In an exclusive interview with Ginni Thomas, National Association of Scholars President Peter Wood details how a disagreement over diversity at a small liberal arts college in Maine has brought campus groupthink into the public eye. Following a lengthy report on Bowdoin College’s lack of intellectual diversity, culture warriors on both sides are doing battle over the 219-year-old school. Here’s the Bowdoin story:
It’s been nearly three years since a golf game between a conservative philanthropist and a college president set off a high-profile disagreement over racial preferences and intellectual diversity on campus, but the fight over Bowdoin College continues to make news.
Tom Klingenstein, founder of the investment management firm Cohen, Klingenstein & Marks, and President Barry Mills of Bowdoin College, a liberal arts school in Brunswick, Maine, were hitting the links when they got into a disagreement about the future of liberal arts education and the college’s “diversity efforts” but it continues to make news.
What exactly happened on that golf course is a matter of some dispute — Mills, who accused Klingenstein of interrupting his backswing, won’t return phone calls from The Daily Caller — but what is not in contention is that Klingenstein and Mills disagreed about the state of modern academia, specifically “diversity efforts” or racial preferences.
Mills fired the first shot in a convocation address that focused, ironically enough, on Bowdoin’s lack of intellectual diversity in 2010 where he mentioned the golf game. But he did not mention Klingenstein by name, only stating that he was a conservative philanthropist who did not donate to his alma mater, Williams College.
Mills criticized the unnamed philanthropist for not giving money to his alma mater and to American higher education and quoted Klingenstein as saying, “I would never support Bowdoin or Williams (his alma mater) because of all your misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.”
Klingenstein took offense and, writing in the Claremont Review of Books, argued that Mills “by making me a racist (or at the very least a buffoon)…did just what he warned his audience against: he dismissed me.”
Klingenstein didn’t back down or cower to the false charge of racism. He replied by commissioning the first “full-fledged ethnography” of an American liberal arts college.
Eighteen months and hundreds of research hours later, the report What Does Bowdoin Teach examined Bowdoin’s commitment to intellectual diversity, its curriculum, and civic identity. The report found the prestigious Brunswick, Maine school lacking.
Authored by Peter Wood and Michael Toscano of the National Association of Scholars, the 360-page and 1157-footnote scholarly report has touched off a debate about higher education, with Bloomberg, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and Rush Limbaugh Show all weighing in.