Only 164 returning students have chosen to take time off from the College this fall. Given the overwhelming consensus last spring that anything would be a better option than an online semester, this number seems remarkably small. That over 90 percent of students chose to enroll this fall, however, should not be misconstrued as evidence that current students have conceded to administrative propaganda.
The following message is one I wrote to accompany my “Intent to Withdraw” form. I hope it can be repurposed here. The Bowdoin administration and the greater public alike must know that the student body’s enrollment numbers in the fall do not reflect or indicate our satisfaction. Rather, we are vehemently dissatisfied.
“I am withdrawing from Bowdoin for the fall 2020 semester because I do not believe that an online remote education will be comparable to the experience that I had for the first six to seven months of my time at Bowdoin. I don’t want to miss out on a semester that I could experience on campus, surrounded by my peers and friends and enveloped in a sense of Bowdoin community—a community which cannot be replicated through an online experience, no matter how many Zoom sessions.
On-campus experiences are integral to my success at Bowdoin. I am not just a student. I am a musician. An athlete. A friend. Given Bowdoin’s fall 2020 plan, I can no longer thrive as a violist in the Bowdoin Symphony Orchestra or as a member of the Bowdoin crew team. I can no longer grab meals with a friend at Thorne. These social interactions are so important for me to maintain my mental health, calming my anxiety as I deal with the daily rigor of Bowdoin academics. Even my role as a student dining employee was important in shaping me as a member of the Bowdoin community. Learning the stories of the incredible dining staff at Moulton, and sharing mine, were incredibly special parts of my first-semester experience.
I would like to take the opportunity to highlight that the current fall 2020 return plan is not beyond criticism. I understand there are economic limitations, and the College is doing all it can to support its many employees by committing to no furloughs. However, I would be remiss not to call for a tuition reduction. Online education is not worth $27,911 a semester. I respect the faculty commitment to making online learning the best it can possibly be, but online simply cannot compare to in-person instruction. On campus, I was able to access significantly more resources. I felt the full weight of faculty support behind me. In-person office hours are much more personable and easy to navigate, versus calls on Teams or Zoom which are frequently interrupted due to poor internet connection. I was able to visit faculty homes to have dinner with their families and converse with a professor in Moulton over a meal. None of this is possible with a remote semester.
Although I agree with the College’s decision to prioritize public health in not bringing all students back to campus, I feel that the College has still shown its true colors in bringing first-year students to campus over seniors. It’s clearly an economically motivated decision in an attempt to secure the students who have the highest potential future payout, compared to seniors, who are heavily committed to attaining their degree and only have two more semesters left. Bowdoin should be introspective as it considers how its plan to return isolates many of the students within Bowdoin’s community.
As Bowdoin students, we shoulder the exorbitant costs of a Bowdoin education because we expect that such an education will be of incredible quality. We also justify paying the high costs to attend Bowdoin because we expect to be immersed within an incredible community of learners and deep thinkers. However, due to the remote nature of the fall 2020 semester, this high cost is unjustifiable.”
The College successfully convinced an unsure student body to enroll in the remote fall 2020 semester by simultaneously perpetuating a false narrative of the value of online education and stressing the difficulties students may face in seeking alternative options. It was within this context—trapped between the perils of online education and the perceived danger of being unable to return to Bowdoin when I wanted—that I ultimately decided to enroll. My decision was fundamentally rooted in the belief that I very likely would not return for a year or more if I were to request the semester off. This belief was reinforced by conversations with my dean, pointed out by my advisor and driven home in town halls. So it came as a shock to learn that not only had a mere 164 students decided to take leaves, but that these 164 were all being readmitted for the semester of their choosing. It has become overwhelmingly clear to me that the College exploited my fear and uncertainties surrounding this global health crisis to ensure high enrollment and ensnare tuition dollars.
As a student enrolling for the fall of 2020, I strongly disapprove of the College’s rhetoric and use of fear tactics to promote the remote semester, and I know that my peers and I will continually seek to hold the administration accountable in being more transparent and open with the student body.
Audrey Pyper is a member of the Class of 2023.