Citing the 1,200 signatures it has collected for a petition that was created in the fall of 2012, Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) says that it has a mandate from the student body to pressure the College to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The Orient took a closer look at the petition and concluded that BCA has overstated student support for this cause.
Last week, the Orient obtained the physical copies of petitions that BCA presented to President Barry Mills on April 18. BCA declined to share its current petition, which it claims has 1,200 signatories. Instead, BCA offered the Orient a list of the signatories who had also pledged to volunteer for BCA’s divestment campaign.
“Normally, petition signatures are meant for the target, which was the College, the president, and the Board of Trustees,” said Matthew Goodrich ’15, a leader of BCA. “We had concerns about privacy.”
When BCA presented the petition to Mills, it claimed that 1,000 students had indicated their support for divestment. After examining the individual petitions, the Orient determined that 923 total signatures were given to Mills. Among these signatures, there were 60 duplicates, four triplicates, 14 crossed-out names, and 16 illegible names, bringing the total number of valid petition signatories to 825.
In addition to numerical discrepancy between BCA’s claims and the actual number of valid signatures given to Mills, the petition—which BCA publicly presented as one divestment petition—was in fact comprised of two differently-phrased petitions.
The petition used during the beginning of the divestment campaign begins with the bolded declaration, “I Believe Carbon Neutral Means Carbon Free,” and uses the word “divest” only once, at the end of the petition. This petition was signed by 469 out of the 923 signatures.The remaining 454 signatures were attached to a statement which referred exclusively to divestment. It states in bold font: “I believe Bowdoin should divest its endowment from fossil fuels in recognition that climate change is a moral issue.”
Goodrich explained that in the fall of 2012, BCA had discussed the feasibility of the College discontinuing its use of natural gas with Mills and after he made it clear that doing so was not feasible, the language of the petition was altered to focus exclusively on climate change.
The Orient conducted two separate unscientific surveys between October 27-29, sending one to signatories of the “Carbon Free” petition and one to signatories of the “Divest” petition. The same question—“Do you currently support the movement for Bowdoin College to divest from fossil fuels?”—was presented to each of the survey groups.
Out of 160 respondents who signed the “Divest” petition, 42 percent responded “Yes,” 26 percent responded “No,” 29 percent responded “I don’t feel informed enough to make a decision,” and three percent responded “No opinion.”
Out of 72 respondents who signed the “Carbon Free” petition, 36 percent responded “Yes,” 41 percent responded “No,” 22 percent responded “I don’t feel informed enough to make a decision” and one percent responded “No opinion.”
In all, 40 percent of signatories stated that they still supported divestment.
Goodrich said that the messages of the petitions are not contradictory despite their different wording.
“I think that people who signed [the “Carbon Free” petition] are calling for a greater mandate—a greater re-evaluation for Bowdoin’s sustainability,” said Goodrich. “I think that those are both divestment signatures. The wording is different but the actual message of divestment is on both.”
After learning about the the survey data, Goodrich attributed the difference in support between the petitions and the survey to the College’s announcement in April 2013 that divestment could cost the College $100 million over the next 10 years.
Since April, BCA claims to have added an additional 200 signatories to its petition, with most of them coming from first-year students, according to Goodrich. The petition now includes signatures from seven class years—2012 to 2018—although only “a handful” are members of the Class of 2012, according to Allyson Gross ’16, a member of BCA.
“Last year, as well as this year, we’ve had 1,000 students who signed our petition,” said Goodrich last week. “The campus community has spoken. We built that support for divestment.”
Goodrich stood behind the petition this week.
“We’re not speaking for anyone. The people who put their names down have, on their own free will, said they support this…this is what they have said. We’re sort of the mediators because we’re the ones who are most passionate about divestment—we’re the ones who presented to the Trustees.”
BCA member Bridget McCoy ’15 said in an interview last week that while BCA speaks for the majority of students, those most involved with the campaign are likely more informed than the rest of the student body.
“Signing onto divestment means you support it, but I’m sure there’s a variety of what people think, said McCoy. “We really want to promote discourse and discussion—we don’t want to trick people or anything like that.”
