President on his Bowdoin plans, vision
Near the end of his inaugural speech last Saturday morning, President
Barry Mills quoted a teacher in Robert Coles' book, Lives of Moral Leadership,
describing a leader as "someone who knows how to persuade others
to keep others company, to stand for what she believes in, the good, the
one hundred percent right thing to do."
When speaking with President Mills, it quickly becomes clear that he
exemplifies this definition. He is passionate, yet pragmatic about his
vision for Bowdoin and reflects this in his conversation.
This was particularly evident during an October 30 interview when Mills
explained: "I think it is very important for Bowdoin to be a place
where one can get a sense of, where we can be a community that represents
the world, both nationally and internationally."
He made it clear that his view of Bowdoin's future included increased
diversity on campus, not only racially, but also geographically, religiously,
socioeconomically, and otherwise. Furthermore, Mills highlighted the need
for diversity of intellectual thought, which he called "an exchange
of ideas going all ways that makes the place alive." This is a common
theme for the President; he has mentioned the uniqueness of the "Bowdoin
Experience" several times since his appointment. In both his inaugural
address and initial speech to the first-year students during Orientation,
President Mills explored the benefits of the communal aspect of a residential
liberal arts education.
With such faith in the purpose of Bowdoin's community, it is to be expected
that Mills has expectations for its future evidenced by the three "guideposts"
of his inaugural speech: size, collaboration, and access.
"In order to think about growing the college," said Mills,
"we as a community need to understand all of the implications, all
that it will allow us to do academically
What does that mean for
housing, for lab space, and faculty-wise, facilities-wise, and student
Such an increase will help the school "deepen the academic program"
and cultivate "intellectual vibrancy on campus," he explained.
Maintaining that any increase in the size of the Bowdoin community would
need to be incremental, Mills reiterated the need for progress and change
on campus tempered with caution.
"I think that we are facing some harder economic times, largely
as a result of an endowment which is smaller than we had expected it to
be at this time," he said.
At the same time, he maintains an infectious positive outlook for Bowdoin's
future, asserting that a major capital fund drive will be needed "in
the next three or four years," particularly to help cover the rapidly
rising costs of medical insurance.
"We're a very healthy college, and together we're going to be able
to get through this as a community," he explained.
As he outlined in his inaugural address, Mills hopes to further develop
the Bowdoin community through collaboration (the second "guidepost")
with other schools and facilities across the nation and world. This includes
sharing physical space and material resources as well as intellect, programs,
and diversity. However, he also maintains that this effort should not
change the Bowdoin style and quality of education.
The final guidepost that Mills expressed in his inaugural address was
to ensure that access to Bowdoin is widespread and open. Here again, the
economic situation has become an issue. Bowdoin's need-blind admissions
policy is costly, particularly with 40% of all students on financial aid,
a proportion that has been growing in past years. Mills, a financial aid
recipient himself during his studies at Bowdoin, feels that maintaining
such a policy is essential to "ensuring that people who should come
can come to Bowdoin."
"We have a commitment to Maine, we have a commitment to becoming
a more diverse place," he said.
This, however, will further necessitate the upcoming capital fund drive
previously mentioned. Another recent furor concerning admissions at Bowdoin
and other NESCAC schools concerns the treatment of athletes during the
"[The report] raises a number of serious questions that NESCAC and
the college have to face up to. We can debate the math and the numbers,
but the trends force us to step back and evaluate," said Mills.
All of these objectives for the school are intended to contribute to
Mills' vision of the Bowdoin community under his leadership. He makes
it very clear that his primary focus as Bowdoin's President will be to
"deepen the academic programs" and "develop intellectual
vibrancy on campus." Also, Mills is seeking to produce an atmosphere
that will "
create leaders who have analytical judgment, but
also moral leadership
that is, figuring out what's right and acting
on it." To him, this is the principle role of the College.
Mills cites numerous Bowdoin alumni who are exemplary in this respect,
including Geoffrey Canada, Ellen Baxter, and Andy Reicher. For Mills,
this is a classic representation of the Common Good, acting upon ethical
impulses to give opportunities to those in need.
"Inaugural speeches are times for the vision thing," said Mills.
Clearly, President Barry Mills has a firm vision for Bowdoin's future.
With his comprehensive understanding of the needs of the college, particularly
in terms of the Common Good, he should provide intuitive, reasonable,
and conscientious leadership to guide Bowdoin through a myriad of difficult
decisions in the future.