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Students dish on grade inflation, Rose email

Rose-y views of College president wilt in light of prickly scandal

May 5, 2023

Last month, the Orient invited students to share their opinions about student life, academics and recent events at the College in its bi-annual Bowdoin Orient Student Survey (BOSS).

The survey garnered 377 responses, representing 20 percent of the student body.

Overall, this semester’s BOSS reveals students’ perspectives on shifts in academics, administration and campus entertainment on a post-Covid campus.


A near-majority of students who responded to the survey, 47 percent, “disagree” or “strongly disagree” that grade inflation is a problem at Bowdoin. Meanwhile, only 22 percent “strongly agree” or “agree” that grade inflation is an issue. In a notable trend, the proportion of respondents who believe that grade inflation is a problem increased with class year.

This may indicate that students who were further along in their education when the  Covid-19 pandemic began—especially those from the Class of 2023, who matriculated to Bowdoin before the pandemic—are more averse to grade inflation.

This sentiment is reflected by a respondent in the senior class who matriculated prior to the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, students used to arrive at Bowdoin and be shocked because they would receive B’s throughout their first semester,” the student wrote. “This doesn’t seem to be happening anymore, which is disappointing because, as a first year, I was motivated to better myself and improve my writing and analysis skills to improve my grades. Getting an A should mean that you are exceptional, and it shouldn’t mean that you just completed all the work on time and showed some growth throughout the semester.”

Almost half of the respondents, 49 percent, think the average grade point average (GPA) at Bowdoin is between 3.500 and 3.749. In response to a question on what the average GPA at Bowdoin should be, 43 percent of respondents expressed that the average GPA should also fall within this range.

Pushing back against the emphasis put on GPAs, a student in the Class of 2025 expressed their disapproval of the practice.

“I feel like people here have sneaky high GPAs. I am not sure how to feel about that though,” the student wrote. “I do wish the College [was] more transparent about GPAs, especially because the College still values GPA through prizes and awards, but then we also keep getting told that GPA doesn’t matter that much.… There is a hint of elitism in that too because lots of [first-generation] or international students come into Bowdoin having no idea what is required to get an A in a class or how much it matters.”

Other respondents noted the drawbacks to focusing on GPA as an institutional goal, specifically where campus culture is concerned.

“I don’t really believe in the idea that we should have a collective ‘goal GPA’ for the College. Having a higher or lower GPA doesn’t make us a more prestigious institution, but insisting on making it harder to have high GPAs increases stress and encourages grade competitiveness,” one student from the Class of 2026 wrote.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents answered that they believe that their GPA is the same or higher than the average at Bowdoin. This could imply inflated self-perceptions, or it could be indicative of the survey attracting a greater proportion of high-achieving students.

Shifting to opinions on take-home assessments, professors’ expanded use of these assessments since the start of the pandemic may play a part in the perceived rise in grade inflation at the College since 2020. Of those who responded to the survey, 86 percent have been assigned take-home assessments. Notably, students who responded were divided on the subject of whether take-home assessments encourage cheating.

One respondent from the Class of 2024 highlighted that professors can structure take-home assessments in a way that does not encourage cheating.

“I think take home assessments encourage cheating if the exam is more fact-based. However, if the exam is more about applying concepts, then I don’t think it promotes cheating because it is difficult to cheat on those exams even if you wanted to,” the student wrote.


Respondents appear to have a dismal outlook on our future. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they believe the world will be worse in 25 years. Among the classes that responded, the Class of 2025 was especially pessimistic: 63 percent of respondents believed the world will be worse off in 2048.

These data reflect a substantial shift in students’ outlooks over the past couple years. Only four years ago, in the Fall 2019 Bowdoin Orient Student Survey, 46 percent of respondents said they believed the world would be worse in 25 years.

Among respondents, 84 percent reported they were happy, a four percent increase from fall 2022, and a 14 percent increase from spring 2022.

Giving a damn seems to be a popular sentiment on campus, with 76 percent of respondents claiming that they do, indeed, give a damn. However, only 66 percent of respondents from the Class of 2023 said they gave a damn. As for first years, 80 percent of respondents give a damn.

It seems as though the sense of belonging on campus is relatively strong, with 65 percent of respondents describing themselves as “a Bowdoin student,” as opposed to “a student who goes to Bowdoin.”

When asked whether they found a sense of belonging and community at Bowdoin, responses were overwhelmingly positive. On average, 82 percent of respondents from each class year reported both feeling a sense of belonging and feeling welcome at Bowdoin.

