It is undoubtedly true that Bowdoin is in a state of transition.
Perhaps the most obvious indication of this is the College's change in
presidents. No two presidents are the same, and Bowdoin will certainly
see changes during the shift from the Robert Edwards reign to that of
President Barry Mills.
Last year's viewbook redevelopment has clearly impacted
the type of student who applies to Bowdoin. The current viewbook is a
radical change from the previous edition, and students attracted to the
current viewbook may very well be radically different from the students
attracted to the previous viewbook.
With such a change in the student body, other changes must
come as well. New faculty members must be recruited to keep up with the
new interests of the students. Extracurricular activities and programs
must conform to the varied pursuits of the students, and even the housing
system and the various academic requirements must inevitably undergo some
The result is that as new and different students matriculate
and graduate, the composition of the Bowdoin community will change, and
even the College itself will change.
In fact, the College has already changed. The Bowdoin of
today is not at all the Bowdoin of even five years ago. And the question
is not whether this is for better or for worse; the question is how the
students of five years ago, or even of fifty years ago, can relate to
the College of today.
The College should keep in mind that as things change, connections are broken. But it is fundamentally important for graduates and students of all generations to feel a personal connection to the College, because that connection is far more important than the degree. But if we lose that connection to Bowdoin, then little is left but a piece of paper.
The College House System is said to be many things by many observers. For some, the collection of residences provides Bowdoin's most lively social scene; for others, it is a timid substitute for the Greek system. But the college houses should never accused of being brittle. This fall's extended game of musical chairs, being played by once, current or future residents and affiliates of Howell, Burnett, Ladd, and MacMillan Houses, shows just how flexible the house system and its members are.
The saga of last year's Howell and Burnett Houses is difficult to describe in one breath. Howell House (formerly Howard Hall) residents were intended to occupy MacMillan House (formerly TD) while Howell was brought to fire code, a renovation which would have been completed during the coming winter break. Ladd House- last year's Burnett- was supposed to move into the old Chi Delt building this fall. Due to delays and difficulties, Howell stayed put this semester, and Ladd residents wait it out in MacMillan while waiting for the Ladd renovations to be completed. Helmrich House's plans to occupy MacMillan in the spring semester are now on hold, since Howell's residents will be placed there in order to make room for renovations to Howell itself. For those three social houses, the ground is shifting under their feet.
It is an impressive feat of flexibility that the social houses have continued to function normally amidst all this chaos, but it is also unnerving. The 1997 report from the Commission on Residential Life which shaped the current house system deplored the "many pressures of fragmentation" on campus, noting that "students move from one residence to the next over four years at Bowdoin with little continuity in relationships with diverse groups of students." It was certainly unanticipated that the members of the proposed social houses themselves would, almost 5 years later, still be trading campus residences each semester with such little continuity as they currently are. Residential Life has been diplomatic in dealing with the house leaderships, but the College could have performed better oversight of the construction projects, ameliorating the pinched schedules and hurt feelings.
"We envision the possibility", wrote the Commission, "that over time, each of these Houses will develop a distinctive tradition and identity connecting students across class years and to the College. A small library or display case in each house might collect memorabilia about the House " Constant mobility, though, makes this kind of planned nostalgia difficult to stick. The social houses are still very young, and so far they have had a rough and tumble upbringing- not economically but emotionally. The College should make it a priority to allow its social houses to really take root.