Pervasive Leftism in the hallowed halls of America’s elite colleges is not something new. But a dedicated fight led by professors to balance out such efforts in the interest of academic diversity and fostering a free marketplace of ideas is.
Just such a campaign was launched this week by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a call to action for all “liberal arts colleges [to] uphold the principles of liberty and fairness.” And it might have never happened were it not for a friendly golf match gone wrong four years ago.
It all started in the summer of 2010, when Barry Mills, president of Bowdoin College, the highly rated liberal arts school located in Brunswick, Maine, met investor and philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein during a round of golf near the Bowdoin campus.
During the match, Klingenstein, a Wall Streeter and chairman of the conservative Claremont Review of Books’ Board of Directors and Mills, an ardent proponent of diversity of the racial, ethnic and socio-economic kind, exchanged words regarding the subject of diversity in academia, among other contentious issues.
Weeks later, in his 2010 convocation speech in which he grappled with concerns that Bowdoin was too liberal, Mills invoked Klingenstein’s words without attributing them to Klingenstein, noting that in the middle of two of Mills’ backswings, Klingenstein proclaimed:
“I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons…And I would never support Bowdoin or Williams (his alma mater) because of all your misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.”
Their exchange left Mills “in despair and with deep concern.” Mills’ speech left Klingenstein feeling angered for what he felt was slander implying racism — so angered in fact that Klingenstein took to the pages of the Claremont Review of Books in 2011 to write a response titled “A Golf Story.”
In his response, Klingenstein disputed Mills’ account of their conversation, stating that he did not in fact speak during Mills’ backswings, but did explain his aversion to “diversity” as implemented on college campuses (“too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference (particularly as it applies to blacks), and not enough celebration of our common American identity”) with which Mills disagreed, and also his belief that former Harvard President Larry Summers “deserved a respectful hearing” with respect to his comments linking the absence of women in high positions in the sciences to their potentially weaker innate ability in such fields, a position with which Mills, according to Klingenstein, took great issue.
Klingenstein further took Mills to task for his purported dedication to combating liberal bias as a means of achieving intellectual diversity and fairness on campus, arguing that based on the entirety of Mills’ comments during his convocation address:
Mr. Mills does not have the answers to the problem of liberal bias at Bowdoin because he’s not really convinced there is a problem. When he summarily dismissed me, the Tea Party movement, and Larry Summers, or reflexively embraced [Martha] Nussbaum [a University of Chicago Law professor whose books in Klingenstein's reading reflect a view that patriotism is the primary source of hatred and conflict in the world], or grossly understated the number of liberal faculty at Bowdoin, he demonstrated an unwillingness to take seriously the conservative perspective. This, I propose, is why he was unable to see any way to address the problem that he posed.”
Klingenstein defined the diversity for which he was advocating as follows in a subsequent 2011 piece for The Bowdoin Orient:
“I mean this: Is there, within the community, a range of views on “foundational” beliefs and assumptions, such as: whether there is such a thing as human nature (or gender differences determined by nature); whether there are moral truths or just contingent values; whether tolerance is the highest virtue; whether America is a mosaic of groups or a collection of individuals joined by creed and culture; whether America should strive to transcend race or celebrate it; and whether America and the West have been, on balance, a source of good or evil.”
Rather than merely put the episode behind him however, content or at least resigned to his belief that Bowdoin like other elite liberal arts colleges lacked of diversity with respect to views on such questions, Klingenstein went a step further and actually followed through with his statement that his opinion “ought to be put to the test by further study of the curriculum, student life, faculty attitudes and the like.”
Indeed, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, Klingenstein put his money where his mouth was and “commissioned researchers to examine Bowdoin’s commitment to intellectual diversity, rigorous academics and civic identity.” The Journal noted:
“Funded by Mr. Klingenstein, researchers from the National Association of Scholars studied speeches by Bowdoin presidents and deans, formal statements of the college’s principles, official faculty reports and notes of faculty meetings, academic course lists and syllabi, books and articles by professors, the archive of the Bowdoin Orient newspaper and more. They analyzed the school’s history back to its founding in 1794, focusing on the past 45 years—during which, they argue, Bowdoin’s character changed dramatically for the worse.”
The end result? 18-months of painstaking research spurred by a chance golf match culminated in a 355-page, five part report on Bowdoin (replete with 1,235 citations), that as former Reagan Secretary of Education Bill Bennett noted in its foreword:
“is perhaps the most deep and specific to date on how progressive ideology has altered the character of American higher education. By focusing on just one college in detail, the authors capture the full context of how advocacy and ideology have significantly displaced the pursuit of truth and the cultivation of character. Their hope is that faculty members, administrators, parents, and yes, students from other colleges, will recognize the less desirable features of Bowdoin College in their own institutions.”
The report on Bowdoin, which TheBlaze covered extensively upon its release in April 2013, examined every aspect of the school, from its academic requirements, to curriculum, to faculty makeup, to student life and learning, and the general values promulgated by the institution.
The report’s conclusion?
“Bowdoin does not spend much time debating possible answers [to the original questions Klingenstein posed when describing diversity]. Rather, it has settled doctrine that informs students what sorts of knowledge, habits, dispositions, and aspirations are desirable. What does Bowdoin want all students to learn? The importance of diversity, respect for “difference,” sustainability, the social construction of gender, the need to obtain “consent,” the common good, world citizenship, and critical thinking. The answers embedded in these terms are not, as we have discovered, arrived at by careful weighing of arguments and evidence. The general procedure has been for Bowdon’s president to announce a “commitment,” such as President Mills’s announcement in 2007 that he had signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, or Bowdon’s 2009 release of its “Carbon Neutrality Implementation Plan.” The same procedures underlie Bowdoin’s creation of the studies programs, its commitment to minority student recruitment, and its determination to increase the number of minority and women faculty members.
