This week, we have compiled the most important stories from the decade pertaining to academic program, diversity on campus, and residential life and student housing. We have pulled a selection of actual headlines from former issues, and condensed and synthesized stories relevant to each headline in order to showcase some of the most significant moments and enduring issues covered by the Orient. While our compilation is comprehensive, it is by no means complete. We encourage readers to pursue these headlines and others in our online archives, and to read our future installments of this series over the next several weeks.
Topics to come: College finances, admissions and reputation, environment and service, and Maine and Brunswick issues.
Half-credit offerings expanding, February 1, 2002
The spring semester of 2002 saw the addition of several half-credit courses, intended to provide students with the means to explore subjects of interest without the usual academic pressure.
At the time, half-credit offerings offered departments the opportunity to collaborate on ideas, and also allowed faculty to teach as a team. According to Professor of Economics and then-Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Deborah DeGraff, "The half-credit course format has an experimental element to it that works well for faculty collaboration and for interdisciplinary courses."
A previous initiative in 2000, on the part of then-Professor of History and Political Science Dan Levine, had brought the concept of non-traditional courses one step further. An October 20, 2000 Orient story reported that Levine's one-semester experimental course, entitled "Whatever you want," was designed so students could run it themselves. While Levine served as "an anchor and a coach," students were allowed to debate about what the class should study. The class ultimately decided to study the history of organized crime in America, though topics proposed had also included the military history of the civil war and the history of baseball.
With each student focusing on one aspect of organized crime in America, Levine invited a number of professors to the class to discuss how organized crime overlapped with their fields of study. The class culminated in individual student research presentations.
Faculty approves plus/minus system, April 5, 2002
Following months of debate, the faculty voted 45 to 29 to add pluses and minuses to Bowdoin's grading system, beginning in the 2002-2003 academic year.
According to a January 25, 2002 Orient article, changes to the system of grading had not occurred since 1954, when Bowdoin adopted a plus/minus system in place of an "ABCDF" system. In 1967, Bowdoin revised the system again, and instituted a grading scale with the distinctions of High Honors, Honors, Pass, or Fail. According to the article, this change "coincided with Bowdoin's initiative to not calculate GPAs partially due to...the Vietnam War and students being more eligible for the draft." In 1991, Bowdoin returned to the "ABCDF" system.
Professors in opposition to changing the system back to plus/minus in 2002 voiced concerns about grade inflation, and Professor of Government Jean Yarbrough urged the faculty to postpone a vote until they could more clearly gauge how a new system could impact inflation. In addition, several faculty members urged the body to consider the opinion of the student body, which was largely against the plus/minus system.
According to a January 25, 2002 Orient article, the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) and the Recording Committee sponsored an open forum to discuss Bowdoin's grading policies. The forum revealed student concerns associated with the proposed change, in particular the "lack of student representation" in the making of such a significant decision.
Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Chair of the Recording Committee Stephen Naculich said that both students and faculty had been pressuring the committee to make a change to the plus/minus system, noting potential advantages of plus/minus grades when applying to graduate schools, making student grades more competitive with and comparable to the grades of students at other institutions.
Naculich also noted the increased accuracy a plus/minus system would grant faculty when grading student work.
"Faculty do agonize more over the grades now because there's a perception of a bigger difference between an 'A' and a 'B,'" Naculich said at the time.
A follow-up Orient story reported the results of a survey distributed to students and faculty concerning grades at Bowdoin. According to the results, while 82.7 percent of faculty reported favoring the implementation of plus/minus grades, 69.2 percent of students reported being opposed to the change.
Following the faculty vote to approve the plus/minus grading system, an April 12, 2002 Orient article reported that a "group of incensed students gathered to discuss the decision of the faculty to begin a plus/minus system of grading." A student member of the Recording Committee said he believed the faculty had "completely disregarded student opinion" in favor of a scale better suited to their own preferences.
