (NAS). Funded by Thomas Klingenstein, the study is the latest demonstration of the investment manager's personal interest in Bowdoin's academic climate.
Last year, Klingenstein accused President Barry Mills of misrepresenting him in Mills' 2010 convocation address and published highly critical remarks on the College's curriculum in a widely-circulated article in the Claremont Review of Books, much to the chagrin of many in the Bowdoin community. In his article, Klingenstein argued that Bowdoin suffers from a detrimental liberal bias and a lack of conservative faculty.
Titled "What Does Bowdoin Teach?" the NAS study will appraise Bowdoin's core intellectual values as well as its openness to diverse opinions. According to the project's proposal on the NAS website, Bowdoin's curriculum as well as its student activities will come under scrutiny.
NAS is a conservative association of scholars that, according to its mission statement, aims to "foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America's colleges and universities."
"We want to be able to determine what Bowdoin teaches," said Peter Wood, the president of NAS and the director of the study, emphasizing the study's broad scope. "What does it teach in the community as a whole?"
The study will include testimony from faculty and students and research into Bowdoin's publications, including the Orient, the Daily Sun, and the course catalogue. Wood said he expects it to assess how political orientation and intellectual values affect what students learn at Bowdoin.
According to Klingenstein, who is the study's sponsor, the study will not make policy suggestions.
"It is only the purpose of this study to begin a serious discussion," he said.
The study is another manifestation of Klingenstein's interest in the College's intellectual diversity following Mills' Convocation address.
"What justified my engagement in this is Barry, in a public way, recounting a discussion we had had on the golf course, even if he didn't name me," said Klingenstein.
He said that he has never been especially interested in higher education prior to the speech.
"If Barry had not referred to me in his convocation address, this conversation would not have started," said Klingenstein. "This is not an issue that I've ever been particularly attentive to or been involved in a direct way."
Mills has declined to comment in the past on the subject of Klingenstein's interest in the intellectual diversity of the College.
Klingenstein contacted Wood after reading his book "Diversity: The Invention of a Concept," a critique of traditional conceptions of diversity in higher education.
"Going to the NAS, I went to Peter, because of my high regard for his work," said Klingenstein.
In the months that followed, Wood suggested an in-depth study of Bowdoin's curriculum and drafted a proposal, which Klingenstein agreed to sponsor.
Wood will oversee the study, though he has hired a researcher, Michael Toscano, who will work full-time on the project until its conclusion in the middle of the spring semester. Toscano graduated from King's College in New York in 2008 and has since worked for a Christian non-profit based in Jerusalem and as a teaching associate at King's College.
The study will examine three categories of Bowdoin life, according to Wood. They include Bowdoin's curriculum, student-organized activities, and the communication of values at Bowdoin.
"We are trying to deal with objective and verifiable data," Wood said.
Toscano said that the project is still in its preliminary stages, and that he and Wood are currently trying to figure out definitively what sources are available for research. So far, neither he nor Wood has reached out to Bowdoin students or staff.
"I have been reading whatever publications are made available by the College," said Toscano. "Bowdoin has a wonderful website. It's updated very often, and it's really a great source of information."
He also will be studying Bowdoin's course catalog and syllabi. Toscano said he plans to visit campus and speak with students as well.
Klingenstein emphasized the objectivity of the study.
"I'm trying to stay as much away from the study as I can, because we're trying to make the study as objective as we can," he said.
"We hope that we will be able to answer the question [what does Bowdoin teach?] in a way that can withstand any accusations of bias on our part," said Wood. If our study is biased, "we fully expect we'll be called out on it."
Though the project is in its preliminary stages, the researchers have formed clear opinions on Bowdoin's intellectual diversity.
Wood said that Bowdoin's faculty is "admittedly left-of-center," and that the study's primary goal is not to prove that Bowdoin leans too far to the left; rather, the study will investigate whether Bowdoin's perceived lack of intellectual diversity affects what is taught in classrooms.
Klingenstein said he believes that Bowdoin's liberal tendencies may affect classroom learning.
"The suspicion is that the Bowdoin faculty communicate what I call certain foundational ideas, such as diversity and multiculturalism, that in basic ways inform a student's way of thinking," he said.
Associate Professor of History Patrick Rael expressed his skepticism about the study's impartiality in an email to the Orient.
"I'd be concerned about the objectivity of any study commissioned at the behest of Mr. Klingenstein, who has made his preconceptions abundantly clear," he wrote.
The NAS has never before conducted a study of just one college before. However, Wood claimed that the study is consistent with previous NAS work that has included broader studies of multiple colleges.
"This is a research project that continues ongoing work of the NAS," he said. "In this case we're fortunate enough to have an individual whose experience makes him eager to see this kind of work proceed."
Toscano, Klingenstein and Wood have not had any previous involvement with Bowdoin, and before Klingenstein and Wood's tripw to campus in May, none of them had ever been to Bowdoin. Toscano argued that their detachment from the College could make the study more even-handed.
"It sometimes can be helpful to get another perspective on things," said Toscano. "We are providing an outsider's perspective on Bowdoin, and we'll be providing an outsider's perspective that's seeking as well as we possibly can to get inside."
Professor of Government Jean Yarbrough, who wrote a letter to the Orient in April arguing that Bowdoin should focus on increasing political and intellectual diversity, declined to comment on the project.
Two other faculty members said that to comment would grant the study a seriousness it does not deserve.
Klingenstein said he is hopeful about the study.
"I actually think this could be a real opportunity for Bowdoin," he said. "This is a way for Bowdoin to distinguish itself, to differentiate itself if it really takes intellectual diversity seriously."
Klingenstein stated that it will be up to Bowdoin to decide if the study is constructive.
"I would concede that the jury is still out," he said. "But I would hope that the Bowdoin community would give us the benefit of the doubt and withhold judgment until they see the results of the study."