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OPINION: Bowdoin’s return to campus decision fails to live up to the College’s core values

June 30, 2020

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

President Clayton Rose’s decision to reopen campus to a select group of students is short-sighted and harmful to the Bowdoin community. I understand the concerns around the spread of COVID-19, especially on a college campus, but I believe the administration failed to take into account the factors that made this decision more harmful than helpful.

First of all, this decision comes across as a self-righteous and unproductive effort to fight COVID-19. Although the administration may claim they are prioritizing public health, especially in the Brunswick community, they are leaving students to fend for themselves in their own communities, many of which are less isolated and more vulnerable to the spread of the virus. Bowdoin’s campus is relatively isolated. With enough safety measures and adequate access to testing, students and their families would be much safer if students were allowed to return.

In addition, the College refuses to provide its campus as a refuge for students who need it for reasons other than those stated in the official plan, including mental health, housing, food and jobs. Although some students will apply and receive accommodations, many students will be rejected, and many more will choose not to apply in order to make room for others in more dire need of housing. As a result, many Bowdoin students will be left behind and forced to fend for themselves in difficult family situations, mental health crises, medical crises and much more.

To make matters worse, the College’s decision to utilize a normal letter grade system will only compound the struggles for students with any of the issues mentioned above. Less privileged students without access to proper resources for distance learning will struggle. Students with strained family relationships or mental health issues will struggle. Many students will have to work to support themselves and their families, further exposing themselves to COVID-19 risks while making it more difficult to balance academics and home life. Students with certain academic passions will have to strategically pick classes that suit distance learning rather than their interests. More privileged students will rent properties and succeed more easily as a result of their living conditions and access to learning resources.

In short, some students will cruise along as their peers fall behind. To ignore this and return to letter grades is mind-blowingly ignorant, especially considering Bowdoin’s decision to adopt a credit/no credit system last semester for equity reasons. It seems ridiculous to make a distinction between this point in time and the spring when the College correctly deemed it necessary to change the system in order to combat the many conditions that may contribute to academic inequity.

Although the Bowdoin administration will insist that the fall’s model of remote learning will improve on the spring’s imperfections, the fact of the matter remains that remote learning is not a viable option for enough of the student body. And, even if the actual model looks different, the students and faculty remain the same.

It is reasonable to assume that many students are seriously considering the merits of staying at Bowdoin. Although many students may take a semester off and take their chances at reapplying, many more will feel trapped in a flawed academic experience for another semester, while some might drop out altogether. Other universities around the country have announced models allowing students to return to campus (including the other Maine NESCACs, Bates and Colby). Bowdoin could end up forcing many of its students out in its attempt to trap us in. It appears that the administration’s decisions for the fall have once again prioritized the institution over its students.

None of the College’s decisions on this matter reflect its ideal of pursuing the Common Good. I love Bowdoin, but I am frustrated and heartbroken by its shortsighted response to this crisis.

Isaac Gelb is a member of the Class of 2023.

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