Some students at the meeting said they hoped the policy would not affect the transcripts of current students, concerned that employers and graduate schools would not be aware that grades had been given under two different systems. Though as a result of the change, student transcripts were to bear an addendum noting the change, one student expressed her concern that, in a pool of 100 applicant transcripts, an addendum might be easily ignored.
To spare the transcripts of current students, Professor of History Sarah McMahon introduced an amendment to the plus/minus system to exempt the classes of 2003, 2004 and 2005 from the change in May of 2002.
"I'm doing this for the students who greeted us today," she said, in reference to the students who had gathered outside the meeting in protest of the plus/minus change.
The amendment, which was voted on at the final faculty meeting in the year in late May, was not passed.
Student concerns about how the grading change would affect their transcripts proved valid, according to a January 31, 2003 Orient article that reported that the Office of Student Records had inadvertently mailed nearly 500 transcripts without the explanatory note detailing the shift in grading systems. Registrar Christine Cote said that while she did not want to "underestimate the importance of the mix-up," the only difference between the old transcript style and the new one was a "one line addition that simply states that pluses and minuses [had] been implemented into the grading system."
"The grading system Bowdoin switched to is not that different from many other institutions," Cote added. "It is not that odd that it would not be explained."
Major changes for English department, September 20, 2002
The English department experienced several changes in 2002, with the introduction of an associated interdisciplinary major and the revision of departmental requirements.
An interdisciplinary major for students interested in both English and theater was approved at a faculty meeting in February of 2002, according to a February 8, 2002 Orient brief. A later article reported that the major revolved around "a significant focus on the critical study of drama and literature," with 12 courses constituting the major.
The departmental requirements, which had previously called for students to take three classes in pre-1800 British or Irish literature and two courses in literature of the Americas, were revised, dropping the number of needed credits in literature of the Americas from two to one.
Freeman Grant opens door to Asian studies, October 24, 2003
A series of grants from the Freeman Foundation of Vermont allowed the College's Asian studies department to significantly expand its faculty and resources in the early part of the decade. After two generous awards in 1996 and 2000, a third Freeman grant of $1.67 million was awarded to Bowdoin in 2002, to support "its previous commitment to Asian studies and a growing department," according to an October 24, 2003 Orient article.
During the spring semester of 2000, grant money allowed a course cross-listed in sociology and Asian studies to travel to China for one month, according to an October 20, 2000 Orient article. The course, taught by Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Nancy Riley, intended to explore key elements of contemporary Chinese society. The Freeman grant subsidized the costs of airfare, hotel rooms, and transportation within China, allowing students to study in China for the entire first month of summer vacation.
The Asian studies department also used grant funding to create an Asian art history faculty position and to recruit and hire a Chinese literature and language professor.
Faculty caps 100-, 200-level courses for 2003-2004, April 18, 2003
In February of 2003, the Orient reported that the faculty committee on Curriculum and Educational Policy (CEP) had proposed further restricting enrollment limits for certain classes. A faculty vote in April of 2003 approved the measure, lowering the maximum number of students allowed to enroll in a 100-level class from 75 to 50, and from 50 to 35 for a 200-level class.
Then-Dean of Academic Affairs Craig McEwen said that the decision came after years of faculty discussion, and added that many professors already set size limits on their own classes.
While some students registering for classes under the new class caps system felt that they were not affected, others, especially those vying for government classes, encountered difficulties.
College adds gender studies to Women's Studies program, November 19, 2004
The Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee announced its approval of a plan to change the name of the women's studies program to gender and women's studies beginning in the spring of 2005.
According to Professor of Gender and Women's Studies Jennifer Scanlon, the change in name was prompted by shifts in the field that placed an emphasis on gender as a construction, in addition to the continued focus on women.
"We're not just talking about women, we're talking about women and men as gendered human beings," said Scanlon.
Several women's studies majors expressed enthusiasm about the change in name, though many were also pleased that the committee elected to keep "women's studies" a part of the title.
""I'm really glad that they kept the 'women's studies' portion of the title," she said. "The discipline is still relatively new and I think it's important to keep that bit of the title to keep fresh the movement that it grew out of."
