President Mills's plan
President Mills spent a good deal of his Inauguration speech
last Saturday telling us how valuable our Bowdoin liberal arts education
is, and how it is equally or more valuable than the education our university
counterparts are getting. This is normal, at all schools like Bowdoin:
there is in most of us here some nagging, if mild, insecurity about the
insularity of the place and the limitations of our academic trades.
Mills's plan for Bowdoin in the future answers that insecurity,
to a small but favorable degree. His plan, while rightly disclaimed as
"important things to consider" rather than a set strategic plan,
is to moderately increase the size of the student body, to expand collaboration
with other schools and research centers, and to improve access to this
restrictively expensive education.
The plan is worthwhile and ambitious, although not particularly
surprising. The steps Mills laid out are necessary to answering the common
complaints leveled against Bowdoin and places like it: that it is constrictively
small, that its academic program is limited, and that its price is just
There are relevant questions about how immediately Mills
will be able to move forward with it, only because in these rocky economic
times survival is more important than development. It is safe to assume,
however, that the changes will happen over time.
There will be plenty of other changes, too. The several
welcome references to questioning the role of athletics that were made
at the ceremony suggest that President Mills and the faculty are committed
to the crucial reevaluation of athletics at Bowdoin. Treasurer Kent Chabotar's
recent departure announcement invites further questions about the future
of other senior decision-makers at the College.
The result is that the next ten years at Bowdoin may see
as much or more cultural change as was seen in the 90s. With all these
changes, it is important to keep in mind what we learned in the phase
out of the previous culture: that continuity is necessary to a happy campus.
Continuity might also be called tradition, and we are only beginning to
assemble some young traditions (to what first year or sophomore does the
phrase "Theta Halloween Party" mean a thing?). But if the culture
of Bowdoin is to change significantly in the next few years, will those
now young traditions survive?
In the 90s we also learned that the culture shift was partly
due to the Administration's desire to oversee all aspects of student life.
This continues to be troubling, but mostly to those who saw the tail end
of a culture that was less regulated by offices and deans. Keeping this
in mind, it is important that our new traditions or social continuity
be maintained by students, and not at the prompt or approval of the various
President Mills's plan for the future is a wise one that will likely have significant positive effects on Bowdoin College as a whole, but it must be accompanied by an equal willingness to let students create and control their own culture.