Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, is an institution of good reputation and high quality, where I have some friends. It offers a liberal arts education typical of the best available in America today. It troubles me that Bowdoin, rather than, say, Harvard—a bigger and richer place where I work—should be made an example of. Nonetheless, Peter Wood and Michael Toscano have done just that in a comprehensive new study, “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” the first of its kind and probably destined to be the best, which shows in the practices and principles of one college what political correctness in our time has done to higher education in our country.
The authors are conservatives and their study was sponsored by the National Association of Scholars, a conservative organization. (It is available as a free download at www.nas.org.) It seems that liberals, even those critical of American education, are not inclined to investigate what their liberalism has done to it. Once upon a time, earlier in my life, liberals took pride in the high standards they set for the colleges that they had recently come to dominate and had made the headquarters of their liberalism. Now, they have made an unholy sacrifice of the devotion to excellence they once prized as a mark of distinction over fuddy-duddy, tradition-bound conservatism, and it is conservatives who stand for high standards in education.
Today’s liberals do not use liberalism to achieve excellence, but abandon excellence to achieve liberalism. They have effectually eliminated conservatism from higher education and intimidated—“marginalized”—the few conservatives remaining. These few are the only ones in academia who think something is missing when conservatives are gone. There was a liberal president of Harvard for a brief time recently who thought something was missing when conservatives are gone, and then, courtesy of the liberals, he was gone.
The Bowdoin study was done without the cooperation of Bowdoin, relying on the public statements of its president and faculty, its official documents, and its student newspaper to show what the college is about. Perhaps too much is made of the statements of its president, Barry Mills, a good man as I happen to know. It pains me to see him criticized for affirming things he would have been ousted for denying, as the example of Harvard’s Larry Summers suggests would happen. Bowdoin, like other such colleges, is ruled by a certain principle today, the principle of openness. It claims to be “inclusive,” open to all claims, yet it does not include conservatives. The study counts perhaps a half dozen conservatives among the 182 faculty members. But according to Bowdoin, this absence doesn’t matter. One can be open-minded about conservatism without being conservative, the college believes, perhaps by being objective like a scientist, perhaps simply by doing one’s best to understand it. Of course, it’s true that the best understanding of conservatism doesn’t necessarily come from conservatives, nor from having conservatives present on campus. You need Hindus on campus in order to understand Hinduism? Actually, that is a multicultural imperative that liberals might well apply to Hindus, but will never use to bring in conservatives. Conservatives as opposed to Hindus are the main rivals of—opponents to—liberals in America today, yet somehow it is considered openness not to include those with whom you mainly disagree. This study uses strong words at the end, but only after supplying evidence and argument on the way to its conclusions. It begins with a question: is Bowdoin as open as it claims to be?