CBB will shut down after 2004-2005, February 27, 2004
The Colby-Bates-Bowdoin (CBB) Off-Campus Study Program was terminated in the spring of 2005 due to unanticipated challenges and difficulties, particularly in "achieving predictable student enrollments and financial stability," according to a letter from the three college presidents quoted in a February 25, 2004 Orient article. The CBB programs in Quito, Ecuador, and London, England, first enrolled students in the fall of 1999, with the CBB program in Cape Town, South Africa following soon after in the fall of 2000.
Fluctuating enrollments in the program made it difficult "to predict a steady future for the program," though students expressed their dismay when the program shut down, noting that the program had been advantageous because it allowed students to keep the same financial aid grant they would have received at their home institution. In addition, the program allowed students to factor the grades they received while abroad into their cumulative GPAs.
Courses venture to the Web, September 16, 2005
Over the decade, faculty and administrators have incorporated and considered new technologies to ease communication and distribution of academic materials.
The first major technological implementation came in 2005, as Information Techonology (IT) introduced the Blackboard Web site to courses. Though accessing course material through Blackboard may be routine for current students, during a pilot program in the spring of 2005, only 24 courses used Blackboard as a resource for material. A the end of the spring semester, 79 percent of the students polled reported that they found the Web site "easy or extremely easy to use," according to a September 16, 2005 Orient article. In addition, 87 percent "said it was helpful in terms of increasing access to course materials."
In 2008, the Faculty Affairs Committee considered replacing handwritten course evaluation forms with an online course evaluation system. An earlier pilot program, which had used a generic survey Web site, had proved unsuccessful. Therefore, according to the April 4, 2008 Orient article, Senior Software Developer Eric Draut "developed an online system to mirror the current student opinion forms." Professor of Physics and Astronomy Stephen Naculich, chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee, said at the time that the new system would allow more comprehensive, thorough responses by eliminating the "rushed" feeling students may feel at the end of class, while also eliminating the need for the Dean's office to photocopy and compute responses.
Despite developing a new "one-stop-shop" Student Information System (SIS) over the past few years, a November 13, 2009 Orient article reported that the College had halted the new system's $1 million implementation on account of fiscal concerns. Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis said he hoped that the College will implement the SIS within the next two years, providing students with a single portal allowing course registration, access to Bearings and schedules, as well as personal records such as on-campus employment information and health records.
Government department ranked first worldwide, October 31, 2003
The London School of Economics and Political Science ranked Bowdoin's government and legal studies department the top college political science department in the world in 2003, according to an October 31, 2003 Orient article. Colleges and universities were ranked based on the amount of research by government department professors that appeared in the top 23 political science journals.
Students affirmed that research and publication are integral priorities for the government department at Bowdoin, with faculty regularly publishing findings and also encouraging students to publish their own research in Bowdoin's political science journal on campus.
In the fall semester of 2005, the small size of Bowdoin's government department combined with the popularity of the government classes and the departure of five professors on leave put a strain on the classes of remaining professors. According to a September 30, 2005 Orient article, the majority of the department's classes had exceeded or were filled to capacity in an attempt to accommodate the 19.9 percent of the student body who were declared as government majors.
With five professors on leave out of a department of only 11 full-time professors, Professor of Government Paul Franco noted that the department was submitting a proposal to hire one or two additional full-time professors, and would be "talking to the dean about becoming a leave-proof department," which would prohibit full-time professors from going on leave.
Departments adapt to new distribution requirements adding courses, faculty, October 21, 2005
The faculty voted to pass an amendment revising the College's distribution requirements at a meeting on May 24, 2004. Though the faculty had intended to vote on the new proposed requirements earlier in May, members opted to postpone the vote, according to a May 7, 2004 Orient story. The majority of the meeting in early May was consumed by a debate concerning the wording of the "international perspectives" provision that would "exclude courses concentrating on European traditions from fulfilling that requirement." Faculty members were split nearly down the middle on the issue, voting by paper ballot to approve the exclusion of European-based courses by a vote of 48 to 47.
