Bowdoin president Barry Mills is denouncing What Does Bowdoin Teach?, the report issued last week by the National Association of Scholars, as a “mean-spirited and personal” attack funded by those with deep pockets and a “political axe to grind.” Mills says the report, which paints an unflattering picture, a gross mischaracterization of academic life at the elite Maine liberal arts college.
What Does Bowdoin Teach? contends that Bowdoin has abandoned the study of the West in favor of ”identity” studies that focus on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. History majors, for example, are not required to take any classes in American history. Mills argues that such a requirement is unnecessary because Bowdoin students ”have already studied American history in high school and that they will naturally gravitate to these courses here.”
Among the college’s few academic requirements are a first-year seminar, which the report’s authors used to showcase the school’s obsession with identity studies. Choices one year included “Queer Gardens,” a class on the work of gay and lesbian gardeners, and ”Modern Western Prostitutes.” “Admittedly, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea,” Mills concedes, “since it is viewed by some as scholarship that isn’t serious.” But Mills explains that such courses are intentionally given provocative titles in order to draw students into the classroom, where they are then assigned material that is less provocative and more educational.
The report was commissioned and funded by philanthropist Tom Klingenstien and authored by National Association of Scholars president and former Boston University professor and administrator Peter Wood.
Mills is standing by his school amidst the negative coverage generated by the report. ”We choose to move forward, confident in our values and reinforced by our record,” he says.