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Faculty meeting addresses Arthur Brooks’ visit

October 31, 2019

During a faculty meeting on Monday, President Clayton Rose denied that any organization or group external to the College participated in the appointment of former American Enterprise Institute (AEI) president Arthur Brooks as the inaugural Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow. Rose acknowledged that he worked with Sheldon Stone ’74, a co-chair of AEI’s National Council, to bring Brooks to campus but clarified that Brooks’ appointment was ultimately “my decision.”

According to Rose, Brooks’ fellowship, which will bring him to campus between November 7-9 and for two days in the spring semester, is being funded by endowments and gifts that are to be used at the discretion of the president.

Rose’s comments came in response to a motion introduced by Robert Sobak, associate professor of classics, at the October 7 faculty meeting which called for a written account of the financial and administrative processes that led to Brooks’ appointment. Sobak believes that Rose erred in failing to consult faculty in the first place.

The assembled faculty did not vote on the motion because Monday’s meeting extended beyond the one-hour time period during which faculty may vote on substantive motions. The motion will be taken up again at the next meeting of the faculty on December 2, nearly a month after Brooks will conclude his first visit to campus.

Rose used the time allotted at the opening of the meeting for the president’s comments, before the motion had been formally introduced to the floor for discussion, to address the substance of Sobak’s motion.

Rose said that he came up with the idea for the fellowship after Brooks announced his resignation from AEI in May of 2018. After consulting with former Dean of Students Affairs Tim Foster and Director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good Sarah Seames, Rose contacted Stone, a friend of Brooks, to gauge Brooks’ interest in visiting Bowdoin.

After speaking with Brooks about the fellowship in early June 2018, Rose again contacted Stone to ask “if he might put in a good word for Bowdoin,” which Stone agreed to do. Rose described Stone as “helpful in getting [Brooks] here.”

Stone is a founding member and director of the private equity and assessment management firm Oaktree Capital, a member of the College’s investment committee, a member of AEI’s National Council and formerly served on the Board of Trustees.

Stone declined to comment on his involvement in Brooks’s appointment.

In an email to the Orient, Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood maintained that Stone assisted in Brooks’ appointment only in his capacity as a Bowdoin alum, not as a member of AEI’s National Council. According to the AEI website, the National Board is composed of “business and community leaders from across the country and abroad who are committed to the values and success of the Institute.”

“Mr. Stone did this as a favor to President Rose and on behalf of the College as an alumnus and former trustee. His association with AEI is likely how he came to know Dr. Brooks, but AEI had and has no involvement—financial or otherwise—in next week’s visit,” Hood wrote.

In his comments following Rose’s statement at Monday’s faculty meeting, Sobak reiterated his support for the motion and explained that it would both bring greater transparency to Brooks’ appointment and serve as a model for a more formal mechanism for faculty to participate in the appointment of future fellows or guests to campus.

“I care, in making this a formal motion, that we open up a way that more voices can take part in these conversations,” said Sobak. “It’s all to the good that we develop personal relationships and bonds of trust and bonds of affection that allow us to speak with each other, but having a formal apparatus does not undermine that. It in fact strengthens that.”

Vyjayanthi Selinger, associate professor of Asian studies, supported the motion, and added that a formalized process would encourage input from minority and female faculty members who might not feel comfortable approaching the administration otherwise.

Andrew Rudalevidge, Thomas Brackett Reed professor of government and chair of the government department, agreed with the motion’s call for the formalization of future discussion between faculty and the administration, but expressed concern that the substance of the motion did not directly relate to that aim.

“I would urge that the motion be defeated but that the conversation continue,” said Rudalevidge. “Certainly the broader points—of inclusion on campus, of the kinds of conversations that should be going on on the campus—are important ones, and they don’t end with a detailed written account.”

In an email to the Orient, Sobak maintained the importance of the motion to ask Rose for a written account.

“I think Rose deserves an opportunity to offer some clarification and expansion on those answers …. [T]his motion will kick-start the formal process needed to prevent a recurrence of what was surely an unintentional infraction on Rose’s part,” wrote Sobak.

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