All of these decisions may well have captured the prevailing views of Bowdoin faculty members and students. They might well have, therefore, prevailed in open debate. But as far as we can tell, there was no meaningful debate. Without hesitation, Bowdoin skips to certainties on some of the most contentious issues of our time. What most should be subject to debate never is.
When critical thinking is most necessary, it is most absent.
…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 toward dissenting views. The predicates of critical thinking. A coherent body of knowledge. How to distinguish importance from triviality. Wisdom. Culture.”
Some interesting specific tidbits from the report include:
- Faculty Obama Bias: As reported in the Bowdoin Orient, “One hundred percent of the donations made by Bowdoin faculty and staff in November’s presidential election benefitted President Obama’s campaign”
- It was estimated that four or five out of approximately 182 full-time faculty members might be described as politically conservative
- Gay Marriage Advocacy by Leadership: President Mills wrote a letter in 2012 urging students to vote in favor of gay marriage
- 92% percent of Bowdoin students favored same-sex marriage
- American History Courses Solely Based on Groups: In the history department there are no courses devoted to American political, military, diplomatic, or intellectual history except those that deal with some group aspect of America
- History majors at Bowdoin are not required to take a single course in American history; yet they are required to take several courses in non-Western history
Which brings us to today. One year after the publication of its critical report on Bowdoin, the NAS, led by President Peter Wood, a co-author of the aforementioned report, put out a press release Monday, April 7, announcing a call to action for “true liberty and fairness at Bowdoin and other liberal arts colleges,” stressing a need for tolerance of, freedom of expression for and fair treatment of disenfranchised groups on campuses including conservatives and Christians.
We reached out to Professor Wood for comment on the NAS’ call to action, and he noted that his hope is that Bowdoin will:
“establish its own commission to study the lack of intellectual diversity on campus and what had happened to its ideal liberal arts ideals of openness and tolerance…[previously] Bowdoin dismissed the report out of hand and appointed no such commission. Nor did the college respond officially in any other way beyond saying that the college had been “attacked,” that the attacks were “personal and vindictive,” and that it would not deign to reply.”
More broadly, Wood stated:
“Of course, we would like Bowdoin and other colleges to respond in a much more serious way than simply agreeing to appoint a commission to follow up. There are important changes that should be made in the curriculum, academic standards, student life, faculty appointment, and more. But these changes would become possible only if the college first recognized how far astray it has gone from its own mission. Hence the commission comes first.”
We have reached out to Bowdoin for comment and will update this article subsequent to receiving a response.
NAS’ full press release is below:
THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SCHOLARS CALLS FOR TRUE LIBERTY AND FAIRNESS AT BOWDOIN AND OTHER LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES
NEW YORK – April 7, 2014 – The National Association of Scholars (NAS), which works to foster intellectual freedom in America’s colleges and universities, has called into question how liberal arts colleges uphold the principles of liberty and fairness.
“American liberal arts colleges pride themselves on diversity, fairness and open-mindedness; but they fail at all three, particularly when it comes to political and religious views,” said Dr. Peter Wood, President of NAS and main author of What Does Bowdoin Teach?
Published by NAS, What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students is an in-depth examination of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Wood and his colleagues studied Bowdoin to create a benchmark for liberal arts colleges across the country.
According to the study, “Bowdoin believes that it exemplifies open-mindedness, but it is in fact a community that shuts out many legitimate ideas.” The report cites the scarcity of conservative faculty at the college. Four out of 182 full-time faculty members appear conservative. One-hundred percent of donations from Bowdoin faculty members to presidential candidates in the last election went to President Obama.
The report also took notice of the college’s harsh treatment of students and others who uphold religious views that are not popular at the secular institution. “Being openly religious at Bowdoin can be difficult,” said a Bowdoin student who requested that he be quoted anonymously. The student told the study’s co-author, Michael Toscano, that many of his fellow students respond to his Catholic views about abortion with “disdain.”
In 2011, Bowdoin retroactively revoked funding for an event in which a local pastor had given an invited sermon on campus because he explained his interpretation of the Biblical view of same-sex marriage. More recently, the college banned a husband and wife who had advised the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship for nearly a decade. They were dismissed for refusing to sign an agreement that said they would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in choosing student leaders for their group.
“In matters involving political views and free expression of religious beliefs Bowdoin draws a sharp distinction between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable,” explained Dr. Wood. “The ideals of academic and intellectual freedom do not mean much when they are used solely to protect the majority’s preferences. The college goes out of its way to create a hostile environment for conservatives and those who uphold traditional religious faiths.”
The NAS firmly believes that a college campus should be a place where students from across the political spectrum and from all religious backgrounds are allowed to express their opinions and be treated fairly.
“Open disdain toward religious views can be considered harassment similar to disdain for different races or minorities,” stated Herbert London, Chairman of the National Association of Scholars and president of the London Center for Policy Research. “However, it is evident that Bowdoin places an emphasis on what it considers to be valuable in terms of identity, and conservatives and certain religious groups fall outside of this definition. I believe a truly liberal arts college needs to reevaluate its environment and create an open dialogue where all students are granted liberty and treated fairly.”
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About the National Association of Scholars
The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is an independent membership association of academics and others working to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities. The NAS advocates for excellence by encouraging commitment to high intellectual standards, individual merit, institutional integrity, good governance, and sound public policy. For more information on the NAS, visit www.nas.org.