As an academic and parent, I read with concern about the president of Bowdoin College and the would-be donor with whom he recently skirmished. Apparently, a friendly golf outing turned sour as philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein expressed his disapproval of the culture of political correctness at Bowdoin that he finds crowds out any geniune “celebration of our common American identity.”
President Barry Mills took Klingenstein to task (anonymously) in his commencement speech, insinuating, according to Klingenstein, that he was racist for raising this concern. Klingenstein was not pleased and commissioned an in-depth report from the National Association of Scholars to assess PC at Bowdoin.
The facts that emerged were well summarized by David Feith in a WSJ article the other day.
[Bowdoin] has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.
One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Queer Gardens” (which “examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces”), “Sexual Life of Colonialism” and “Modern Western Prostitutes.”
In addition, the report found that only 5 out of 182 full-time faculty members are not politically liberal, and that 100% of faculty donations in 2012 went to Obama.
Whatever your political leanings, it must be asked what sort of marketplace of ideas could possibly exist in such an environment, which is not, by the way, unique to Bowdoin. Even if you find conservative ideas wholly repulsive–and for an independent like myself, there is much to criticize in both the conservative and liberal camps–it simply cannot be good to shut down conversation like this.
More to the point, as a parent, I will not shell out tens of thousands of dollars for my kids to study trendy topics with a pedigree stretching back only to the 1960’s and then graduate ignorant of the 2,000+ years of Western ideas and history that underlie our culture. And, by the way, by what right are Western ideas critiqued by those who have never studied or understood them?
In selecting the schools to which our children will apply for their liberal arts higher education, we would all do very well to look more closely at each school’s actual academics–as opposed to being charmed by prestigious names, great social scenes, or fancy sports programs. How your child learns, i.e., in what sort of intellectual climate, will affect how truly liberal, open-minded, and independent-thinking he or she will have the opportunity to become.