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In Silicon Valley, trustees meet with tech execs, imagine future of liberal arts at Bowdoin

February 16, 2018

Bowdoin’s trustees and senior administrators traveled to Silicon Valley last week for their annual meeting and spent time with executives from a number of technology firms including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Uber and Coursera. According to President Clayton Rose, there was no specific takeaway or plan for the College to implement. Rather, the trip was designed to allow the board to soak in what’s happening in the tech world with an eye to long term planning for the College.

“The world of technology and entrepreneurship as embodied physically out there in Silicon Valley is not a magical, mystical world where everything is great and it is not an evil world where everything is bad,” said Rose. “It is a complicated world that is having profound impacts on everything that we do. To not understand it better and to take into account the good and the bad and the complicated is an opportunity missed.”

“The pace of change in this part of the world is staggering,” wrote Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster in an email to the Orient. “It is full speed ahead and there needs to be the time and space for thinking about the ethical, moral and societal implications of the next big thing.”

During a visit to the Apple headquarters, the group looked at Apple Park, the company’s new campus that resembles a ‘spaceship,’ and discussed the thinking behind the design. The group also met with Frances Frei, senior vice president for strategy and leadership at Uber, who is tasked with reforming the company’s culture and developing a leadership strategy.

The group stayed at Stanford University for the weekend, where they heard from Richard Saller, dean of Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences. He discussed how, amid an increased interest in STEM fields, he thinks about promoting liberal arts and humanities.

In addition to the trustees and administrators, BSG President Irfan Alam ’18, BSG Vice President Benny Painter ’19 and Assistant Professor of Earth and Oceanographic Studies Emily Peterman were in attendance.

Peterman said she was most struck by a session with Tom Kelley, a partner at the design firm IDEO, which emphasizes creativity and innovation.

“[Kelley’s] presentation challenged me to consider new ways in which I can foster a creative, collegial atmosphere in my courses so that my students can learn to recognize the ways in which they’re creative and develop the confidence to step outside their comfort zones to unlock their full potential,” Peterman wrote in an email to the Orient.

Painter, for his part, was frustrated by the session at Google Brain, the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) division, where he had the opportunity to ask a senior engineer questions about the future and ethics of AI.

“Largely his answers to those questions were, ‘We’re not thinking about that yet, because we’re still teaching robots how to pick things up and put them back down.’ For me personally, that answer is kind of frustrating, because, if you’re not thinking about this, who is?” said Painter.

After meetings on Thursday and Friday, the group had a debrief on Saturday morning. The next trustees’ meeting will be held in May, at which point they may begin to follow up on the ideas presented last weekend.



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One comment:

  1. David Murray says:

    Sounds like a boondoggle to me.

    David Murray ’71

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