In the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books, President Barry Mills receives something of a tongue lashing for his September convocation address dealing with intellectual diversity at the College. A little background: Mills, who has a fondness for telling golf stories, described in his address an interaction which occurred during a golf match this summer.
As Mills told the story, an opponent said to him mid-swing, "I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons." Mills added that his interlocutor aggressively opined that he would support neither Bowdoin nor his own alma mater "because of all your misplaced and misguided diversity efforts."
This anecdote launched the larger theme of Mills' address, which posed the question of whether the College's generally liberal persuasion detracts from intellectual diversity on campus. The speech was well-received, and the school year proceeded.
Now, seven months later, Mills' unnamed interlocutor has identified himself as Thomas Klingenstein, chairman of the Claremont Review's board of directors, and founder of a New York investment firm. It was at the invitation of a mutual friend that he joined Mills for a round of golf.
Writing in the Claremont Review, in an essay entitled "A Golf Story," Klingenstein asserts that Mills' convocation anecdote was greatly embellished—"I made no reference to Bowdoin at all—much less the rather insulting remark attributed to me." Klingenstein writes that the episode was dramatically exaggerated for effect, and that Mills "was describing what he imagines conservatives like me say."
"He didn't like my views, so he turned me into a backswing interrupting, Bowdoin-hating boor who wants to return to the segregated days of Jim Crow," writes Klingenstein.
Mills told the Orient that he had seen the article, but declined to comment. Scott Hood, the College's vice president for communications, wrote in an email, "At Convocation in September, President Mills expressed his views on a number of subjects. Mr. Klingenstein has a different view."
Though Klingenstein claims that their mid-game exchange merely touched on the question of diversity on college campuses, he takes the opportunity to critique Bowdoin's intellectual landscape.
Klingenstein argues that Mills does not take seriously the deleterious liberal bias at Bowdoin, as if he does not believe it hampers intellectual inquiry. As evidence, Klingenstein points to Bowdoin's curriculum: "Do Bowdoin alumni know their alma mater offers not one history course in American political, military, diplomatic, constitutional, or intellectual history, and nothing at all on the American Founding or the Constitution; that the one Civil War course is essentially African-American history (it is offered also in Africana Studies); and that there are more courses on gay and lesbian subjects than on American history?"
The College does in fact have courses in American political, intellectual, and Constitutional history, but they are offered in the government department. The editor of the Claremont Review, Charles Kesler, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, said that a few excellent courses in the government department could not supplant the lack of of them in the history department. He said that university presidents face an uphill task in trying to counter the prevailing winds.
"There is a lot they could do, but it would not be easy to do, because it would require more than a few conflicts with their own faculty, which is always very difficult for presidents at modern universities," said Kesler. "But they could create new departments, divisions, or centers for the study of Western civilization, or the Constitution, or any variety of interesting subjects that are now neglected."
In his convocation address, Mills stated, "There should never be a time when we have a political litmus test for faculty or even inquire about political persuasion. In my view, this is simply not relevant to the intellectual enterprise of the College."
However, Mills referenced the marginal percentage of conservative professors in academia in his speech, and Klingenstein goes on to infer that the presence of only a handful of conservative professors on campus severely detracts from the College's intellectual climate. Klingenstein writes that the percentage of conservative professors at Bowdoin is around 4 percent, which he says makes the College "not 'in the main' liberal but almost antiseptically so."
Kesler said the Claremont Review published the essay as an illustration of how higher education is infused with a liberal bias, a problem that those in academia are unable to identify, and are loathe to address. But does Klingenstein's essay suggest that Bowdoin is an outlier?
"I don't think that it is that different from other schools, unfortunately," Kesler said.
In an email, Klingenstein said that he had not spoken with Mills since the golf game, though he had alerted him about the essay. Asked about his motive, Klingenstein wrote: "My purpose in writing the essay was to start a discussion centered around questions such as: Is Bowdoin tilted as far left as I allege?"
Mills, of course, knows that Bowdoin is politically far from mainstream.
"Diversity of ideas at all levels of the College is crucial for our credibility and for our educational mission," said Mills at convocation. "The deep sentiment is that we are out of touch."
Steve Robinson, president of the Bowdoin College Republicans, ventured that although the essay is a blow to Mills, Bowdoin should consider Klingenstein's critique.
"The best thing that can come from this is for Barry and the College to be held to that promise that he made in the convocation address, which was to respect not just diversity of skin color but [also] diversity of intellect, and to actually make good on that promise," said Robinson.
The Claremont Review of Books is a nonprofit conservative journal based in California. The Claremont Institute, which publishes the journal, states on its website that it aims "to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life."
This article has been edited for correctness after its original publication date.
In the original version of this article, the Orient mistakenly attributed a quote to Professor of Government Jean Yarbrough. This quote, along with an additional error, has been removed.