Ten months after the publication of their 360-page “What does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students,” the National Association of Scholars (NAS) returned to Brunswick to address the “global citizenship” promoted by the College.
In his response to last April’s report, President Barry Mills stated that one of the College’s goals was to “prepare our students to become global citizens in a global economy.” Yesterday’s conference, entitled “Global Illusions: Bowdoin’s Post-Citizens and the Future of American Higher Education,” included talks from scholars who critiqued global citizenship, attributing it to the decline of American citizenship.
Sponsored by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a right-wing think tank whose mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise; limited, constitutional government; individual freedom; and traditional American values,” the event drew a crowd of approximately 50 people to the Inn at Brunswick Station, fewer than six of whom were Bowdoin students.
The keynote speaker was Herbert London, president emeritus of the conservative Hudson Institute and current chairman of the board of the NAS.
“Today’s college students arrive never having lived in Western civilization. They are aliens from their own traditions,” tweeted the NAS, paraphrasing London. Until 1992, he was the dean of Gallatin School of Individualized Study, a college at New York University where students self-design curricula without prescripted courses.
Peter Wood, president of the NAS, lambasted Bowdoin for mandating courses in such categories as “Exploring Social Differences” and “International Perspectives” while having no American history or literature requirements. Steve Robinson, a 2011 graduate of the College who currently works for the Maine Heritage Policy Institute, echoed this criticism.
“It’s inexcusable that someone go through Bowdoin College without reading Plato or Aristotle,” said Robinson in an interview with the Orient.
One panelist, Michael Poliakoff, noted that while Bowdoin history majors must take four courses in non-European or American history, there is no foreign language requirement, though it is suggested on the Bowdoin history department’s website. Poliakoff characterized this kind of multiculturalism as “lazy” and said that without an in-depth foreign language study, it is not possible to fully embrace the multiculturalism that the College promotes.
Peter Wood, president of the NAS, told the Orient that both of the Bowdoin faculty members he had invited to serve as panelists had declined.
Other panelists included KC Johnson of the City University of New York, and Susan Shell of Boston College. They were each paid honorariums of $1,000, according to Wood.
“We did write to a lot of [Bowdoin] organizations—their membership or their leaders may have come but we didn’t get anybody announcing that they were here,” said Wood.
The Peucinian Society—a student group founded in 1805 to debate statemanship, culture and political thought—declined to participate in the conference. President Sam Karson ’14 said that while the group did agree with some of the criticisms, it did not support “the strategy they’re employing to achieve their goals.”
Many students were unaware that the NAS had returned to Brunswick. One student, Jack Carrier ’15, was disappointed that the conference hadn’t been brought to his attention earlier.
“I thought the report raised some good points about the way Bowdoin is and the whole shift in liberal arts education from the ’70s up until today. I felt many kids at the school kind of brushed the findings under the rug—especially the parts they didn’t like or agree with. I would’ve liked to hear the people who wrote the report’s opinion,” he said.
Though Susanna Howard ’14 knew about the conference, she felt further discussion after the report was irrelevant.
“I didn’t really take it seriously just because there are so many things in [the report] that were completely inaccurate,” she said. “It seems like they came in with what they wanted to find and then they were going to find it no matter what.”
One of the few Bowdoin students in attendance for the afternoon session was Michelle Kruk ’16, who heard about the conference from the Latin American Student Organization.
“When we were in the Iraq war, there were so many Americans who could not place Iraq on a map, and that I think says more about our entire nation than Bowdoin not having a U.S. requirement does,” she said.
Kruk noted that she wished the conference had offered more explanation for the NAS report’s discussion of campus gender and multicultural issues, which she called “offensive and hurtful.”
Robinson felt that the observations made by the day’s panelists should not be brushed off by the Bowdoin community.
“I’m incredibly grateful for what Bowdoin has allowed me to do in my life, but in order to be a friend of Bowdoin, you have to be capable of engaging in a criticism of Bowdoin,” he said.
Wood said that the NAS commissioned a study of Bowdoin’s English department which it plans to publish in a few months.