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Student body reports increase in approval ratings for president, diverse views on administrative responses to current events and more positive mindset

December 1, 2023

This fall’s Bowdoin Orient Student Survey (BOSS) yielded 374 responses, representing nearly 20 percent of the student body. Sixty percent of the respondents were underclassmen with roughly an equal number of first years and sophomores responding. The other 40 percent of respondents was evenly divided between juniors and seniors.


The survey examined grade inflation and the use of artificial intelligence for academic work. Concerns of grade inflation were lower than in spring 2023, with about 14 percent of respondents saying they agree or strongly agree that grade inflation is a problem at the College compared to around 20 percent of respondents last spring. More students were neutral on the topic with an increase from 31 percent to 40 percent reporting neutrality on the issue.

Fifty-seven percent of students estimated an average GPA above 3.5—the same proportion of students as the spring. Around 51 percent of respondents believe that the average GPA should be over 3.5. With these estimates, 45 percent of people still believe their GPA is higher than their estimated average.

On the hot-button topic of artificial intelligence, 27 percent of respondents reported using ChatGPT or other generative tools for academic assignments this semester. Among those respondents, there was roughly an even split across social and behavioral sciences, humanities, and natural sciences and mathematics—natural sciences narrowly led the pack at 38 percent.

Respondents used generative tools most commonly on papers or essays, problem sets and homework. For each of these categories, 25 percent of respondents reported using generative tools.

Some respondents saw generative AI as a useful tool that should be integrated into the classroom.

“I use ChatGPT for coding assistance since it is an incredible tool, in that respect,” a student from the Class of 2025 wrote. “I think the school needs to figure out how to integrate it into their learning models because it will be used in the future regardless of what the school wants.”

Others were more skeptical of artificial intelligence when assessing students’ knowledge.

“Using it as a tool is fine, but assignments should test the understanding of the student rather than obtaining specific clues. So, explaining the process for an answer should take precedence,” a student from the Class of 2025 said.

Approval Ratings

Seventy-six percent of respondents approved or strongly approved of President Safa Zaki. Only four percent of respondents expressed some degree of disapproval, a slight increase from the initial one percent when Zaki was hired. This is also an increase of approval compared to that of the previous president, Clayton Rose, who received a 44 percent approval rating in the spring. Twice as many respondents were neutral about President Rose compared to President Zaki.

Fifty-three percent of respondents approved or strongly approved of the Bowdoin Student Government this semester. This is more than double the percentage of approval ratings from the previous semester, in which only 17 percent of respondents indicated some level of approval.

The Entertainment Board’s approval ratings has rebounded since last year with only 21 percent of respondents disapproving or strongly disapproving. This was a 13 percentage point decrease in disapproval in comparison to the spring semester. The Class of 2024 and older remained stagnant in their assessment of the E-Board with 37 percent disapproving or strongly disapproving this semester and last.

Current Events

A number of current events have occurred throughout the semester, and respondents had distinct opinions on each of them.

President Zaki chose not to release a statement on the recent Israel-Hamas conflict, writing in a message to the campus community on October 18.

"I believe these statements often don’t do what we want them to do. In some cases, they oversimplify issues and divide communities,” Zaki wrote in her campus-wide email. “They can also be parsed for clues to assumptions that are not there and can be read in ways that amplify and harden divisions within our community rather than opening up opportunities to grieve, think, and learn together."

Fifty-seven percent of respondents indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with Zaki’s response. With over 363 responses to this question, 17 percent of respondents elected to add written comments. Notably, most of these written comments reinforced the satisfied majority.

“While I was initially a little skeptical of this stance, I think that President Zaki has really backed it up through her actions,” one student from the Class of 2025 wrote. “She’s been remarkably present for students in visible and supportive ways. I’ve already spoken to her more than I ever spoke to President Rose. I’m willing to get on board with her belief about the role of the president in helping the student body and the Bowdoin community process major events, and I’m excited to see how this new model of leadership works for Bowdoin.”

Other students were more critical and felt that her statement emphasized the feeling that Bowdoin is disconnected from the wider world.

