Two days, one night—that’s about how long prospective students on an overnight visit spend getting a taste of Bowdoin’s campus. It’s also about how long the College’s first Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow, Arthur C. Brooks, will be spending at Bowdoin after he arrives on Thursday.
Brooks is the former president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think-tank in Washington, D.C., and is currently a professor of the practice of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and an Arthur C. Patterson Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Business School.
Rose invited Brooks to campus using his presidential discretionary funding: in doing so, he created a fellowship cloaked in the interest of the Common Good to make the appointment more palatable to the broader community.
The term “fellow” mischaracterizes Brooks’ appointment. It implies that Brooks might generate a body of work or some tangible product, which does not appear to be the case. The term also implies a lengthier stay than Brooks will have. When we heard last April that Brooks would be a visiting fellow, we expected a visit with ample opportunity for engagement. Like Associate Professor of Classics Robert Sobak, we were disappointed to learn that it would be so short.
Brooks will hardly spend more time here than many visiting speakers—two days this semester and two more in the spring. In its current form, Brooks’ appointment consists of little more than an honorarium presented to a visiting speaker. Does a visiting fellow do just that—visit for a day or two and then depart? Or should we expect them to engage in meaningful work?
Notwithstanding, the controversy surrounding Rose’s unilateral decision to bring Brooks to campus, he will arrive next week. And despite these qualms, we, as students interested in diversity of thought, had hoped to engage with him. But it appears that his fellowship presents that opportunity only to a select few.
In the extremely limited time Brooks is here, he will only engage a fraction of this campus. Fifty lucky students have seats at his talk, and select student groups have slices of his time—notably, The Peucinian Society, the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, Bowdoin Democrats and College Republicans.
We are critical of what comes across as an attempt to create a manicured environment for Brooks. Why is the administration so reluctant to allow Brooks facetime with a broader audience? Are they imagining that the College’s many left-leaning students are likely to disagree with Brooks in combative and disrespectful ways?
If this is the case, we would take offense at this concern. The administration should not be embarrassed about Bowdoin students’ political views; rather, students deserve to be trusted to engage with Brooks with the same level of respect and maturity that they consistently demonstrate when navigating contentious discussions in the classroom.
In the interest of intellectual fearlessness—a favorite mantra of Rose—we feel that for students to reap the benefits of this investment, and for Brooks to fulfill his role as a fellow, students ought to have far more opportunity to engage with him.
If there are to be future McKeen Visiting Fellows, they should have a more substantial presence, both in terms of the length of time they spend on campus and their accessibility to students.
When Brooks returns in the spring, we urge that both he and Rose ensure that an authentic opportunity to be intellectually fearless is present for as many students as possible. Students ought to be empowered to engage in dialogues like these, not precluded from them. That is, after all, the point of intellectual fearlessness.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Emily Cohen, Brianna Cunliffe, Rohini Kurup, Alyce McFadden, Nina McKay, Danielle Quezada, Reuben Schafir and Jaret Skonieczny.