The distribution requirements approved at the end of May 2004 are the same that exist today, calling for one course in each of the following areas: Mathematical, Computational or Statistical Reasoning (MCSR), Inquiry in the Natural Science (INS), Exploring Social Differences (ESD), International Perspectives (IP), and the Arts (later adapted to Visual and Performing Arts). One first year seminar per student also became mandatory. In addition, students are required to fulfill a set of divisional requirements, calling for a course each in natural sciences and mathematics, humanities and fine arts, and social and behavioral sciences. The former system of distribution requirements had required two courses in each of these three divisional requirements.
According to an e-mail from Professor of Mathematics Adam Levy on Wednesday, students in the Class of 2009 were the first to be required to take a first year seminar, but were otherwise held to the former system of distribution requirements. The Class of 2010 was the first to be held entirely to the new system.
Grade inflation a Bowdoin reality, October 28, 2005
An article in October of 2002 reported that, according to Director of Institutional Research and Registrar Christine Cote, "the average grade earned by students has increased from 3.20 to 3.33 on a four-point scale in the last ten years."
Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley said that "I think you'll find that grade inflation is a fact of life in colleges and universities," adding that, "The corollary is monetary inflation, but...monetary inflation does not have a fixed ceiling, whereas grade inflation does."
Though Bradley agreed with the assertion of some professors that the increasingly strong student body had contributed to the rise in average GPA, he expressed his concern that "students with what I consider excellent grades will not necessarily be named Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholars, which is awarded to the top 20 percent of students in each class."
Several articles in the January 25, 2002 issue of the Orient revealed the findings of a study carried out by the economics department regarding grade inflation. Professor of Economics David Vail explained that the department surveyed faculty in the fall of 2001, "to get a handle on the apparent gap between grading rhetoric and practice." According to the article, 81 percent of the 85 faculty members surveyed said they had "given As to students who did not fully meet the [College] Catalogue description of A work," and 80 percent said the same with regard to Bs.
Intellectual property allegation 'resolved', September 30, 2005
In September of 2005, the College said it was working to update and expand its intellectual property policy, which, according to then-Dean of Academic Affairs Craig Bradley, was "three decades old and [had] not been updated to reflect technological changes." Though the revision to the policy followed an April 2005 allegation that a senior administration official had used the unpublished work of a faculty member, "essentially verbatim," in a grant application, McEwen said that the timing of the policy update was not a result of the allegation.
A September 30, 2005 Orient article reported that President Barry Mills said that the allegation against the senior administration official had been resolved, and that all parties remained in good standing with the College.
Though Mills kept the details confidential, except to say "the allegation that there was a security breach was not accurate," a question posed at a faculty meeting by then-Professor of Biology Carey Phillips implied that the case had involved computerized documentation.
In February of 2006, McEwen presented a draft form of a new intellectual property policy to the faculty. A February 17, 2006 Orient article reported that the new policy was similar to the old, except that it clarified "the exceptional cases where there may be some joint ownership with the College or sole ownership, and most importantly, it creates procedures for resolving uncertain cases," according to McEwen.
Education splits minor, April 8, 2005
The education department elected to separate its minor into two different courses of study in April of 2005, differentiating between students taking courses in education studies and those participating in the teaching minor.
According to Professor of Education Chuck Dorn, while the goals of students interested in studying education and those of students interested in teaching often overlap initially, "as time goes by, there's clearly a divide."
While Dorn said that the courses offered within the department would not change significantly, students in each division would be required to take different courses. Practice-based method courses, in particular, were to be emphasized in the teaching minor.
College to revamp advising, September 28, 2007
Following negative assessments of the academic advising program, College administrators prioritized reforms for the program in the fall of 2007.
An eight-member reaccreditation committee from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) presented its findings to the College in November of 2006, and while it praised Bowdoin's commitment to liberal arts, it expressed concern about the College's existing academic advising program. As part of the reaccreditation program, Bowdoin conducted a self-study, and submitted it to a team from a variety of liberal arts institutions. The team found that while "the faculty seem dedicated to the notion of advising, there is a need for more collaboration and assistance among the already-busy faculty."
