Learning for learning's sake: auditors take classes for enrichment
Bowdoin courses are not always limited to Bowdoin students. According to the Office of the Registrar, between 50 and 70 auditors register each semester. With professor approval, auditing is free for community members; professors also determine the extent to which auditors participate in class discussion.
There is a wide variety of auditors who learn at Bowdoin, including community members, retired professors, alumni, high school students, Bowdoin students and current professors.
“When I found out they had courses you could audit when I moved up here, I started right off the bat,” said Joe Andrew, a 90-year-old Harpswell resident. Andrew, who is currently auditing Introduction to Opera with A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Music Mary K. Hunter, has relished the opportunity to continue his lifelong passion for learning.
Auditing is one of many things Andrew does to maintain his youthful energy, in addition to painting, sailing, writing poetry and learning to play instruments. He came to Bowdoin over four consecutive summers between 1959 and 1962 through a government program, earning a master’s degree in math. Though he was a math teacher for decades, his Bowdoin courses have covered a vast range of topics: Italian language, poetry, linear algebra, government, philosophy, music and Shakespeare.
“I am one of the fortunate 90-year-old people who still have their heads around, who enjoy living … and when I think of what’s happened in my 90 years, it astounds me to think what might happen in the next 90. Which gives me a goal … I want to live long enough to see what’ll happen.”
Over her 23 years at Bowdoin, Professor of Cinema Studies Tricia Welsch has had a particularly wide range of auditors, many of whom have become regulars.
“You’re here for long enough and you teach something like film, people pass through your door,” she said.
Her auditors have included a chef, a barbershop singer, an art historian and many former professors and teachers. Welsch appreciates the challenge that their presence brings.
“You think, ‘Oh, they’re watching my pedagogy. I better be on it,” she said.
Sometimes, Bowdoin professors audit each other’s courses, taking the opportunity to gain a new academic lens. Professor of Philosophy Matthew Stuart, who is currently on sabbatical, is auditing Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Natural Sciences and Chair of the Biology Department Nat Wheelwright’s Ornithology course. When he is not poring over the writings of Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid for his sabattical research, Stuart is skinning and stuffing birds, identifying species and memorizing their Latin names.
“It’s quite different from the very abstract, dense, technical stuff that I work on. It’s abstract and dense and technical in its own way, but it’s a different part of my brain,” Stuart said.
Last semester, Wheelwright audited Associate Professor of Art James J. Mullen’s Drawing I course. In picking up the pencil and putting down the scalpel, he gained a new passion.
“I’ve got art under my skin now,” he said. “It changed my life.”
When Welsch audited an Italian class, she was reminded of how challenging being a student can be.
“You learn that you can be a really crappy student in the same ways that irritate you about your [own] students,” she said. “It’s funny to see how easy it is to lose your thread, to forget the homework, all of that.”
Bowdoin students tend to audit because they want to explore an academic interest or continue learning from a specific professor, but cannot take on the extra load of a fifth course. Maddie Wolfert ’17 is auditing her first course this semester, Science, Magic, and Religion, with Professor of History Dallas Denery.
“It’s especially relevant to me because a lot of material that’s being covered in the course pertains directly to the honors project that I’m working on,” Wolfert said.
Denery is ending the course with a unit on Margaret Cavendish—the subject of Wolfert’s honors project—and has encouraged Wolfert to share her expertise.
Wolfert emphasized that senior spring has brought about a particular panic.
“This is my last opportunity to take a Bowdoin class,” she said. “I have to fit in everything that I can.”
A large portion of auditors are retired community members. Welsch, Stuart and Wheelwright each expressed that the knowledge, wisdom and personal experiences accumulated over a lifetime can make for invaluable contributions to class discussions. Stuart once had a 92-year-old auditor in his “Death” course.
“That really changed the temperature of some of our conversations about euthanasia and end-of-life care,” he explained. He added that her views on the subject were particularly meaningful in a room full of 18 to 22 year olds.
David Treadwell ’64 has watched the College evolve since his days as a Bowdoin student by auditing courses.
“It’s fascinating to see what the students are doing, how they’re thinking [and] what professors are teaching.”
In taking the classes he never got to take in the 60s, he has noticed that the classroom environment is much more discussion-based today. Treadwell has also taken courses at the Midcoast Senior College.
“I much prefer the energy of this younger environment,” he said.
Punnie Edgerton frequently audits alongside Associate Professor of Education Emerita Penny Martin. They confer on which courses to choose at the start of each semester, and their friendship has strengthened through their shared classroom experiences. They are currently enrolled in Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History Brian Purnell’s class The Wire’: Race, Class, Gender, and the Urban Crisis. Edgerton has fully committed to the workload in each of the 16 courses she’s taken, but she said she cannot imagine multiplying the workload by four.
“That’s very nuts,” Edgerton said.
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Since the election of Donald Trump, hundreds of Bowdoin students have been rallying, protesting and marching across the globe. Residents of Maine—despite living in the 11th smallest state and one of the whitest states in the nation—are also voicing their opposition. In light of Trump’s Muslim ban, thousands of Mainers have taken to the streets in Brunswick, Augusta, Portland and other towns and cities in solidarity with the growing community of refugees in Maine.
The following photographs by Jenny Ibsen and Hannah Rafkin are from the Protest Against the Muslim Ban at the Portland International Jetport on January 29 (roughly 4,000 in attendance) and the Rally Against the Muslim Ban at the Portland City Hall on February 1 (roughly 1,500 in attendance).
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