I stated in my previous post that I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reading the love stories written by my students, excellent examples of teenage romance, passion and hilarity. My other reading material this week has been the now-infamous “What Does Bowdoin Teach?”, a 360-page whopper of a report funded and produced by the conservative National Association of Scholars in the aftermath of a spat between Bowdoin president Barry Mills and a Mr. Tom Klingenstein. While playing golf, Mr. Mills alleges that the conservative Mr. Klingenstein said “I would never donate to your school because you attract all the wrong students for all the wrong reasons” – a statement that he later found “troubling”. Mr. Mills later addressed it with a talk on campus which made Mr. Klingenstein 1) feel victimized and 2) fund a $100,000 study to analyze Bowdoin’s curriculum for incidences of liberal bias. The report attacks, among other things:
- “Studies” programs (environmental, Asian, Latin American, Women’s, Africana, etc.)
- Affirmative action
- Diversity as a goal in its own right
- The curriculum’s lack of focus on Western civilization (there are required classes about the rest of the world, and fewer required classes about America)
- Abandonment of traditions (e.g. frat houses)
- Lack of conservatives on faculty
- Bowdoin’s un-Americanness
- People who are not white/straight/came to the US on the Mayflower
The last paragraph of the study is as follows:
What does Bowdoin not teach? Intellectual modesty. Self-restraint. Hard work. Virtue. Self-criticism. Moderation. A broad framework of intellectual history. Survey courses. English composition. A course on Edmund Spenser. A course primarily on the American Founders. A course on the American Revolution. The history of Western civilization from classical times to the present. A course on the Christian philosophical tradition. Public speaking. Tolerance towards dissenting views. The predicates of critical thinking. A coherent body of knowledge. How to distinguish importance from triviality. Wisdom. Culture.
This is one of the most ridiculous conclusions I have ever read.
The report makes one allegation which is entirely true and, being a reasonable person, I could be willing to see as a problem – that there are not many conservatives on faculty. But the majority of the 360 pages are filled with personal diatribes against individuals I respect, as well as against values that I hold and elements of the Bowdoin experience that I believe are crucially important. The Bowdoin Orient’s index of terms and individuals, which lists a number of friends and professors, only hints at how personal the attacks can be. Pages upon pages are devoted to ripping apart Prof. Ghodsee, with whom I’ve never taken a course but I assume doesn’t deserve this volume of unsolicited criticism. Students are called out for participating in rallies and events, publishing in college publications and joining clubs or activities with which the study’s authors take a dislike. Additionally, the research is so haphazard and the methodology so random and faulty that I feel useless for having already spent so much time responding. Suffice to say that Bowdoin is a place where, despite what the study asserts, doors and opportunities are opened, new ideas and alternative perspectives considered, and nearly everything is scrutinized critically from every possible standpoint. It is the only place I have been exposed to well-thought-out, rational conservative viewpoints – by conservative professors, no less (I am far from conservative, but that’s beside the point). It is a place where students are allowed to explore and discover and learn about the world and about themselves – and I could say no higher praise. Barry Mills has written an appropriately short rebuttal to the study, which has given the college an undue amount of press (and could turn out to be the best publicity campaign Bowdoin has ever not conspired to make). But with Bowdoin standing strong against these nasty attacks, I have never felt prouder to be an alum.
Humor – the hilarity of the report itself – helped me get though reading and processing the 360 pages. A similar humor accompanied me while grading love stories. Could it be that passionate (if teenage) love and vitriolic (if only it were teenage) hate – tied together by humor – are not as far away as they seem? Love and hate both require care and concern; we don’t love or hate things that we don’t think are important. Does this mean hate is simply a facet of a type of love, the love that is passionate and worried and absolutely unforgiving?
I don’t know. All I can say is that I find dispassion – or even dislike – more frightening than hatred. It is these emotions which imply a lack of care or concern, and, as such, the idea that something or someone is not worth paying attention to, somehow unworthy or unnecessary. I would rather fight over something (hopefully not violently) than not have anything in my life worth fighting over. For is it not through these emotions – hatred, caring, humor and especially love – that we subsist and flourish and come into ourselves as human beings?