Despite the team's findings, Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd cautioned that apparent changes to the program would not be immediate.
"There are clearly things we need to do better—whether by tweaking or moving to a different system, it's just too early to say," said Judd, according to a May 4, 2007 Orient article.
An Orient article in October of 2006 reported that a survey to gauge positive and negative perceptions of the advising system was distributed to first year students. According to then-Dean of First Year Students Mary Pat McMahon, data collected through the voluntary survey suggested that the advising was not "entirely broken." The survey found that "54 percent said they planned to check in with their advisers again during the semester," beyond meeting with them to sign course cards.
McMahon and then-Associate Dean for Curriculum Steven Cornish also collected faculty responses and perceptions of advising. Cornish said that faculty noted that "advising is very front-loaded and intense during Orientation and then there seems to be quite a drop-off after that point." In addition, many faculty reported that they believed more beneficial relationships between faculty and students would develop if their academic interests were similar.
In September of 2007, a team comprised of Cornish, McMahon, BSG President Dustin Brooks '08 and BSG Vice President for Academic Affairs Samuel Dinning '09 developed "a plan to comprehensively improve the system," with considered reforms including the implementation of a peer advising team and a student information system to provide advisers with more details about advisees.
The College reported its plans to improve pre-major academic advising to the Board of Trustees in May of 2008. According to a May 2, 2008 Orient article, the dean's report focused on specific reforms to apply to the fall's incoming class, including the creation of an advising handbook for faculty, a peer-advising program, and closer contact between advisers and advisees prior to fall course registration.
Judd said in an interview with the Orient on Wednesday that academic advising at Bowdoin is still developing, and a study is being conducted by Professor of Psychology Suzanne Lovett and Dean of First Year Students Janet Lohmann. Though analysis of data from the study is a work in progress, some reforms in response to findings were implemented in the fall of 2009. According to Judd, the placement tests that had taken place during Orientation were moved online, opening a window of time for students to meet with their advisers, who had already received the results of the placement tests, and providing a way for academic conversation to begin early on.
Faculty cuts CR/D/F in required courses, February 8, 2008
The faculty passed a motion by a 66-16-1 vote to prohibit students from using the Credit/D/Fail grading option in courses taken to satisfy distribution requirements on February 4, 2008. The rule, which went into effect beginning with the class of 2012, was passed "despite the pleas of more than 40 students who assembled to greet faculty as they passed through the Thorne Hall lobby on their way to the meeting."
The first revision to the system was made in February of 2003, when the faculty voted to change the Credit/Fail option to Credit/D/Fail. Under the new system, students receiving a "D" grade in a course still received credit, and the grade factored in to a student's GPA.
Lovett said that the Credit/Fail system had not worked on account of many students "doing just enough work to get a D, whether that is their original intention or not."
A student initiative to revise the grading option in February of 2007 led to a prolonged faculty discussion of the entire system. Member of the BSG and the Recording Committee drafted a proposal "tentatively called Grade/Credit/Fail," based on Dartmouth's Non-Recording Option. Grade/Credit/Fail proposed that students would declare a course Grade/Credit/Fail three weeks into the semester, and by the sixth week, would establish the lowest grade they would accept. If a student's final grade matched or exceeded their set acceptable grade, it would be recorded on the student's transcript. If the earned grade fell short but was above failing, credit would be given for the course but no grade would be recorded. Students who failed the course would not receive credit. Though this grading option would not be available for courses take in students' majors, it would apply to courses taken to fulfill distribution requirements.
When the proposal was submitted to the faculty for evaluation, some faculty members expressed concerned aboutstudents were using the Credit/D/Fail option to fulfill their distribution requirements. With these concerns in mind, faculty opted to postpone further discussion of the Grade/Credit/Fail policy while the Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee (CEP) reviewed the policy of allowing Credit/D/Fail in required courses.