BCA, which stated in its slideshow presentation to the Trustees that it has a mandate from Bowdoin students to persuade the College to divest from fossil fuel companies, has repeatedly noted the force its petition carries. Last week, Gross referred to the meeting between the Trustees and members of BCA as a meeting 1,200 students had asked for.
“I think the 1,200 number must have had an influence on [Mills’] view on whether or not we had to meet with the group,” said Chair of the Board of Trustees Deborah Jensen Barker.A meeting between BCA and the Board’s Student Affairs Committee—organized by Mills—took place on October 17.
Though BCA has said that the petition is representative of student support, the Orient found numerous cases of signatories that were not even students, including two visiting teaching assistants from the Department of Romance Languages, several college employees, and a local business owner who sells hand-crafted jewelry in front of the Polar Express in Smith Union.
“I’d like to highlight the passion that the students have brought to this issue—particularly members of BCA—in addition to the folks that came out to gave the petition to President Mills and the folks that came out to show support with the trustees,” said Goodrich in this week’s interview.
Although the counts of the physical signatures and the survey of the signatories raises questions about the number of students who fully support divestment, there is no doubt that a sizeable portion of the Bowdoin faculty think the College should divest from fossil fuels. In the October 17 issue of the Orient, 70 faculty members published a letter urging the Board of Trustees to divest.
“The faculty letter with 70 names—I think that shows how much this issue has grown,” said Goodrich. “We really wanted the faculty to engage with us; we asked and they did. It shows that this is something that doesn’t just concern the students but also involves faculty members...It’s good to know they have our back.”
The letter was shaped out of two separate draft letters, one primarily authored by Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Natural Sciences Nat Wheelwright, Senior Lecturer in Romance Languages Genie Wheelwright, and Associate Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Hadley Horch with assistance from Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Lichter. The other draft was primarily written by English Professor David Collings.
“I think it would’ve been a shame to have 1,000 Bowdoin students calling for divestment and then have the faculty sit on the sidelines, despite the fact that we teach it in our classroom—the importance of climate change—and not to take any action,” said Wheelwright, who did not know about the Orient’s examination of the petitions given to Mills.
Originally, Collings opposed divestment because he thought that the movement asked for a largely symbolic commitment without inducing a direct economic or environmental effect. He said that his opinion changed once the faculty letter added language calling for action beyond divestment, including carbon taxes, the end of federal oil subsidies, and a call to lobby the federal government.
“That’s a statement of principle—a statement of value,” said Collings regarding divestment. “We’re aligning [the College’s] financial investments with its values. As an ethical and moral statement, it’s completely coherent. I buy it.”
Lichter agreed, citing two people who influenced his decision: professor of economics emeritus David Vail and environmentalist author Wendell Berry.
“David Vail basically said symbolism is important,” said Lichter. “He argued that that’s important—to get public sentiment moving in the right direction.”
Lichter, who published an op-ed in April that called for alternatives to divestment, noted that while he now supports divestment on ethical and moral grounds, students and community members still need to focus on more influential targets.
“They could basically get an appointment with Angus King or Susan Collins when they’re here—they could do it,” said Lichter. “I think there’s good reasons why good people don’t want to do this.”
Associate Professor of Economics Guillermo Herrera, who did not sign the faculty letter, noted that while he is respectful of how the movement has galvanized student activism, he remains skeptical of the notion that divestment could alter corporate or consumer behavior.
“The problem is that carbon emission and fossil fuel use is underpriced by the market,” said Herrera. “I feel like the right action is one that attempts to make the price correct—to align the price with what it should be socially.”
Herrera suggested an alternative solution in which the College imposes a carbon tax on itself in order to reflect the true social costs of carbon emissions. Holding itself to this tax level—determined by a consensus of economists—could affect both the College’s energy and investment decisions as well as corporate and consumer behavior.
“I feel like the divestment path is maybe a second best path,” said Herrera. “There may be better ways to do it. Those deserve some serious consideration.”
Assistant Professor of Economics Stephen Meardon—who did not sign the faculty letter—said that it was inappropriate for professors to advocate contested political and moral positions as representatives of the College.
