Subverting Bowdoin

The National Association of Scholars has released a detailed and scholarly examination of Bowdoin College. Bowdoin, located in Maine, is a small and elite liberal arts college. For the study, Bowdoin is a target of convenience. It is meant to be a typical exemplar, exhibiting traits not terribly different from dozens of similar places.

In late 60's or early 70's a great shift took place in American higher education. The idea that the students should all receive a basic grounding in history, government, social science, arts, and languages was discarded. Bowdoin abandoned its general education requirements in 1969. A deeply subversive and frankly weird ideology has become dominant in the trendier colleges. The ideology doesn't have an accepted name because the colleges deny that they have fundamentally changed their practices and beliefs. Sometimes it is described as an obsession with race, gender, and sex. It is characterized by political correctness. Orwellian misuse of language is practiced. An example is use of the word "diversity" to characterize aggressive discrimination in favor of certain racial groups and against others. Since racial discrimination is supposedly frowned upon or is illegal, they have to pretend it is something else. Many colleges suppress freedom of speech when the speech in question violates the canons of political correctness. The president of Harvard was fired for speculating out loud that women may be worse at math than men. Some things are unmentionable in academic company. At Hampshire College the speech code prohibited "psychological intimidation and harassment of any person or pet." Many colleges have speech codes that prohibit speech that might make someone else, especially members of favored minority groups, feel bad. However Hampshire seems to have been unique in attempting to protect the psychological well being of pets.

In the preface to the National Association of Scholars Bowdoin report, Peter Wood elucidates the dogmatic nature of Bowdoin ideology:

The two Bowdoin goals -- global citizenship and openness -- actually push against each other. Openness requires skepticism and a sincere willingness to look for hidden assumptions, but Bowdoin's understanding of global citizenship requires that some very large questions be settled in advance. A commitment to global citizenship requires a commitment to diversity (in its current understanding, the notion that each of us is defined in the most meaningful ways by the group to which we belong) and to the racial preferences that follow from diversity; to multiculturalism (all cultures are equal); to the idea that gender and social norms are all simply social constructs (an assumption that justifies virtually unlimited government intervention necessary to achieve the global citizen's understanding of sexual justice); and to "sustainability" (which assumes that free market economic systems, and the materialistic, bourgeois values that drive them, are destroying the planet). These are notions that are not meaningfully "open to debate" at Bowdoin; indeed, a commitment to global citizenship requires that they not be open to debate. Students are encouraged to "think critically" about anything that threatens the college's dogmas on diversity, multiculturalism, gender, and sustainability, etc., but, for the most part, not to think critically about those dogmas themselves.

Above all the elite colleges are obsessed with status. Their equivalent of the academy awards are the U.S. News and World Report rankings of U.S. colleges. The rankings published by this popular magazine loom large in the worldview of academic administrators. I well remember a huge bash put on by an academic division of a large public university when they cracked the top 40 in the U.S. News ratings.

The U.S. News rankings depend largely on the quality of the student body as revealed by their high school academic credentials. The elite colleges compete to attract these students, who are, clearly, some of the best and brightest. These talented young people are a national asset. They could be expected to assume influential positions in their later lives. Are the elite colleges improving this high quality raw material or making them into rejects?

Rather than bread and circuses, Bowdoin keeps its students occupied with alcohol, drugs, and sex. Although the students are mostly under the 21-year-old drinking age in Maine, binge drinking by underage students is tolerated, making a mockery of the official college policy that that underage students are not supposed to drink. Bowdoin helpfully provides bowls of condoms in the student quarters and has many seminars and briefings that are supposedly aimed at preventing sexual coercion, but that are also instructional and encouraging when viewed in a different light. The students self report extensive use of marijuana. The extent of the alcohol and drug problem is illustrated by the fact that the college offers optional, substance-free living options for students who would prefer not to be around binge drinkers or potheads. Of course if the official policy on substances were not a joke, the substance-free option would be unnecessary.

History majors at Bowdoin are not required to take any course in American History. Yale professor David Gelernter in his book America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture suggested this:

Teaching American history, aside from a few marvelously evil incidents out of context, is dangerous to a basic tenet of the cultural revolution and must accordingly be stopped.

American history is threatening to those who want to rewrite the past and fundamentally change everything. It might subvert the America is evil paradigm.

Bowdoin is a political monoculture. Democrats outnumber Republicans among the faculty by more than 20-1 in humanities and social sciences. The students overwhelmingly voted for Obama.

Intellectuals have a long history of being seduced by pathological ideologies. In a previous generation it was communism and socialism. Now it is a weird amalgam of racial grievances, anti-capitalism, philosophical relativism, and radical environmentalism. It is pathetic that institutions that infect our best youth with this ideology are considered elite. Parents should not send their children to such places, the more so that the financial sacrifices are immense. The colleges have perfected techniques for extracting the maximum amount of money from each customer. Why undergo financial pain to have your kids inoculated with subversive ideas?

Norman Rogers is a retired computer entrepreneur. He often writes skeptically about global warming alarmism. He is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Heartland Institute and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars. He maintains a personal website.