Before voting in a faculty meeting one year later, Professor of Mathematics William Barker introduced the proposed policy change of abolishing the use of Credit/D/Fail to fulfill distribution requirements, summarizing the findings of the CEP, which endorsed a "yes" vote.
"The Credit/D/Fail option is seen as softening the requirements, but in fact the option undercuts them. If we are going to have distribution requirements, the College policies should support the requirements, not compromise them," he said.
Informal Arabic class aims to fill course gap, February 29, 2008
In an effort to compensate for the lack of Arabic classes at Bowdoin, Jamil Wyne '08 began teaching an informal Arabic class to interested students during the spring semester of 2008. Though Wyne was a volunteer teacher leading an unofficial, non-credit class, the Orient reported that about 15 students from an e-mail list of 40 attended the class each week.
"As far as I've noticed, there's just as much interest in the student body in Arabic as there is in Spanish or French," Wyne said. "I think what I'm doing right now is enough to let people know that there's an interest...It seems like the next natural step is to bring an Arabic professor."
According to Professor of Religion Jorunn Buckley, the need for an Islamic specialist in the religion department dated to 1985, at which time the department requested the addition of a faculty member specializing in Islam. Though the religion department at the time did offer courses on Islam, Buckley said that the program was "overstressed in this department," according to an April 6, 2007 Orient article.
The Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) announced in April of 2008 that the College would begin offering Arabic classes in the fall of 2009. According to Vice President of Academic Affairs Sam Dinning, the class was scheduled in Bearings in time for course registration and would be taught by a post-doctorate fellow.
Students camp out for Phase II classes, December 5, 2008
Though registration woes have surfaced intermittently over the course of the decade, the most extreme student response took place in December of 2008, with approximately 25 students spending the night in Moulton Union to be first in line for Phase II registration the next morning. Members of the group, mostly made up of first years and sophomores, said they had heard stories or experienced long lines and competition for classes at previous Phase II registrations, and did not want to risk not getting their desired classes.
Registrar Christine Cote said that though "a mentality has developed over the years that makes students believe they have to be here at the crack of dawn to get the courses they want," in most cases, those drastic measures are ultimately unnecessary.
Earlier in the decade, students employed other tactics to snag their desired courses. An April 8, 2005 Orient article reported that beginning in the fall semester of 2005, students would not be allowed to sign up for a fifth class until after Phase I and Phase II registrations, in at attempt to curb the technique of students signing up for five classes, only to drop one right before the end of Phase II.
According to statistics compiled by Cote, "almost one-third of students who signed up for five full-credit courses finished their semester with four full-credit courses," implying that some students signed up for five courses with the intention of shopping around for classes while still retaining a spot in all five.
Approximately 20 students were bumped from their first-choice courses and placed in their second-choice classes in an attempt to fill under-enrolled classes during registration for fall 2008 courses. Though a policy allowing this measure had "been included in the Faculty Handbook for almost a decade," 2008 marked the first time students had "actually been removed from their first-choice courses in an effort to fill their less-popular second-choice classes," according to the May 2, 2008 Orient article.
BSG passed a resolution against the policy in the spring of 2008, claiming that the policy was "illogical and ineffective," and caused students to be "intentionally deceived." The policy was cut from course registration in the following semester.
Minor in economics and finance to be offered at College next year, April 10, 2009
A unanimous faculty vote on April 6, 2009 approved the creation of a minor in economics and finance to be offered at the College beginning in the fall of 2009. The proposal, according to an April 10, 2009 Orient article, "had been a topic of discussion since the fall of 2005 when the economics department first introduced finance courses, arose in interest from students, the administration, and members of the economics faculty."
"The purpose of this minor is to give students access to knowledge that prospective employers in an evermore competitive market have come to expect, and to do so while providing students with greater flexibility in their education than they would with a major in Econ," said Professor of Economics Gregory Paul Decoster.
Chair of the Economics Department Deborah DeGraff said that the economics department does not intend to add a finance major in the future, due to the fact that too narrow a focus "would likely be considered contradictory to the philosophy of a liberal arts education."