Closing the Orient's books
The Orient has never been an entirely autonomous organization-its
advertising and subscription revenue has always been supplemented by grants
from the SAFC and its predecessor, the Blanket Tax Committee-but we have,
until last week, maintained a considerable degree of financial independence
with our off-campus bank account.
Having unrestricted money, outside of the College's control,
is a benefit to the newspaper as a safeguard on editorial integrity. For
fear of becoming a happy newsletter (like the alumni magazine), it is
always to our benefit to retain distance from the College administration,
as well as its accounting system.
When we closed out the off-campus bank account (see Editors'
Note), we lost that distance, but, more importantly, we lost the ability
to make our own decisions, and we lost stake in our own organization.
The closing of the bank account is unfortunate but inevitable: it follows
the destructive trend of the College increasingly controlling all aspects
of students' lives.
The decision to close out the account and reorganize the
Orient's finances was unilateral: the Orient editors were never consulted
on the matter prior to our receiving an email (just after we had all left
campus last May) detailing the new way to run our organization. Granted,
this email came from SAFC chair on behalf of the SAFC, which is considered
to be a student-controlled group. But the SAFC is a function of the Administration,
as the director of Student Activities sits on it. The SAFC cannot be student-controlled
until it runs itself, without an administrator sitting in on its sessions
and influencing decisions.
When the College did away with fraternities not long ago,
much more was lost than its social structure. Students lost the ability
to control their own lives, to make their own decisions without the approval
or oversight of some administrator on campus. Administrators control the
culture of Bowdoin College through Res Life, Dining Services, Student
Activities, the deans offices, Security, and so on. The Administration
of Bowdoin College has, in the past few years, taken over so many aspects
of our lives, that we no longer have real responsibilities, other than
simple ones handed to us in the form of classwork.
The worst thing about the loss of autonomy-and responsibility-at
Bowdoin is that the younger classes do not even know what it means to
have it. And they therefore cannot know that they lack it. The Orient
may quite possibly be the last organization at Bowdoin to know what autonomy
This is no longer the case, but only the upper classes,
the last generation of the phased-out Bowdoin culture, know this.
In order for students to care about an organization, they
need to have a stake in it. They need to be fully responsible for everything
related to it-both successes and failures-and they need to have some incentive
to keep an organization alive. Increasingly, students have no stake in
their organizations, which explains why so many are foundering or short-lived,
rarely living past the legacy of the one or two students who founded them.
This is no wonder, as organizations no longer belong to the students who
A few years ago, the key word was "ownership"-realizing that the social houses were not succeeding, students were asked how they could feel "ownership" of their social houses. The answer was, and still is, autonomy. We're only beginning to see the detrimental effects of a non-autonomous system in which a moralizing administration runs the whole show but defers all significant liability. The years ahead will reveal the damage in yet undetermined ways.
-NJL, BJL, & JMF
In last week's Orient, Assistant Professor of Economics Gregory DeCoster and Visiting Instructor of Economics Jim Hornsten made a number of assumptions regarding grades and their correlation to student "ability."
Specifically, they said that "nearly everyone receives
high grades regardless of ability," and thus grades have ceased to
really mean anything. What is reflected in grades, according to them,
is that "the few students whose transcripts notably lack 'As' are
quite unlikely to be high ability."
It would almost appear as if the professors had in fact
interviewed all straight-A students and determined that yes, in fact,
they all were smart, and after interviewing all of the students with Cs
on their transcripts, it was undeniable that they were in fact all quite
But this could certainly not be the case. Or if it were,
then they obviously forgot to come interview a few of us on the Orient
staff with less than stellar GPAs. I'm sure that if they had, they would
recognize that we're really not stupid at all. It just happens that we
have a number of other things that we enjoy doing, including producing
this newspaper, and there's simply not always the time, or even the desire,
to be a straight-A student.
The professors in general seem to have confused a person
of "high ability" with a person of intelligence, whereas a better
definition would be a person both desirous of good grades and with the
professional skills to attain them. The simple fact is that making good
grades requires not so much intelligence as it does an understanding of
how to take tests, how to write on particular subjects for certain professors,
and how to say just the right things (both in quality and in quantity)
during class discussions.
The problem is that truly intelligent students share a tendency
to have a wide range of interests, and professional classroom skills is
often not one of them. That in no way means, though, that such students
could not, if they so chose, do just as well as the average straight-A
student. They may very well possess equally "high abilities."
Although the professors did say that students with "high
ability" often see little purpose in "excelling," it is
likely that their idea of "excelling" is an "A+" over
an "A-," whereas most normal people would be content with excelling
via any sort of "A."
The result of these students not striving after the "A+,"
according to the professors, is "a decline in the intellectual environment
at the College." This could not be further from the truth. There
is no sort of intellectual benefit to be gained from students reading
every single word any professor ever tells them to read, twice, just to
make sure they understood it all. Nor is there anything to be gained from
students spending twelve hours a day in the library essentially attempting
to commit everything to memory so that if the professor asks a question,
the student will be able to answer without hesitation and thus "excel."
It is a widely-held misconception that students are here
for one reason and one reason only-to work as hard as they can in all
of their classes so that they can get the best grades possible. If this
were the case, we would all do just as well to have the academic departments
of Bowdoin put on a CD and shipped home to us for $10, as if we were taking
Very few of us ended up in Maine by accident. Very few of us are part of student organizations because we tripped on a table at the Student Activities Fair and accidentally scribbled our name on some sign-up sheet. Very few of us go to dinner in Portland on the weekend because we're working on some sort of psych research project (although I'm sure a few of us do).
Academics is only one of many, many things that we do at this College, and to assume that all students, or at least the smart ones, are completely focused on "excelling" in academics is a serious mistake. And to accuse those of us who do not excel of causing "a decline in the intellectual environment at the College" is insufferable. Without us, the "environment" would not extend past the library walls.