Nancy Pennell does all her reading and rarely skips class, but she has no interest in graduating from Bowdoin. After all, she already received a bachelor's degree in 1964 from Wellesley College.
Now she's back in school, and this time, she is here just for fun.
Pennell is one of the many members of the Brunswick community and the Friends of Bowdoin who audit classes here. Because these students privately arrange with professors to audit a class, there is no way of knowing exactly how many of them there are. If a professor agrees to admit an auditor, the auditor is welcome to attend class, free of charge.
Director of Institutional Research Christine Brooks Cote says about 30 to 40 auditors pay for the use of Blackboard and other electronic resources every semester, but she guesses that the total number of auditors could be as many as 80 each semester.
Philosophy of Religion, taught by Professor of Philosophy Scott Sehon, is the seventh course Pennell has audited since she moved to Brunswick in 1987. Although most of these courses have been in the classics and art history departments, the philosophy course caught her eye this semester.
"I've always been interested in religion, like most people," she says.
In addition to her interest in learning, Pennell likes auditing courses because it gives structure to her week.
"You actually get more done when you have commitments," she says.
She also noted that it is fun to be around young people.
"It's enlivening," she says.
Janet Laiapoulios, a member of Friends of Bowdoin from Freeport, has taken one course every semester since her retirement in 2000. Initially, she took art history classes because she is a docent at the Portland Museum of Art, and she wanted to hone her knowledge in art history. Laiapoulios has even taken a course with her husband. She gives rave reviews to all of her courses.
"Every one of them has been superb," she says.
Currently, Laiapoulios is auditing Professor of English Marilyn Reizbaum's course The Irish Story. She says she does not think that she should participate in class at the same level as the students.
"I don't feel comfortable taking time away from the students," she says.
But Reizbaum, who regularly has auditors in her classes, encourages them to participate actively.
"There's something that detracts from a cohesive group when you have one or two people sitting quietly on the edge of class," she says.
Last semester, Reizbaum taught a drama class that required students to put on plays. The three women auditing her class met with students on campus outside of class time to rehearse. Reizbaum says both the auditors and the students were happy to work with one another, and the end result "was marvelous."
The same three women who audited the drama class also audited the other class that Reizbaum taught last semester, Modernism/Modernity. Alumni who were still living in the area, as well as a German teaching fellow, also audited the class. Reizbaum describes this intergenerational and international class as "a very productive group that worked very well together."
Although Reizbaum encourages auditors to speak in class, she says that she understands why different professors have different philosophies.
While Reizbaum does not think that not having auditors is a drawback, she does think that having students of a wide range of ages in class can be very advantageous.
"We have a very high caliber of auditors," she says. "They themselves bring in an enormous amount from their professions, their walks of life."
Like Reizbaum, Professor of French William VanderWolk says he thinks it is wonderful to have students of different ages "because they bring in a different perspective."
But, unlike Reizbaum, VanderWolk does not encourage his auditors to participate in class.
"I'm pretty tough on them in the sense that I don't let them talk," he says.
VanderWolk says that Bowdoin students take French classes in order to speak French, so every time an auditor speaks, it takes away from the time a Bowdoin student could be speaking.
"Usually I have retired people who want to talk a lot, and I'm not always able to accomodate them," he says.
However, VanderWolk does allow auditors to participate in discussion groups that meet outside of class, and he corrects their papers. He thinks that if the auditors are taking the time to do assignments, somebody should take the time to correct them.
According to VanderWolk, people audit lower-level language courses almost every semester. He says that these courses are especially popular for people who are preparing to visit a country where the language is spoken.
This semester, VanderWolk has two auditors in his Intermediate French I class. One of them is Joseph Houde, 17, a homeschooled high school junior from Topsham. Houde says that taking French in a classroom environment has helped his pronunciation and oral comprehension tremendously.
While he says that he does as much homework as he can, he notes that it is convenient not having to complete all assignments.
"After all, I don't have to be worried about passing the class or not," he says.
Nevertheless, he does take tests and quizzes, and VanderWolk corrects his written assignments. Houde says this is "mostly just for my parents' sake, so that they have something to measure my success in the class by."
In addition to improving his French, Houde thinks that auditing a class has helped prepare him for college. Because he is homeschooled, he says that he has not often been in a classroom environment. He says that taking French at Bowdoin this semester is "kind of like getting a glimpse or small taste of the college world I'll be entering in less than two years."
Maura Cooper '08 is in Reizbaum's The Irish Story this semester, and she has taken other classes with auditors in the past. Cooper says that unless an auditor were taking a student's seat, she cannot think of any drawbacks to having auditors in a class.
"I appreciate that they're still trying to learn later in life," she says.