President Mills takes the reins
President Barry Mills is not interested in talking about the past. He
wants to talk about now, about how great he believes Bowdoin is, and about
how he intends to make it better. As a self-proclaimed optimist, he prefers
not to look at Bowdoin in terms of what's wrong with it, but in terms
of how it can get better.
"Where we are is an incredibly wonderful place with solid roots,"
Mills said. "We are stable financially, we have a wonderful curriculum,
a wonderful faculty, great students, the house system."
Still, he recognizes that Bowdoin is in a transitional state, and that
this presents a challenge to the campus.
"Bowdoin is not all that different from the rest of the world,"
he said. "People are, in all walks of life, questioning things. Things
are changing very quickly in our society, and things are changing very
He acknowledges the "enormous strides" that Bowdoin made under
the Edwards Administration, but he wants to focus only on how he can build
on them. Most notable to him is the College House System, which Mills
sees as the "crowning glory" of Edwards's time at Bowdoin.
Mills makes it clear that he wants to build on efforts that have been well under way, such as making Bowdoin more diverse, improving gender equity, thinking about
curriculum reform, and increasing a sense of community.
However, he is also quick to point out that he has yet to define his
goals and priorities for Bowdoin.
"I think it's too soon," he said. Instead of enumerating a
list, Mills is doing a lot of listening, "spending a good deal of
time getting a sense of the place."
Mills spent the summer meeting one-on-one with faculty members, and he
continues to do so. He said he has found the faculty to be incredibly
optimistic about the future.
He held his first official office hours this past Tuesday, from noon
to 2:00 p.m., in the Smith Union. He will have these office hours each
week, and highly encourages all students to visit with him.
"It's important for Bowdoin-and it's important for me-to get the
viewpoints from many different kinds of people, to have a diverse group
of people advising the people who are running the College," he said.
In order to gain more perspectives, he has restructured the meetings
of the senior administrators, to make them more open to other members
of the staff. College decisions are no longer made by the "senior
staff," but instead by the "College Coordinating Group,"
which is a more inclusive body. This is one way he has tried to make the
Administration more accessible and sensitive to diversity.
Mills believes that Bowdoin is now wholly committed to improving its
diversity, though he stressed that one of his primary concerns is making
sure everyone thinks hard about what it means to be diverse.
Mills emphasized that, despite the economic slump, Bowdoin will remain
"totally devoted to need-blind admissions" and to "making
Bowdoin accessible to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds."
Mills himself was a financial aid recipient for three of his years here,
and recognizes that it is extremely important to meet the financial needs
of all students as the College aims to bring in more diversity.
"Bringing people here is only the first step," he said. "It's
just the first step, and in many ways, the easiest step. Now we have to
create a culture and programs that really are accepting and understanding
for the different kinds of people that are going to be here.
"You can't just snap your fingers and say, 'do that'."
The "growing pains" associated with the transition to a more
pluralistic campus, he said, will be significant, and will present a challenge
to students. "It's not good to have people here who are having a
terrible experience, but to have an edge-to have some experience here-that
may be good. This can't be four years of Pleasantville."
He sees the College House System as the defining social characteristic
of Bowdoin and believes it will be instrumental in ensuring an open, pluralistic
Though Mills was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity while at
Bowdoin, he cannot over-emphasize his enthusiasm for the House System
and its benefits over the former fraternity system.
Unlike the fraternity system, Mills believes that the house system must
not be based on self-selection or exclusion.
Acknowledging the discomforts of a non-selective system, he said, "It
doesn't strike me as surprising that, as people spend more time here,
they will meet people they like and will want to form their own communities."
He continued, "It's not unnatural. It's just not the experience,
at this point, that we think people should have."
The College House System "is not the way people lived before coming
to Bowdoin, and it's probably not the way they're going to live when they
"Residential liberal arts colleges are in some ways incredibly unique
experiences. Never again will it happen where you come to a place and
you don't get to choose your neighbors. Live as a community. Open yourselves
up to different kinds of people and make yourselves available to them."
He said he expects the house system to evolve while always maintaining
its principle of openness, but he strongly feels that it will work.
Noting that the building boom that started in the '90s is nearing completion,
Mills said that the level of construction in the next five years will
be significantly less than what it was in the past ten years. Bowdoin
will continue with its plans to build a new academic building, to turn
Curtis Pool into a recital hall, and to renovate the Walker Art Museum.
Beyond that, he said, "I'm not, at this point, looking at a huge
amount of construction."
He also does not believe it is the right time to grow the size of the
student body, partly because of the expense. "We have recognized
that growing the College is incredibly expensive, and I think that it's
time for us to focus on curriculum, faculty resources, financial aid."
Mills is most interested in ensuring that Bowdoin is academically alive,
"with all sorts of intellectual ideas bouncing off the walls."
With this in mind, he wants to strengthen the academic program and reevaluate
the curriculum, noting that many faculty members want to expand interdisciplinary
coursework, change the distribution requirements, and add a senior capstone
However, he wants to make sure that the faculty members themselves make
all curricular decisions.
"I hope the faculty together with the deans will tell me what they
really believe is necessary for there to be a wonderful program on this
campus, and my job will be to help them achieve that."
In line with this goal, he wants to re-examine the budgetary expectations
for faculty expansion within the coming years. The faculty has seen a
rapid expansion in the recent past, necessary to accommodate the larger
student body. Projected budgets for the future, however, do not suggest
the same kind of growth for the faculty.
"That makes me uncomfortable, because, for Bowdoin to be dynamic
and to grow, we need to have a dynamic faculty. The faculty needs to feel
that it has the support, that we provide the capacity for the curriculum
Mills recognizes that there are pressures and risks in the liberal arts
sector, many financial, but he doesn't believe they pose a great problem
He looks at the arms race realistically, though. "Over the long
haul, you can't be all things to all people," he said. "What
we have to do is decide what we want to be, and be that. You have to make
Such choices were needed in the Mills household as well. Barry and his
wife, Karen Gordon Mills, have three boys: William, 15, Henry, 12, and
The move from New York City to Maine has required quite a bit of adjustment
for the family.
"I loved living in New York. I love being here, too, but I wasn't
trying to escape New York. It's going to be a tough adjustment for the
boys," he said, "especially the older ones."