“What are the appropriate policies, in light of their distributive consequences, is not a scientific question,” said Meardon. “It’s a political and moral question, and it’s contested, and the College should not be weighing in on that.”
Meardon called into question some of the tenets of the faculty letter, specifically citing the letter’s call for divestment as an “important educational gesture.”
“The college should definitely try to help students acquire knowledge and analytical skills that are relevant to understanding the consequences of fossil fuel consumption on climate,” said Meardon. “‘Educational gesture’ is exactly that kind of conflation of scientific with moral; of an academic purpose with an advocacy purpose. I think that those purposes should be kept separate.”
Meardon asserted that not only would divestment from fossil fuels undermine the College’s purposes as an academic institution, it runs the risk of attracting students and faculty only of “like minds” and deterring those who may have differing opinions.
“The faculty should never stand behind students in their political engagement—not on any political action that is contested,” said Meardon.
Wheelwright said that while more forceful action is needed in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, he heard few credible arguments against divestment when meeting with about 20 faculty members to discuss the proposed letter.
“We saw this as joining a broad, energetic social movement that we haven’t seen practically since the Vietnam War, that has some legs and the potential to change the national conversation,” said Wheelwright. “If educational institutions don’t get out in front of this issue, 40 years from now, populations will be half as big as they are today.”
—Ron Cervantes, Natalie Kass-Kaufman and Kate Witteman contributed to this report.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article miscontrued a statement made by Associate Professor of Economics Stephen Meardon. The article said that he found it inappropriate for faculty members to engage in political and moral questions, when he meant that it was inappropriate for faculty members to advocate contested poltical and moral positions as representatives of the College. The article has been updated to correct this error.
The Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin—formerly called the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF), which is no longer officially recognized by the College—recently celebrated the opening of the Joseph and Alice McKeen Christian Study Center at 65 Harpswell Road. The center is off campus but located near Farley Field House, and will serve as the venue for the fellowship to conduct bible studies, engage in weekly group discussions, and host guest speakers.
The space is named after Joseph and Alice McKeen—Bowdoin’s first president and his wife. According to Rob Gregory, one of the volunteer leaders of the group, McKeen worked to spread the gospel to Bowdoin students, and the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin aims to follow in his footsteps.
An open house was held at the center on September 27 and featured Owen Strachan ’03 as a keynote speaker. Other alumni of the fellowship travelled to Brunswick to attend the event.
The Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin acquired the oﬀ-campus property because it is no longer an oﬃcially recognized group at the College and therefore does not have the ability to book regular meetings in on-campus spaces. The fellowship had previously used the Chapel, Daggett Lounge, and 30 College Street for bible studies and other gatherings.
Bob Ives, director of religious and spiritual life, said that even though the fellowship is not an organized religious group at Bowdoin, it can still meet on campus—the spaces are just more diﬃcult to reserve because College-aﬃliated groups receive preference. Ives said that he has oﬀered 30 College Street for the group’s use and would like the fellowship to continue to contribute to spiritual life at the College.
At the end of last year, the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin chose not to recharter with Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), following a series of events that began in the spring. In February, the fellowship’s advisors—Rob and Sim Gregory—refused to sign the College’s Volunteer Agreement. The agreement contained a non-discrimination policy that they felt they could not sign due to religious convictions, specifically the Christian gospel’s interpretation of homosexuality.
After the Gregorys, who had been heavily involved with BCF for almost a decade, declined to sign the agreement, the fellowship was given two options—it could either recharter as a College-recognized organization and select new advisors who complied with the Volunteer Agreement or choose not to recharter and keep the Gregorys as advisors. Last year’s BSG Student Organization Oversight Committee (SOOC) chair Danny Mejia-Cruz ’16 and the Oﬃce of Student Activities worked with students in the fellowship to find a new advisor if they were interested in re-chartering, but the group decided it would rather keep the Gregorys as advisors. Harriet Fisher ’17, this year’s SOOC chair, said she has not received any interest from the fellowship in rechartering the group this year.
