The Bowdoin Project: NAS Responds to President Mills
We are pleased to see that Bowdoin College president Barry Mills has responded to "What Does Bowdoin Teach?" In an essay, “Setting the Record Straight,” published in the college’s official news outlet, the Bowdoin Daily Sun, April 10, Mills cites the college’s openness to criticism and commitment to academic freedom as reasons to “answer the charges” in our report.
While we welcome President Mills’s decision to engage the report, we are disappointed with the very limited approach he has taken. He offers a broad emotional response and then picks a handful of topics in which he erroneously thinks we got ours facts wrong. Our larger disappointment, however, is that President Mills leaves unaddressed the central themes of the report: unnoticed bias against views that differ from prevailing progressive ideas; curricular incoherence which results from a vision of the students as autonomous consumers, compounded by an ever-increasing narrowness of faculty specialization; the contradictions between the college’s vaunted commitments to openness and critical thinking, on the one hand, and its overriding ideological commitments, on the other; the displacement of intellectual standards by appeals to social justice; the college’s willingness to flatter students to the point of compromising educational desiderata; the erosion of intellectual community and its gradual replacement by popular enthusiasms; and the college’s retreat from positive efforts to foster self-restraint and other qualities of good character that are intrinsic to liberal arts education. On each and every one of these, President Mills is silent.
President Mills does make clear that his willingness to answer us at all required him to overcome considerable distaste. The report, he says, is “mean-spirited and personal.” It “exaggerates” and “misrepresents” and this is “the considered opinion of many members of our community.”