Approval Ratings

Bowdoin’s most influential employees and departments were approved at levels consistent with previous semesters’ surveys, with 92 percent of respondents expressing some level of approval of both Bowdoin’s Dining Service and Faculty.

Respondents had similar levels of approval for President Clayton Rose as compared to fall 2022, with 38 percent of respondents giving Rose a rating of  “approve” in both surveys. However, Rose’s disapproval almost doubled, with 17 percent of respondents expressing some degree of disapproval, nine points more than in the fall.

Respondents are more hopeful about the future tenure of President-Elect Safa Zaki, as 81 percent of respondents expressed some degree of approval of Zaki’s hiring. Only one percent expressed some degree of disapproval. This brings a newfound sense of optimism to the president’s office.

In general, for less popular entities on campus, disapproval ratings are much higher than last semester. The Entertainment Board’s (E-Board) disapproval rating nearly doubled, with 37 percent of respondents expressing some level of disapproval compared to last semester’s 19 percent.

Higher disapproval ratings also extended to Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), which was more negatively received than last semester, with 24 percent of respondents expressing some level of disapproval compared to last semester’s seven percent. The total disapproval ratings of this semester’s BOSS returned to trends seen in semesters prior to last fall.

Respondents were marginally more opinionated about Counseling Services compared to last semester. Thirty-two percent of students expressed some degree of approval of Counseling Services compared to 26 percent last semester; however, “strongly disapprove” ratings increased from five percent to seven.

The College House System decreased in approval compared to last semester with over five percent of respondents strongly disapproving of the system. Only seven percent strongly approved, compared to last semester’s 13 percent, and only 36 percent approved of the system, compared to 40 percent last semester. Interestingly, College House applications for the Class of 2026 decreased compared to years past.

Current Events

President Rose’s email addressing Jes Staley  

Students expressed divided reactions to President Rose’s February 22 email to the College community responding to the release of additional information about former Bowdoin trustee James ‘Jes’ Staley’s ’79 P’11 ties to Jeffrey Epstein. In his email, Rose expressed his disturbance and disapproval of Staley’s actions and, responding to a positive comment he made about Staley’s character in 2019, wrote, “I was clearly wrong.”

When asked to express their level of satisfaction with Rose’s email to the Bowdoin community, responses varied across class years. While the majority of respondents from the Class of 2026—71 percent—expressed some level of satisfaction with the statement, the majority of respondents from the Class of 2023—58 percent—expressed dissatisfaction with the email. Responses from students in the Classes of 2024 and 2025 were generally split between satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

“Although I am not accusing Rose of any blatant wrongdoing, I do believe that more accountability and transparency would benefit both him and the Bowdoin community as a whole,” a respondent from the Class of 2026 wrote. “We at Bowdoin—students and staff alike—deserve to know that our concerns are heard.”

On-campus concerts

Over the past academic year, BSG sponsored three concert events, with headliners Cochise in November 2022, Maude Latour and Social House in February 2023 and Soccer Mommy in April 2023. Respondents were generally ambivalent toward these events, with survey results indicating that concert attendance was low.

Based on student responses to the survey, the Maude Latour and Social House double-header was the most well-attended event, with a modest 52 percent of respondents self-reporting attendance. Forty-eight percent of respondents attended Soccer Mommy in the spring, and 45 percent self-reported as having attended the Cochise concert in the fall.

Despite being the concert with the highest attendance, student approval of the Maude Latour and Social House event was not overwhelmingly positive. Of those who attended the event, only 53 percent expressed some level of satisfaction with the concert.

“I would much rather have one good artist come to campus that everyone knows in comparison to three indie artists no one knows,” a student from the Class of 2026 wrote.

Counseling services

About half of respondents reported having used counseling services at Bowdoin. Student sentiments toward counseling remain generally ambivalent, with the highest feelings of positivity (on a scale of 0 to 100) coming from the Class of 2024, with a score of only 58.

Some students expressed gratitude for Bowdoin Counseling.

“The counseling office was vital in helping me through a tough period earlier in the year,” a respondent from the Class of 2026 wrote.

Others noted that counseling services could benefit from an expanded staff.

“I very much wish there were more staff. I have had multiple friends that had difficulty getting appointments,” a student from the Class of 2024 wrote.

Ari Bersch, Janet Briggs, Andrew Cohen, Seamus Frey, Shihab Moral, Marc Rosenthal, Josie Tidmore and Maile Winterbottom contributed to this report.


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