“By choosing not to comment on issues that are affecting the world, I think it reinforces the ‘Bowdoin bubble’ that students here often face. It makes it seem like we, as Bowdoin students, are unaffected by world events, and it encourages this feeling of disconnectedness,” a student from the Class of 2026 wrote. “I think it is important to comment on world issues to reinforce the idea that Bowdoin, although it is in Brunswick, Maine, very much is still connected with society.”

Another student expressed concern that Zaki was not adequately supporting Jewish students impacted by the October 7 attacks in Israel.

“While I understand President Zaki's position, her choice left Jewish students and faculty feeling isolated and unsupported,” one student from the Class of 2027 wrote. “Condemning the sadistic actions of a terrorist organization is not an ‘oversimplification’ nor should it be ‘dividing’ but rather something that unites us all. The notion that it is too complicated to comment on … terroristic mass murders is problematic.”

Others were disappointed that Zaki did not directly address the death of Palestinians and denounce the conflict as a ‘genocide.’

“I understand that she does not want to put out statements for political events in general, but in a time like this, having power or any ounce of influence and not using it to amplify the voices of the marginalized and systemically killed and displaced is more than distasteful. It's cruel,” a student from the Class of 2024 wrote. “There's a right and a wrong side to be on in this issue. Denounce the genocide and ethnic cleansing going on in Palestine, President Zaki.”

Even though some respondents were dissatisfied on either side by Zaki’s statement, respondents primarily expressed understanding of Zaki’s choice.

“I don't believe releasing a statement makes much of a difference, and considering the controversy regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict, President Zaki would have faced criticism no matter what she said, just like presidents from other universities did. Therefore, I believe her position to not release statements is a good one, as president I believe it is important she remain neutral,” a student from the Class of 2024 said.

With respect to programming on the Israel-Hamas conflict, 46 percent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied.

“The events are fine. However, there could and should be more educational events. There should be events to harbor questions anonymously so as not to ostracize anyone specifically,” a student from the Class of 2025 said.

Some students wanted to see more events focused on the history of the conflict rather than the recent talks.

“I think Bowdoin should bring in people who can present a more objective history of the conflict. I also wish Bowdoin had brought a liberal speaker who both condemned Hamas's attack on Israel and promoted peace in the region,” a student from the Class of 2027 wrote.

Respondents were much more satisfied with the College’s response to the mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine on October 25, with 75 percent of respondents reporting having been satisfied or very satisfied.

“I remember being very shocked that President Zaki took the time to stand in the dining halls and personally check in with all the students getting lunch,” one student from the Class of 2027 wrote. “It really made me feel like she genuinely cared about each and every one of us.”

Others were concerned by the College’s delayed response on the day of the mass shooting.

“I believe the college's response was appropriate and effective. However, I was surprised that students didn't get a warning sooner. If I remember correctly, there was a three hour difference between when the shootings happened and when the college initiated a lock[out],” another student from the Class of 2027 wrote. “With our proximity to Lewiston, I feel students were far more likely to be in danger within those few hours.”


An 86 percent majority of respondents are happy—an increase of two percentage points from last spring.

A greater percentage of respondents give a damn this semester in comparison to last semester, with the percentage increasing from 76 percent to 84 percent.

The Class of 2025, in particular, is more optimistic this year. Ninety percent of students in the class give a damn this year, compared to just 73 percent last spring. Additionally, the percentage of students in the Class of 2025 who believe the world will be worse in 25 years decreased from 63 percent to 56 percent.

The Class of 2024 is also more optimistic on the outlook of the world. Last spring, 52 percent said they believed the world will be better in 25 years. This year, the measure was 61 percent.

Additionally, when asked about whether they would describe themselves as “A Bowdoin student” or “A student who goes to Bowdoin,” 73 percent responded the former, an eight percentage point increase from last semester.

More information about the method of distributing, the Orient’s decision not to weight the poll, the questions asked, the data available to the public, the purpose of the poll and how to inquire about the data or the Orient’s decisions can be found on this article’s webpage in the Fact Sheet for this poll.

Ari Bersch, Janet Briggs, Andrew Cohen, Shihab Moral and Austin Zheng contributed to this report.


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