NAS study, though flawed, points to Bowdoin’s problems
I write in response to the editors’ request for my opinion of the NAS report with regard to the government department and to the report in general.
First, although the NAS study purports to be an “ethnography” of Bowdoin over the past 40-plus years, it fails to provide a comprehensive answer to the question “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” As others have noted, the report makes much of the fact that history does not require (or even offer) a course on the American founding, but that does not mean that Bowdoin students are denied the opportunity to study this subject. As the report finally gets around to acknowledging (footnote 1155), the government department offers a survey of American political thought that treats the founding in depth (the NAS likes survey courses!), and has done so for the last 25 years.
Second, the report calls attention to many of the narrow and/or ideologically charged first year seminars on offer, but it passes over more traditional seminars without comment. The government department regularly offers a number of such classes, including “Human Being and Citizen” and “Fundamental Questions: Exercises in Political Theory,” both of which introduce students to the great books of political philosophy. What’s more, every major must take at least one course in political theory to complete the requirements for the major, ensuring that Bowdoin graduates in government (the largest major on campus) will have some familiarity with classic texts. On a related note, at least five government courses assign The Federalist Papers. Although the report generally exempts the government (and economics) departments from criticism, it seems less interested, even by its own lights, in what Bowdoin does well.