What is a college president there to do?

Willard Enteman began his term as Bowdoin’s 11th president in 1978. Enteman was new to Bowdoin—a Williams graduate in the midst of an academic career as a philosophy professor. In his first semester at Bowdoin, he moved quickly to engage with two of the dominant political issues facing the College. He appointed one committee to look into gender discrimination at fraternities (in other words, the fact that many did not allow women to be full members) and another to examine the possibility of divesting the College’s endowment from companies involved in apartheid South Africa.

Progress was slow. By 1980, a three-sided conflict at Bowdoin had developed between the Governing Boards (of which there were two at the time), the Faculty, and Enteman. Fraternities remained male spaces and the College had divested from nothing. Another controversy arose over faculty salaries, as the College was forced to make tough budgeting decisions in an era of double-digit inflation.

During the summer, the Boards appointed a secretive committee to review Enteman’s performance. In October, the Faculty passed a resolution condemning the “corporate procedure” of the review. On November 10, Enteman resigned.

At the time, many students and faculty at Bowdoin were frustrated by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the conflict.

“The Enteman affair is exemplary of the way things are usually handled at this institution—improperly,” read a stinging editorial in the Orient published the week of the resignation.

The Governing Board’s review was published on November 22, but even then little detail was given about the specific gripes board members had with the president. For his part, Enteman told the Orient at the time, “There is a certain level of support a President needs to have, and I got to a point where I was not receiving that support.”

A quote given by Lawrence Hall, an English professor, to the Harvard Crimson at the time gives some clues about where the conflicts lay. Hall told the paper that the president had "tried to withdraw the college's investments in South Africa, delivered a pay raise that the faculty was promised a long time ago, and he insisted that women be allowed to join the fraternities,” and said that “The old boys didn’t like it.”

Enteman returned to academia after his resignation, taking a position at Rhode Island College and teaching at various other institutions. Thirty-five years later, the gritty details of his departure remain frustratingly elusive: Secretary of Development and College Relations John Cross ’76, who acts as the College’s historian, told me that he knows little about the events because the relevant documents in the Bowdoin archives are still sealed.

Enteman is retired now, living in Providence, R.I. I reached out to him because I was curious to hear about his time at Bowdoin and his departure from his perspective. He was kind enough to correspond over email even though he was recovering from a recent surgery.

“I should warn you that I have nothing nasty or scandalous to say about Bowdoin then or now,” he wrote. “I left Bowdoin as I joined it: filled with admiration for the very positive and nearly magical educational success achieved by faculty and students working together.”

We weren’t able to speak in much detail about his time at the College, but his dedication to applying an academic lens to every facet of his work struck me.

“I remember after one speech I gave early in my time at Bowdoin, a faculty member came up to me and said that he thought liberal education was like a religion for me,” he wrote. “I saw the divestment issue in that context. I thought if we were going to engage that debate, we should do so in the context of liberal education.”

In the context of the debates surrounding divestment now—and many other debates about the College’s policies today—there is something subtly radical about this idea. Like it is at many colleges and universities, the presidency at Bowdoin is as much about organizational and financial management as it is about in-the-weeds academic policies and ideas. Barry Mills came from a background in law, and Clayton Rose comes from finance; each has worked to apply the managerial skills from those backgrounds to the high-powered institution with a complex bureaucracy that Bowdoin is.

To their credit, both also seem to have worked hard to maintain a campus culture that takes the ideals of a liberal education seriously. But there’s a distinction between being a facilitator and an active participant, and your answer about which is better probably depends on who you are. Clearly, the facilitators have been able to accomplish more at Bowdoin than Enteman was. Clearly, someone like Enteman was willing to approach issues like divestment from a philosophical perspective in a way that his more recent successors have not.

Things that happened during Enteman’s brief tenure reverberated—and are still reverberating—in the years after he left. The College required fraternities to go co-ed in 1982, less than two years after Enteman’s departure, and moved further by requiring them to give women equal standing in 1991. In the 1980s, the College’s bylaws were amended to require a committee that considered the social responsibility aspects of Bowdoin’s investments. That committee was dissolved in 1998, but the debates over fossil fuel divestment in recent years have often referenced those about South Africa.

In a column in the Orient last semester, Maya Reyes ’16 pondered how little the College discusses Franklin Pierce and asked for “more conversations about the actions and products of Bowdoin that we aren’t so proud of.” When it comes to Willard Enteman, I have a different, if related, ask: I want Bowdoin to be proud of him and what he stood for as a president.

Many of the questions the College faces today—about where it invests, about the social inclusion of historically marginalized people—came to a head during Enteman’s tenure. Enteman may not have been at the College long, but his presence had a lasting effect on how Bowdoin approaches social and political change. However, for such a historically significant figure, he seems to be largely forgotten.

Think about it this way: it’s hard to go four years at Bowdoin without committing the names of most of the College’s presidents to memory without even trying. Their names are attached to locations most of us know and frequent from our first months here: Appleton and Hyde Halls, Coles Tower, the McKeen Center for the Common Good, and on and on.

The decision to name one building after any one person happens on an individual basis, but collectively they’re an important part of the way that institutional memory functions at a place like Bowdoin. A name attached to a part of Bowdoin’s physical landscape is not an endorsement of every facet of that person’s character, but it is an indication that the namesake is part of a group that made a significant contribution to Bowdoin’s past.

Presidents who came after Enteman have something to their names. Greason might be stuck with the pool, but it’s better than nothing. Bowdoin’s newest academic building is named for Edwards, and it’s hard to imagine that Mills won’t have a building before long. But there’s no Enteman Hall, or Enteman Auditorium, or Enteman Center.

It doesn’t have to come in the form of a building, but it should come from somewhere. We owe it to ourselves to reckon with the legacy of Willard Enteman—and the old boys who didn’t like it.

John Branch is a member of the Class of 2016.