COVID-19 has altered the college landscape, so I sympathize with current Bowdoin students. Due to Bowdoin’s response to this pandemic, many are concerned about their academic career, livelihood and their personal and family finances. While it is not reasonable to expect Bowdoin to have a perfect solution to an unpredictable catastrophe, I think it is important for the administration to reflect on their response. Every year, individuals from across the world choose to attend Bowdoin for reasons eloquently captured in the Offer of the College. The promises mentioned in its lines continue to bring bright minds to Brunswick. Students and their families commit entirely to Bowdoin, and the institution needs to commit back now more than ever.
No student who decides it is in their best interest to take time off should have to go through a readmission process to continue their education at Bowdoin. Every student who takes courses elsewhere in the fall should also be allowed to transfer credit upon return to Bowdoin. The institution, in its Offer, implores students to “feel its resources” and to prepare “for the best four years” of their lives. However, students cannot benefit from resources that Bowdoin cannot provide, and remote learning, for many, is not an academic highlight they will fondly remember—especially given the price tag. It is also not possible for students to “make hosts of friends” or “gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work” through two-dimensional computer screens from their homes. If the Offer of the College cannot be upheld, and at this time, it cannot, then Bowdoin is morally obligated to let students decide what is best for themselves without penalty and without stricter policies.
In a previous Orient article, Dean of Student Affairs Janet Lohmann expressed concern that if a large number of students decided to take time off, it would be challenging for the institution “to maintain [its] enrollment and residency model for several years to come.” She provided a hypothetical scenario, stating that “if 300 sophomores took a leave of absence for the 2020-2021 academic year and the 500 first-year students chose to stay enrolled, in 2021-2022 we would have 800 sophomores.” Admittedly, this does pose a logistical issue with housing. However, Lohmann is working under the assumption that Bowdoin continues to admit 500 new students each year. Instead of making it more difficult for current Bowdoin students to decide the best course of action, Bowdoin administration and admissions should reduce the number of accepted students for the class of 2025 accordingly. These are unprecedented circumstances and current students must have priority.
I urge Bowdoin administrators to practice what they preach and to “cooperate with others for common ends.” Prioritize every current student and have difficult conversations with the Office of Admissions. After current students make enrollment decisions for the 2020-2021 academic year, it can be determined how much space is available for new students the following year. This might mean that no applicant will hear back from Bowdoin until enrollment numbers are finalized for the spring 2021 semester. So be it. This might mean that there are 200 first-year students and 800 sophomore students in 2021-2022. So be it.
If an education at Bowdoin costs more than $250,000, each current student deserves the offerings they were promised or leniency when it comes to alternative fall plans. I am aware of the fact that the nuances of these ideas are both logistically and financially complex for the institution, but I fear for Bowdoin’s future if current students continue to feel unsupported and exploited during this time of crisis. A financial blow due in the form of revenue reduction is nothing compared to the ramifications of depriving the Offer from those who moved to Brunswick for it. Liquid reserves will keep Bowdoin afloat, but tightening leave of absence policies for monetary gain during a global threat will surely make her sink. Where is the Common Good in that?
Michael Walsh is a member of the Class of 2019.