The National Association of Scholars (NAS), a conservative organization that aims to “foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship” in America, will release its complete report on the intellectual diversity of the College next Wednesday, according to NAS President Peter Wood.
“The Bowdoin Project,” as the study is titled, is a critique of Bowdoin’s liberal arts curriculum, and has been in the works since fall 2011. Wood explained that the report addresses the curriculum, “core concepts,” faculty, and student life at the College. The report’s preface contains its lone recommendation for future action: “that Bowdoin form a commission to examine some of the problems that we think we’ve brought to light,” according to Wood.
Funded by investment manager Thomas Klingenstein, the study has been the subject of much controversy on and off campus, which began shortly after President Barry Mills anecdotally cited Klingenstein’s dismissal of Bowdoin’s liberal arts model in his September 2010 convocation address. Klingenstein responded to Mills’ remarks with a harsh essay in the Claremont Review of Books that spring, and announced the NAS study—then titled “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” the following October.
“We hypothesize that certain core beliefs at Bowdoin are rarely challenged because there is very little exposure to competing beliefs. It is true that these core beliefs (for example, diversity and multiculturalism) are normally characterized as ‘liberal,’” wrote Wood, who directed the study, in an Orient op-ed in November 2011.
In an interview with the Orient on Wednesday, Wood said “that hypothesis was confirmed,” adding that the full report, an “in-depth ethnographic study,” stands at 380 pages, including a 40-page preface. The aim of the report, he said, is to answer the question, “What do students learn at Bowdoin College?”
From the NAS’s point of view, the answer is clear: not much. While the contents of the report are not yet available, it is seems that “The Bowdoin Project” will cast the College in a highly unfavorable light. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that at the annual NAS conference earlier this month, Michael Toscano, the lead researcher on the project, said that Bowdoin had “replaced general-education requirements with curricular incoherence, setting students ‘loose to find themselves.’”
Over the past two months, the NAS has released 13 preliminary reports as part of “The Bowdoin Project. One preliminary, titled “Gender Deconstructed,” discusses the adaptation of the Offer of the College removed its original gendered diction: “the willingness to amend historical documents to imprint them with updated language and ideas cuts against the values that Bowdoin is ostensibly extolling.”
Though Wood claims that the document “is infused with a pretty healthy respect for the intelligence of Bowdoin students and alumni,” he explained that with the report, the NAS is “offering something that will help Bowdoin students see this really important part of their lives more clearly.”
Wood and Klingenstein spoke at an event sponsored by the College Republicans in May 2011. Asked about his impressions of the College from that experience, Wood said he believes that Bowdoin students “while clearly very bright, have a somewhat exaggerated sense of how well the College has presented its educational offerings to them…that students did not essentially know what they didn’t know.”
Whether the conclusions of “The Bowdoin Project” will in fact be useful to the Bowdoin community remains to be seen. The full report will be available online on Wednesday morning.