At the start of the second week of classes in the Spring 2015 semester, the Bowdoin community received one of the year’s most important announcements—that Bowdoin had found its next president.

After learning that Clayton S. Rose would replace President Barry Mills, many affiliated with the College tempered their excitement with a certain measure of skepticism. While Rose might not be a typical choice, having no experience in the liberal arts and no connection to Bowdoin, most concluded that it is too soon to say what kind of leader Rose will be. Optimism seems to be the collective sentiment.   

Many Bowdoin students and alumni took to social media after the announcement. Some posted congratulatory messages while others voiced disappointment with the choice. One of the recurring objections was the fact that Bowdoin will still have a white, male leader during a time when many peer schools are beginning to appoint female or non-white presidents. 

Several NESCAC schools have elected female presidents in the last five years: Amherst in 2011, Bates in 2012, Connecticut College in 2013, and Trinity and Middlebury in 2014. When Laurie Patton of Middlebury takes office this fall, six out of the 11 NESCAC schools will have female presidents, making male NESCAC presidents a minority. 

Jes Staley ’79, chair of Bowdoin’s search committee, said that the choices of peer schools did not pressure the committee to select a female or a person of color.

“We put together a list of candidates with Isaacson, Miller that was very diverse—that looked at some extraordinarily talented women, some extraordinarily talented candidates of color—so when we started to interview the candidates, it was a very diverse slate,” Staley said. “It would be great to make history, but we had to find the best person to run Bowdoin College—and that was Clayton [Rose].”

Associate Professor of Africana Studies and English Tess Chakkalakal, a member of the search committee, agreed with Staley.

“We kept the pool diverse throughout the process and after that point you can’t really be looking at race or gender as an actual qualification for the job. At least I don’t,” she said.

“Some people are frustrated that he is a straight, white male, but I think a lot of people also recognize that he has had a very successful career and has done very well for himself academically,” said Colin Swords ’15. “The qualifications that indicate that he’ll be an excellent fundraiser for our school and that he’ll be able to do good things for our financial aid—those count more to me than a symbolic gesture.”

Others questioned why Rose, who has never attended or taught at a small liberal arts institution, was chosen for the job. The last president without exposure to a small liberal arts environment was William DeWitt Hyde, the College’s seventh president who was in office from 1885-1917. 

The A. Myrick Freeman Professor of Social Sciences and the Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Departments Susan Bell said that though Rose had not necessarily been part of a liberal arts community, he seems committed to Bowdoin’s spirit of intellectual pursuit. 

“What I find impressive is that he chose to get a Ph.D.,” said Bell. “It suggests that somebody cares deeply enough about education and the liberal ideals of education that he put himself into a position of student as an older person. It suggests that he really values something that we value in the academy, and that’s life-long learning. I don’t know if he would talk about it in this way, but as an outsider observing him, it tells me that not only does he care about life-long education and a self-cultivating approach to life but that he did the disciplined work you need to do in order to finish a Ph.D.” 

Rose left his career as a businessman working at J.P. Morgan to return to the University of Pennsylvania to get his doctorate in sociology. He wrote his dissertation, “Race at the top: Organizational response to institutional pressures and the racial composition of the corporate elite,” on the ways in which African Americans are included on corporate boards of directors.  

“I’m really excited that he has a background in sociology because I think this [background] will be really beneficial as he addresses particular issues that Bowdoin students are passionate about and interested in,” said Priscila Lafore ’14. 

Rose’s experience working at J.P. Morgan and teaching management practice has some in the community saying that he’s an especially qualified choice. 

“My understanding of the president’s job is that it primarily deals with management and finances, and it seems like this guy knows a lot about both of those subjects,” said James Jelin ’16.

—Cameron de Wet and Joe Sherlock contributed to this report.