The new house
The house on Harpswell Road was purchased on April 14, 2014 for $250,000. Gregory declined to comment on where the finances to purchase the property came from, but it is listed along with the name Kirk DiVietro in Brunswick Real Estate tax documents. It is unclear whether DiVietro has a connection to the Gregorys or to the College. When the Gregorys acquired the building—a colonial-style house built in 1900—it needed “considerable repairs,” said Gregory. Ryan Ward ’17, one of the leaders of the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin, said that he believed at one point the building had been condemned.
With the help of other volunteers, the Gregorys worked many hours over the summer to restore the building so that it could be used by the fellowship at the beginning of the academic year. They also hired contractors to do some more extensive repairs.
“We put the time and effort and resources into making sure that it was fit for the purpose for which it had been set apart,” said Gregory. “And that was to do this kind of work for students who want to learn about the scriptures and study the scriptures on a location near the Bowdoin campus.”
The Christian Study Center consists of two units—the main house in the front and an apartment unit in the back. Altogether the center has five rooms, with an estimated housing capacity of five people. Ward said that although the fellowship is just using the space for bible studies, discussion groups, and speaker events right now, he eventually hopes residents will live in the house.
“Whether it’s a young couple who’s staying there to kind of see if things are working for students, or [students themselves], that’s the plan for the future,” said Ward.
Club chartering at Bowdoin
Although the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin is no longer oﬃcially recognized by the College, its role in the Bowdoin community has remained fairly consistent with previous years.
“We still meet for bible studies; we still have other gatherings on Thursday nights,” said Ward. “We pretty much have done what we’ve always been doing, we’ve just shifed it over to this new space.”
“I don’t want to make it look like we’re separating ourselves from the campus because we’re definitely not,” he added. “But we also don’t want to entangle ourselves too much in the operation of the College.”
Some of the group’s responsibilities have changed, though. In the past, BCF selected speakers and organized programs in the College’s chapel, according to Ward. Now, Ives and the Oﬃce of Religious and Spiritual Life is responsible for running the chapel.
Ives hopes to keep the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin active in campus religious life.
“Even though they’re not a formal, organized group through BSG, they are a religious group so I invite them to the [Bowdoin] Interfaith Council,” said Ives. “I certainly want to make sure that they are acknowledged.”
The Interfaith Council is made up of the eight religious groups on Bowdoin’s campus. Its first meeting of the year will take place on October 22. Ives has not received a response from the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin about whether they will participate this year and Ward and Gregory both declined to comment on the group’s plans.
“It’s still in discussion,” said Ward.
New group part of a consortium The Joseph and Alice McKeen Christian Study Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit that operates on grants, membership fees and donations, according to its website.
The fellowship is still connected to the national InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group, but with the acquisition of the physical Christian Study Center, it has also become a member of the Consortium of Christian Studies Centers. This consortium is independent from Inter-Varsity. Altogether, the consortium consists of over 15 established study centers throughout the country.
Many of the centers in the consortium are located in college towns and serve the students of the nearby colleges and universities in an unoﬃcial way.
For instance, the Erasmus Institute at the Five Colleges in Amherst, Mass. is an established center in the Consortium of Christian Studies Centers that is unoﬃcially tied to Amherst. Other established centers in the consortium include the Chesterton House, a Christian studies center at Cornell, and the Rivendell Institute at Yale.
Ives noted that Christian study centers are becoming increasingly popular around colleges and universities across the nation.
“Some of the leaders of InterVarsity have shared that they really don’t like to do this because they want to be on the college campuses—that’s their tradition,” he said.“But this is with a lot of changing mores and morality of different college campuses and their very vigorous feeling of faith about preserving the nature of marriage from their particular perspective.”
Despite the changes the Christian Fellowship at Bowdoin has undergone in the past nine months, the group seems to be happy with how things are going now.
“The changed venue really isn’t an issue for gospel work—it never has been,” said Gregory. “The work of Christian ministry isn’t dependent on one place, and while we enjoyed the seven or eight years we had to preach the gospel in the chapel on Bowdoin's campus, we’ll preach the same message wherever we have an opportunity to do it.”
“We’re really grateful that we’re able to continue to do the InterVarsity work in a place that’s convenient to the students,” he added. “That was important to them and it’s important to us.”
