The National Association of Scholars announced their study of Bowdoin roughly a year and a half ago. Since that day, most of us could have guessed its overarching conclusions. It is therefore instinctive to treat the release of the NAS study with disinterest: it offers no new perspectives, it continues the NAS’s record of omitting basic facts and including blatantly false statements, and it does not develop a unique and convincing argument.

To be sure, there are topics in the report that call for closer examination. But most students and faculty seem to have come to the inescapable conclusion that the NAS is not an open-minded, civil or constructive debate partner. I believe that this conclusion is fair, and I have posted a lengthy justification of this point on my website.

But this conclusion comes with two caveats, both of which implore us to take action.
First, we should give the NAS every opportunity to change their tone and rhetorical tactics. The association has been around for over 25 years, it rakes in extensive funding from many conservative foundations, and many of its members are well regarded scholars who publish in high-profile journals and newspapers. Their resources put them in a position to influence policy-makers and the general public.

Second, the report presents an excellent opportunity to change our school for the better. As Toby Zitsman wrote in “The Bowdoin Project: the good, the bad and the misleading” (April 5), “if this report sparks a healthy discussion on education as a whole then it is a gift to our school.” The report has opened the ears of the faculty, the administration, and the nation. This is not an exaggeration.

One of the most insidious characteristics of the NAS, as an institution, is its campaign to silence and discredit student voices. Rather than penning a letter to current Bowdoin students, Thomas Klingenstein appealed directly to Bowdoin alumni “over the age of, say, fifty to fifty-five” in the preamble of the report.

The report also asserts that students are completely lost when it comes to course selection; a problem, it believes, that can only be solved by having the adults specify course sequences via extensive distribution requirements. Other publications of the NAS joke about poisoning cafeteria food to prevent the consumption of alcohol and the occurrence of consensual sex. The students, it seems, are too young and irresponsible to make such choices for themselves.

In short, the NAS report ignores the student body, and instead appeals to people who have little to no first-hand experiences with the Bowdoin community today. It targets members of the public who have not sent their children to NESCAC schools, or who have only interacted with these schools in the distant past. It targets politicians, who are looking for a reason to cut government support to ballooning student debt. It targets these groups with the hope that they will place external pressure on Bowdoin, so that we conform to their pre-conceived and misguided notions of higher education.

Perhaps we cannot change the perspective of the NAS on political topics. Perhaps we cannot convince them that courses that examine race, gender and class relations are worthwhile academic pursuits. Perhaps they will never support our efforts to reduce environmental waste or build a diverse campus. But I believe that we can, and must, convince them of our competence, and our aspirations. The NAS needs to realize that the only pathway to true reform is through an open and fair discussion with the current students and faculty of an institution. If we change their minds on this one key issue, we will have succeeded.

As I mentioned before, the NAS is a powerful advocacy group, so there are very real and important consequences in demonstrating against its contention of widespread student incompetence. Furthermore, we can convince politicians and public onlookers that we are not close-minded, and that an education in the liberal arts, while expensive, is worth the private and public investment.

Finally, you, as current students of Bowdoin College, can use this opportunity to take further ownership over your college experience. You are the most essential and important piece of Bowdoin’s community. It is essential that your opinions on its current status and its future directions be heard.

Alex Williams is a member of the Class of 2012.