Clayton Rose certainly looked the part on Wednesday, July 1, his first day as the College’s 15th president, sporting a pink, polar bear-dotted tie and a black “B”-emblazoned wallet. His first act as president, too, was that of a seasoned campus leader: He brought in Frosty’s donuts for everyone in his office.
With those Bowdoin bona fides established, President Rose began his term with an explicit newcomer’s approach.
“The broad theme for a while is going to be listening and meeting as many people as I can. I sent a note out to the faculty this morning saying that I’d very much like to meet with each one of them individually over the course of the coming months...to learn about their aspirations for the College and their thoughts on the challenges ahead,” he said in a sit-down interview with the Orient late Wednesday morning. “I’m going to do the same with students, staff and alumni as well.”
It’s a continuation of the work Rose began after being named Barry Mills’ successor in late January, when he began splitting time between Brunswick and his role as professor at Harvard Business School.
“The benefit is that I’m physically here now,” he said. “I’m not contending with a job somewhere else where I have responsibilities, and trying to balance those two.”
Rose and his wife of 32 years, Julianne, are currently living in a southern Maine home they’ve owned for several years. They will move to the former Mills residence of 79 Federal Street in Brunswick later this month after minor renovations are finished.
Rose said his and his wife’s enthusiasm for their move to Maine was matched by their two sons, Garett and Jordan, who live in Washington, D.C. and New York City, respectively.
“They were incredibly excited and pumped up about it,” he said.
In an April interview with the Orient, Rose declined to offer his positions on campus issues, saying he would wait until he was in office before going on the record. He delivered on that promise Wednesday, calling human-induced climate change “one of the greatest issues we face as a world” before echoing the Board of Trustees’ (and Barry Mills’) position that the College ought not to divest from fossil fuels.
“I’ve done a lot of reading about where we come from and what our policies are as well as what other schools have done, and I have read or heard nothing to change my view that we should not divest,” he said. “So, we will continue that policy going forward. I’m happy to talk to anybody that wants to talk about this, and we’ll always strive to keep an open mind."
Rose also commented on the issue of political correctness, which came to the forefront at Bowdoin in April when a survey conducted by Associate Professor of Government Michael Franz indicated that 68% of respondents believed political correctness was a problem at Bowdoin.
“A liberal arts college has a particular responsibility among all institutions in America to create an open, honest, thoughtful, respectful dialogue across all kinds of points of view,” he said.
“Every member of the community…needs to encourage that kind of discussion and be willing to have their own ideas and thoughts—even those that are deeply held—challenged in a thoughtful and respectful way. This can be to reinforce and strengthen them, but perhaps occasionally to see there might be another way of thinking about that issue. And also to understand how other thoughtful people can have a different point of view and understand why that might be, so that we get away from the phenomenon in American society of talking heads, where everyone is polarized and no one is listening to everyone else. This is part of creating graduates who are able to engage in a serious way in civil society.”
The Liberal Arts, academia and beyond
Reflecting on an eclectic career that has included several senior management positions at J.P. Morgan as well as teaching undergraduates at Penn and graduate students at Harvard, Rose spoke at length of his solidarity with Bowdoin’s values.
“One of the reason I was so excited about the possibility of assuming this position when the search was announced and I was thinking about putting my name in the ring was that it matches up with things I hold very deeply in several dimensions,” he said. “The first is—and this is kind of a hackneyed phrase, but I really mean it—I’m a true believer in the value of the liberal arts.”
Rose said that his appreciation for a liberal arts education began when he was an undergraduate himself.
“It is certainly true that I didn’t attend a small liberal arts college, but I had a profoundly important liberal arts education at the University of Chicago,” he said. “Unlike many research universities, the college there was a small piece of the larger research university, where there was dedication on the part of senior faculty to delivering a real liberal arts experience in many of the ways that we see here at Bowdoin, although Bowdoin is distinct and has it’s own way of doing things. But that experience changed my life.”
After 20 years at J.P. Morgan, Rose began contemplating a career change when the bank merged with Chase in 2000.
“I very much enjoyed the work in finance. I wasn’t disaffected by it at all. I was able to do some really interesting remarkable things. The firm, at the time, was a place that fit with my values: collegiality, intellectual honesty and respect,” he said. “That’s not really the world of finance we see today, but that was the firm in those days. When we sold the firm, things changed. The culture and the values were sufficiently different that I decided to leave. It was just time for me to move on. It was a place that, at its core, wasn’t the right fit for me."
Rose said a great reverence for academics and scholars played a large role in his decision to pursue joining their ranks, and he enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003.
“For me, it was about a challenge in a world that I had deep respect for and was deeply curious about. I wanted to see whether I had the intellectual capability to operate in that world, which is very different from the world I’d operated in before,” he said.
Upon receiving his Ph.D. in 2007, Rose received a position on the faculty at Harvard Business School.
“One thing that’s interesting about Harvard Business School is that there is a premium placed on teaching that is unlike most other graduate programs,” he said. “Senior faculty take their teaching responsibilities very seriously. That was very appealing to me, because I love teaching and I value what great teaching can do."
Rose believes the perspective he gained from his experience teaching in higher education will be invaluable in his role as president at Bowdoin.
“Being on a faculty in the job I had, understanding how faculty view their responsibility to the whole institution, to their students, to their scholarship, will help me immensely,” he said. “Faculty are the heart of any educational institution. Having been of a faculty and understanding how a faculty thinks of the world, while the issues are going to be different here than they were at Harvard, I am hopeful [my experience] will allow me to work with my colleagues on the faculty on an effective way."
His business experience may also work to his benefit. While Rose announced in February that he would be stepping down from the Board of Directors at Bank of America, he remains a director at XL Group, a global insurance company, and at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a non-profit research organization that is the nation’s largest private funder of biomedical research. Rose believes his HHMI role will be especially valuable to his work at Bowdoin.
“I don’t get involved in decisions about where money gets allocated, so there isn’t a specific conflict of interest there,” he said. “But what I’m able to do is understand—at a high altitude and layperson’s level—issues of where science may be going, where challenges may be in raising money, where opportunities may exist for particular scientific endeavors, and also to talk to scientists who are working on the bench about their work and what challenges they face intellectually, organizationally and financially in getting done what they need to get done."
As summer goes on and the more hectic days of the academic year approach, Rose said he and his wife plan to enjoy the Maine outdoors by biking, hiking, kayaking and, his favorite, fly fishing.
“I’m mindful of the hard work ahead, but excited by it,” he said. ““I am really excited to be here. I’ve had a lot of interesting jobs in a career that I’ve been lucky to have. This is the best job that I will ever have.”