Ward expressed similar feelings of gratitude and a certainty that relations with the College will be nothing but cordial in the future.
“So far I’m very pleased with how things have gone,” he said. “We don’t feel as though we’ve been pushed against our will to do this. This has been something that we think, from our perspective, is God’s will, and for the better in bringing the gospel which is essentially what our mission is and what we hope to do more of as we figure out how we’re going to use this space.”
This fall Bowdoin is offering a landscape painting course, in which students will have the opportunity to work in the open air at various locations. One of just a few courses at Bowdoin that takes students outdoors, it is taught by professional landscape painter James Mullen. The fall course is offered every two to three years.
“The weather in Maine is never more beautiful than in September and early October,” said Mullen.
Although there are other visual arts classes that spend time outside, Landscape Painting focuses specifically on the unique setting of autumn in Maine.
In fact, that was the main reason Mariah Reading ’16 took the course.
“I’ve grown up in Maine my whole life and fall is my favorite season,” she said. “I thought, ‘how cool would it be to go outside and paint.’ It sounded like a dream.”
Tess Hamilton ’16, an Earth and Oceanographic Science major, is also looking forward to the course.
“Being able to communicate [the outdoors during this time] through a different form is really cool for me,” she said.
A visual arts background and the Painting I class were prerequisites for the course.
Mullen says that students will be going outside for the first few weeks. After that they have the option to continue to paint outside or move their work inside. If they move inside, they will have the opportunity to work from photographs they take, images from their imagination or smaller landscape pieces they will create in the first few weeks.
“We’ll talk about a range of things and my hope is that everybody has got that thing that they respond to,” he said.
Mullen hopes to have each student complete six projects during the semester. The first project was to take a famous piece of landscape art and recreate it themselves. These pieces can be seen on the walls of the Robert H. and Blythe Bickel Edwards Center for Art and Dance.
Next week they will be going to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art to view famous works of landscape art as inspiration.
Another project will have students heading to Bowdoin’s Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island. Students will be hiking the trails and creating landscape paintings from what they view.Hamilton expressed her excitement about the “nuances that you wouldn't think of” when working outdoors.
All of the students’ landscapes will be on display during the open house in the Edwards Center at the end of the semester.
The committee searching for President Barry Mills’ successor shared the job description it is providing to applicants and issued a call for nominations in an email sent to members of the Bowdoin community last Friday. Over the summer, the committee hired the firm Isaacson, Miller to assist with the search and conducted information-gathering forums with students, faculty and staff, according to the email.
Isaacson, Miller is an executive recruitment firm that recently consulted for Amherst’s and Williams’ presidential searches.
The job description was written by the recruitment firm and the search committee—which consists of 10 trustees, three faculty members, two students, two staff members and a member of the Alumni Council—and was reviewed by the Board of Trustees.
The document begins with the writings of two former presidents of the College, William DeWitt Hyde’s “Offer of the College” and the portion of Joseph McKeen’s inaugural address that highlights the importance of serving the common good.
The rest of the document consists of a description of the College and a list of the challenges the next president will face.
“I think it is a document that tries to present the College first and foremost to potential candidates for the college presidency, but also to frame the discussion about the College’s aspirations and what objective the next president might lead the College towards,” said Jes Staley ’79, the trustee who is serving as chair of the Presidential Search Committee, in a phone interview with the Orient.
The job description refers to Bowdoin’s upward trajectory five times, with the introductory section stating, “The College seeks a new president who can extend Bowdoin’s trajectory.”Staley said that based on conversations he has had with members of the committee and other members of the Bowdoin community, there is a shared belief that the College is in a good place.
“This is not a college that is in need of a major change because the school is in such terrific shape—the quality of the faculty, the quality of the students, the quality of the residential life, the support of the alumni—as the document underscores, people just want to make sure that we find the best possible candidate to continue what is a pretty extraordinary place,” he said.
The section of the job description titled “Qualifications and Experience” mentions the ability to lead a conversation about the curriculum, an understanding of college governance, and experience working with both faculty and board of trustees. Staley said that those preferred qualifications are not an indication that the committee is only considering applicants working in academia.
