Pem Schaeffer keeps a blog that has earned him a reputation as a man who hates Bowdoin. He doesn’t see it quite that way.

“I don’t have an axe to grind per se with Bowdoin,” he said. “I have an axe to grind with certain principles and positions.”

Schaeffer, a politically conservative Brunswick resident, is in the political minority around town. 
“That makes you notice things often, more than those in the majority will,” he said.

Now retired, Schaeffer has been posting some of those observations on his blog, The Other Side of Town, since 2009, before The Bowdoin Project was even a twinkle in Thomas Klingenstein’s eye.

On the blog, Schaeffer isn’t Schaeffer—he’s P.C. Poppycock, his online pseudonym. The Times Record is The Ostrich. Bowdoin is rarely just Bowdoin. It’s “the Beloved Shrine of Bowdoin,”  “the local shrine to the 1 percent,” or “our local Ivory Tower.”

His grievances include the hypocrisy of campus self-esteem and routine debauchery, professors meddling in town affairs, and local issues like the idling inefficiencies of the Downeaster’s diesel engine.

Despite his complaints, Schaeffer was wearing a black Bowdoin Football sweatshirt at our meeting.

“Why do I have this sweatshirt?” he postured, “Because for the first couple years, we’d wander into the bookstore… we went to some sports events… and I actually belonged to the Bowdoin Friends Association.”

Schaeffer graduated from Rutgers University in 1963 with a B.S. in electrical engineering. At the time, Rutgers had only 3,000 undergraduates, and a campus Schaeffer described as beautiful and quite similar to Bowdoin’s today. 

At the University of Southern California, he earned a M.S. in electrical engineering in 1968, and in computer science in 1970. He went on to work for Hughes Aircraft Company, now part of Raytheon. Through his career in naval electronics, he cultivated a business relationship with Bath Iron Works, which brought him to Brunswick in 1997.

After moving to Brunswick from Orange County, Schaeffer was struck by small-town dynamics, and quickly took an interest in local politics. Soon he was writing op-eds for the Times Record faster than they were willing to publish them. That, and a desire for total editorial independence, led him to start his blog.

Reading the Orient provides much of Schaeffer’s fodder, which focuses largely on the security report. He cited a recent incident in which a student was transported to Parkview for a cut finger.

“I have the sense that Bowdoin students will call for assistance at the drop of a hat,” he said.
Sometimes his objection is to more colorful fare.

“Every once in a while I’ve had my teeth almost fall out. There was a so-called sex columnist,” he said, and lowered his voice to describe unmentionables.

“Isn’t there any sense of decorum or dignity associated with people’s personal lives in the campus paper? Why in such a rush to miss the mystery of romance?” he said.

“Maybe those kind of terms don’t mean anything to you,” he added.

After meeting campus Republicans at local political events, Schaeffer began following their writings in The Patriot, a conservative student paper published sporadically between 1983 and 2003.

The Patriot provided a bright spot in Schaeffer’s interactions with Bowdoin, and a dramatic contrast to his own college experience.

“My four years at Rutgers were as apolitical as they could possibly be,” said Schaeffer. “What we knew about was parties, athletic activities, beer, women—all the frivolities that you would associate with college. But I really had no idea about politics because we just never ever dealt with it.”

“Meeting these young Republicans here [at Bowdoin] was, wow, really quite a contrast.”
As our interview was only one day after the NAS report was released, Schaeffer had only had a chance to read parts, but said his initial response was, “you know what, that rings pretty damn true.” 

Schaeffer sees the same narrowness of intellectual freedom, fixation on multiculturalism and curricular deficit that omits the sort of full-year English composition course he was required to take.

Students “should read [the report] with as open a mind as possible,” said Schaeffer. 

“The self-satisfaction that seems to be just a natural part of the campus life is going to predispose you to have a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “Try to see it—as hard as it might be—as something that might contribute to the improvement of [your] alma mater in future years so that when [you] send their children here it’s a better place.”

“Many of the more juvenile comments are an embarrassment to both the writer and the College; they reflect badly on both,” he recently wrote in a subsequent email to the Orient.
Schaeffer sees this as a larger trend in journalism.

“We hear all sorts of pleas these days for ‘civility’ in public discourse, most often as a response to conservatives,” he wrote. “It does not appear, from what one reads on the comment threads, that ‘civility’ is a core principle of a Bowdoin education.”

At the same time, Schaeffer cautioned against students taking college—and themselves—too seriously. 

“There is something to be said for enjoying your youth,” he said. “You’ve got plenty of years to grow up and learn about the side of life that’s more complex, more challenging, likely to be more infuriating.”

“We didn’t have a newspaper delivered to the fraternity. We got Playboy magazine delivered, and kegs of Budweiser. You just weren’t exposed to stuff,” he added.

Schaeffer takes obvious pleasure in his current vantage point.

“There aren’t a lot of fun things about growing old, but one of them is seeing things in a much deeper context,” he said.

Schaeffer doesn’t expect to woo many converts.

“You’re never going to see the Orient from my perspective, and I’m never going to see it from yours,” he said.