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Name-Calling College President Called Out for Ideological Bigotry, Lack of Commitment to Real Intellectual Diversity and Rigor

Photo Credit: Bowdoin College

President Barry Mills of Bowdoin College in Maine attacked the “‘Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin moment’ in our history” at a 2010 convocation talk discussing, of all things, intellectual diversity.

Bowdoin College President Barry Mills | Photo Credit: Bowdoin College

Maybe he should read Glenn’s books? Just this past week, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) gave Bowdoin an F for a failing core curriculum. ACTA urged Mills and the Bowdoin trustees to improve their offerings for students.

Mills also insinuated that Tom Klingenstein, a conservative philanthropist, was a racist for opposing racial preferences. Rather than back down and cower to the false charge of racism, Klingenstein replied by commissioning the first “full-fledged ethnography” of an American liberal arts college.

The disagreement over Bowdoin’s commitment to intellectual and racial diversity started on a golf course nearly two years ago and it has touched off a debate about higher education, with Bloomberg, National Review, The Wall Street Journal and the Rush Limbaugh Show all weighing in. Rather than publicly rebut the 360-page and 1157-footnoted scholarly report’s charges, Bowdoin’s public relations department is doing damage control while its students are attacking the philanthropist and others calling for ideological diversity.

Mills issued a statement last Monday - a week later - which addressed only a few of the report’s charges and did so poorly. “He doesn’t seem to have taken the report’s larger charges seriously,” says Thomas Klingenstein, the philanthropist who Mills accused of being a racist for questioning Mills’s commitment to racial diversity.

​TheBlaze published an extensive report on the Klingenstein study last month.  See that report here.

“What makes this report important is its detail and comprehensiveness, which gives it richness and authenticity,” Klingenstein, chairman of the Claremont Institute, told TheBlaze.

Eighteen months and hundreds of research hours later, the report - What Does Bowdoin Teach - examines Bowdoin’s commitment to intellectual diversity, its curriculum and civic identity, and found the prestigious Brunswick, Maine school lacking.

To name but one example, its freshmen seminar offerings sometimes tend toward the faddish, with titles like “Queer Gardens, Beyond Pocahontas: Native American Stereotypes; Sexual Life of Colonialism; Modern Western Prostitutes.” The report also detailed radical environmentalism, feminism, and racialism and pointed out its lack of traditional courses and commitment to intellectual diversity.

Bowdoin’s lack of commitment to intellectual diversity may begin with President Mills himself, who declined repeated requests to speak to TheBlaze, and who continues to maintain that the episode with Klingenstein occurred as he described it.  (See video below: Mills's reference to Klingenstein starts a bit after 10 minutes. Click here for the transcript.)


In addition to insinuating that Klingenstein was a racist for questioning Bowdoin’s racial preferences in lieu of intellectual rigor, Mills doubled down and called a then-student, Steve Robinson ‘11, a “traitor” for inviting Klingenstein to come to campus to speak.

Mills also criticized assistant professor of economics Steve Meardon after Meardon wrote a letter to Mills encouraging his colleagues to take the thrust of the report’s charges seriously, only to be told by Mills “to have the guts” to make his views known publicly.

It’s a tactic that recalls Klingenstein’s treatment. “[Mills] didn't like my views, so he turned me into a backswing-interrupting, Bowdoin-hating boor who wants to return to the segregated days of Jim Crow,” explained Klingenstein in the April 2011 issue of The Claremont Review of Books. “I explained my disapproval of 'diversity' as it generally has been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference,” coupled with “not enough celebration of our common American identity.”

President Mills declined repeated requests to speak with TheBlaze via phone. Instead, press inquiries were sent to Scott Hood, Bowdoin’s vice president, who declined to answer any direct questions about how Mills can purport to support intellectual diversity while also name calling those who disagree with him. Hood, Bowdoin’s vice president for communication, repeatedly declined to answer whether or not he thought Mills’ treatment had been appropriate and directed me to their press release.

Hood also directed me to an editorial that had appeared hours earlier by the Bowdoin Orient but none of the Orient’s editorial board returned spoke on the record.

One editorial board member admitted that while Klingensten may have had some points, the campus didn’t agree with his views on “sexual liberation, the environment, gay rights, and diversity.” She did, however, concede that there “may be a bias against conservatives” on campus. “Some students really think Bowdoin’s intellectual diversity is lacking.”

The bias may go all the way to the pages of the Bowdoin Orient’s satire issue where it depicted Klingenstein and conservative professor Jean Yarbrough, writing in their past satire issue that they, along with President Mills, had engaged in a threesome and homosexual sodomy.

Mills came to Bowdoin in 2001. Appointed the head of a search committee to select the next president of the liberal arts college, he ultimately recommended himself and set about implementing his goal of diversity at any costs. And while Mills’s convocation may have put the focus on intellectual diversity at his convocation address, he has called for racial diversity since he was brought to campus.

“The greatest desire you hear here is to make the campus more diverse - racially, geographically, socioeconomically,” Mills told the Boston Globe in 2001. He was instrumental in instituting the Posse program at Bowdoin, a controversial program which sends inner city and largely underqualified students—most of them blacks and Latinos--to campus on full scholarships.”

Although we do not know the statistics for the Posse students, we do have reason to doubt their academic qualifications as a group. A 1998 evaluation of the Posse program at Vanderbilt University found that athletes entered with an average of 1042 SAT score and maintained an average GPA of 3.13, while Posse students came in with a 900 average SAT and finished with a 2.93 average GPA. Due to the low grades of Posse students in their engineering programs, Rice and Lehigh canceled their involvement with Posse, according to the L.A. Times in 2004.

“I'm not an expert,” Mills told the Globe concerning Posse. “But you have to reach out beyond the typical places, you have to have financial aid to encourage them to be here, and, most importantly, you need to think about ways that, once people get here, they enjoy the experience and find it rewarding.”

Recalling his own time as a student at Bowdoin, Mills said, “There were very turbulent years for Bowdoin and all of higher education.” Mills continued, “Bowdoin was a much more diverse place, in some ways, than it is today. There were more African-American students. Making Bowdoin more diverse now is one of the goals of the college.”

But Bowdoin’s “understanding of diversity is literally no more than skin deep,” explained Bowdoin political science professor Jean Yarbrough in a recent letter to the editor of the Bowdoin Orient. “As a recent chair of the government department, I have seen the lengths to which the administration is willing to go to identify and recruit such candidates,” she wrote.

“Every faculty search must now include a member of the Diversity Committee, whose main purpose is to ensure that the members of the department give every consideration to diversity hires. These committee members, being drawn from other disciplines, usually have no knowledge of the field, though that does not deter them from weighing in during the selection process, sometimes quite vociferously,” Yarbrough wrote.

“Where such diversity is concerned, the administration actively pushes departments to cast the net more widely and to be mindful of even unintentional bias. What’s more, it has redefined positions to increase the likelihood of attracting diversity candidates,” a move which, according to Yarbrough, actually changes Bowdoin’s curriculum.

Though she said the report did not do a good job of mentioning when Bowdoin does a good job, “much of what the NAS report describes is, I am sorry to say, spot on.”

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