“We haven’t set out criteria that limit the range of candidates that the committee can look at,” he said. “Clearly there’s an appreciation by the committee of the value of finding an individual with a deep understanding of academic life and an appreciation for liberal arts education.”
The committee also laid out its expectation that the next president will be able to “engage effectively with the many constituencies of the college, skillfully negotiating different points of view” and “articulate the value of a liberal arts education in the twenty-first century.”
During an interview with the Orient last semester, Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies Tess Chakkalakal, a member of the search committee, said that the second of these abilities is particularly important to her.
“What I’m looking for is someone who really has not just a commitment to the liberal arts in general, but someone who really is on the front line in the current debates regarding our college’s role in training young people to become active citizens and productive in the world,” she said.
The job description praises Mills’ administration for raising funds dedicated to financial aid and diversifying the faculty and student body, and calls on the next president to continue expanding access to the College.
“The new president should extend Bowdoin’s efforts to remain affordable to first-generation and middle-class families, continue efforts to diversify the faculty and staff, and address the academic and social needs of the student population to ensure that every Bowdoin student feels included in the campus culture and is positioned to thrive,” it reads.
Staley said that the committee would keep the College’s commitment to diversity in mind throughout the search process.
“The composition of the search committee tried to reflect the diversity of the Bowdoin community overall,” said Staley. “There’s a deep commitment by the College to embrace diversity, and I think that embracing diversity extends to how the search committee is going to handle its search.”
Staley said that in order to attract the most talented applicants, the committee has to keep the names of candidates confidential. Applicants do not want to risk losing their current jobs by demonstrating a public interest in becoming Bowdoin’s next president.
Withholding the names of candidates is common practice during a college’s presidential search, according to Staley.
The committee has already received nominations and will continue to receive them in the coming weeks.
“We have reviewed a very long list of potential candidates and we are going to be reaching out to dozens and dozens,” said Staley. “These are people that we’re going to be approaching, people that have been recommended to us, and people that have approached us. It is a long list and I’m sure it will be an even longer list as the fall moves forward.”
A set number of students are endorsed by Bowdoin coaches each year even though their high school grades and test scores do not necessarily meet the standards of the average accepted Bowdoin students. Admissions gives many of these students’ application materials early reads to alert coaches to the likelihood that the student-athlete will be accepted.
This system is not confined to Brunswick, and for the last decade, the entire NESCAC has used a process to ensure that its sports events are perenially competitive, enabling uniformity in the 11 member institutions and establishing a mutual understanding of how rosters are filled.
“NESCAC institutions recognize the important role that athletics play on our campuses,” said Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan. “With that, a system has been put in place to help ensure that institutions are able to develop athletic programs that are competitive within the conference.”
Discussion of the role of student-athletes in liberal arts academia is a common conversation topic, but this admissions process is widely unknown.
Though a set system has been in place since 2002 and admissions and athletic administrators are generally open to talking vaguely about it, access to the specific information remains guarded and there are few means through which laypeople can find explanations. Multiple Bowdoin coaches declined to comment to the Orient on the specifics of the process, and according to Ryan, school policy dictates that numbers not be distributed publicly.
The NESCAC’s highly regulated recruitment system was first widely revealed in a December 2005 New York Times article featuring Amherst’s dean of admissions and financial aid, Thomas Parker.
“The real danger was in not acknowledging that we give preferential treatment to athletes,” said Parker in the article. “It engendered a corrosive cynicism. When it was on the table exactly what we do, it wasn’t as bad as some faculty thought.”History of new guidelines
Parker was integral in formulating the current NESCAC-wide system in the early 2000s. When he arrived at Amherst in 1999 from Williams—where he had held the same position—the conference’s recruiting was very different from what it is now.
“There was virtually no regulation or oversight of the relationship between admissions offices and the athletic departments,” he said in an interview with the Orient. He explained that Williams’ and Amherst’s presidents were both interested in re-evaluating the number of recruited athletes and their academic calibers.
“Amherst and Williams lined our athletes up and said, ‘We’re virtually identical schools academically, so our athletes should be identical,’” said Parker.
Implementing these new regulations conference-wide, however, was an arduous process. First, Amherst and Williams brought in Wesleyan, the third member school of the NESCAC’s so-called “Little Three.” Then the topic of these schools’ recruiting caps came up at a meeting of NESCAC presidents, who asked for admissions representatives from the whole conference to collaborate on reformulating the system. By 2002, a group of admissions deans had successfully modified the nascent system of the Little Three to be uniform across the league.
As explained in Bowdoin’s 2006 reaccreditation self-survey, the NESCAC’s target-based athletic admissions model aimed to “reduce the number of recruited athletes admitted…and raise the academic profile of athletes.” The overall volume and competition of D-III sports had increased significantly in the past few decades, which at Bowdoin brought about “legitimate questions about the opportunity costs of admitting athletes to fill 31 teams at the expense of other highly qualified applicants in the Bowdoin pool.”The plan in action
According to Parker, each NESCAC institution is allowed a maximum of 14 recruits for having a football team, with an additional two per remaining varsity sport. He said that every NESCAC school currently subscribes to the process. For Amherst, that number is 66 recruits, or athletic factors (AFs).
“In those 66 cases, the athletic input controls the decision,” said Parker. “You have to say that in that group of 66 students, preference was given to them in the process, no question about it.”
Parker said that for teams that do not compete at the D-III level, an extra AF recruit spot is added every other year in order to attract higher caliber athletes. For instance, Bowdoin’s 31 varsity teams factor into an allotted total, but he noted that a sport like nordic skiing, which competes outside of the NESCAC at the D-I level, is awarded further support. Other examples include Trinity’s squash and Colby’s alpine skiing teams.
Following Parker’s formula, the number of allotted recruits at Bowdoin would be around 75, or about 15 percent of the incoming class. An Orient article last spring cited this number at 77, based on a speech by President Barry Mills at a faculty meeting, but further investigation has not been able to confirm this number.
Those recruiting caps of supported athletes are then subdivided into “bands”—sometimes referred to as slots—which separate recruits academically based on how they compare to the averaged statistics of accepted students. Students in the B band have scores slightly below the averages, while C-band recruits are lower. Parker said that schools cannot consider prospective student-athletes whose numbers would make them fall below the C band’s lower boundary. Students whose scores place them well within the averages fall into the A band, but these individuals are not factored into the athletic support numbers.
AFs are considered those prospective student-athletes in the B and C bands, though Parker noted “there’s only a very limited number of C bands that each school can take.”
At Bowdoin, an agreement dictates that the admissions and athletic departments “don’t talk about numbers or qualifications related to those bands externally,” according to Ryan.
As a point of comparison, Parker said in the 2005 New York Times article that the mean SAT score for that year’s freshman class was a 1442. The lowest band was for “students with strong high school records in challenging courses and with scores of 1250 to 1310 on the two-part College Board exam. The next-highest band required a very strong record and course load and SAT scores from 1320 to 1430.”
“At Amherst,” the article continued, “the mean SAT score for athletes filling slots was 60 to 75 points below the mean for the current freshman class.”
Once the admissions deans fully understood the differentiation between the bands based on academic achievement, “we had to line up the other schools, which turned out to be a pretty big task,” Parker said.
Implementing the numbering system wasn’t inherently difficult; the challenge came in identifying where cut-offs for B and C bands occur across various institutions.
Some member institutions required no testing, some required subject tests, and there were significant gaps in average scores. After a few years, the deans standardized a system with modified test score and GPA averages depending on the means of each college’s student body.
This breakdown of banding isn’t set in stone. In 2005 Amherst admitted 19 C-band recruits, but Parker said that number is now down to 12. Additionally, the academic qualifications for the lower band recruits has been raised due to heightened academic competitiveness in admissions.
“But we’ve done that league-wide,” he added. “We’re not going to do anything unilaterally.”
“Since we’ve become a playing conference, recruiting and schools trying to identify and attract and have people enroll at their schools is as intense as I’ve seen it since I started here 30 years ago,” said men’s hockey head coach Terry Meagher. “It’s always been a part of what we do—for this program we’ve always recruited very extensively and we’ve had a thorough model—but across the board it’s as competitive as I’ve ever seen it.”
It would be impossible to field nearly any team using just two recruits per year, which is why the rest of the rosters are composed of A-band students no different academically from the other admitted students, who, said Parker, “would have made it under any conditions.”
“We hope that a few others are going to be able to get in on their own because we have to do it that way, but I think in general it works out,” said women’s soccer head coach Brianne Weaver.
“We have a limited number of people who we can talk to the admissions office about,” said football head coach Dave Caputi. “Some kids require a little more political capital than others—you have to pick and choose your battles. That’s constant across all sports. In a given year coaches may lobby a little higher for a really good player who’s in a position of high need.”Dividing the support
Just because each NESCAC institution may use a certain number of spots each year on athletic recruits with somewhat lower academic pedigrees, the way in which schools do this varies.
Though the overall allotment is based off an equal number of admittees per sport, each team does not use exactly two spots per season. Some coaches will sacrifice a spot one year for an extra recruit the next year. And depending on specific NESCAC schools’ preferences and traditions, some teams will consistently support more athletes in admissions than others.
“You want to adjust it according to the priorities [of each school],” said Parker. “There are probably some NESCAC schools that emphasize one sport over another for reasons of tradition or something else.”
Sailing coach Frank Pizzo said he understands that his program doesn’t hold as much gravitas as a sport like football or hockey, but recruits accordingly.
“We’re a sports team that doesn’t have a whole lot of recruiting pull,” he said. “I rely on a lot of kids to whom I’m like, ‘Hey, if you can get in through admissions, we’d love to have you.’”
Women’s rugby coach MaryBeth Mathews acknowledged a similar reliance on athletes admitted without a coach’s endorsement.
“I have a very limited amount of support,” she said. “One because it’s a participation sport that offers the non-recruited athletes a chance to play, but until other NESCAC women’s programs are varsity, the College doesn’t see the need.”
But students involved in less-supported athletic programs do understand the system’s engendering of inequitable support is “probably fair,” according to men’s swim captain Linc Rhodes ’14. Some teams, he said, “probably have a little more pull of people they can get in, but they’re also a way bigger influence on campus and they’re a bigger draw to people and alumni so they’re granted that.”
Softball pitcher Julia Geaumont ’16, who was named Gatorade Player of the Year—the top high school player—in Maine as a senior at nearby Saco’s Thornton Academy, still thinks it’s less than ideal.
“It’s kind of hard, looking at how some team gets a few more spots so maybe they can be a little bit better,” she said. “But, I mean, I think you’re going to find that any place.”Beyond academic distinctions
For those prospective students who fall above the B band—whose scores are indistinguishable from the average student at a given college—a coach can still be supportive in admissions.
However, this support will not be as strong, and in the words of Parker, “Would be no more helpful than the symphony director or the head of the studio art department. There’s a point at all the NESCAC schools when you can’t make any more academic distinctions because everybody is so good.”
Parker said that these students are referred to as non-athletic factors (NAFs). Just like students applying to Bowdoin with an interest in intercollegiate athletics, many students apply here with plans to participate in other extracurricular activities.
“You’re not going to come here and just be an athlete, you’re going to be involved in the theater or the arts or the newspaper,” said Ryan. “And that’s as important, if not more important, than your athletic ability.”
When choosing between so many highly-qualified A-band applicants, each student’s non-academic strengths are carefully considered to figure out how they could best fit at the school. At this point, some students will be recognized in admissions by their coaches for a vote of confidence, and others may be identified by musical directors or other extracurricular leaders.
But not having a conference-wide system in place for evaluating these activities makes it less clear as to how different schools support these types of students. Parker said that athletics is the most uniform because any NESCAC school knows or can easily find out what the ten other schools are doing, thanks to the structured process already in place for recruiting athletes.
Part two: an investigation of the recruiting timeline, including a look at “early reads” in admissions and the benefits of the athletic recruiting visit. In two weeks: examining the academic performance of athletes once they get to Bowdoin and being a student-athlete at the College.