“Call me Barry.”
“Call me Barry,” he said when I first introduced myself to President Mills in the summer of 2001. So much for the customary formality I had expected! Over the years, I found myself chatting not so randomly with Barry at basketball games, pondering the past problems and future prospects of study away programs (while eating a bag lunch on the quad), and then, along with Sree Padma and Karen Mills, spending eight days in Sri Lanka where, after he had equipped himself with some local knowledge, I observed him effectively endear the ISLE Program to administrators at the University of Peradeniya and to officials of the US embassy, including the American ambassador. Barry was always open to engaging in conversations concerning the life of the College in some of the most unlikely contexts. I once overheard some Bowdoin students talking about Barry: “He comes over here to eat lunch with us! He listens to our gripes! It’s pretty cool to know that the president of the college is so interested in us as individual students.”
When Bowdoin Magazine asked me to write a few words about President Mills and how he had impacted Bowdoin during his tenure, I immediately thought about these kinds of moments that so clearly reflected Barry‘s accessibility and his personal concern for all of us here at Bowdoin, his engaging and gregarious personality (which at times reminded me of the “Energizer Bunny”), the contagious enthusiasm of his “can-do” approach to complicated administrative problems, his capacity to listen empathetically and, perhaps most importantly, his ability to change his mind if he heard a cogent and convincing argument that, in the final analysis, could be rationalized in relation to “what’s good for Bowdoin”—all of these qualities were evident in the manner in which he encountered us and our problems while facing the relentless litany of questions, issues, and tasks that confront a Bowdoin president. The manner in which Barry Mills engaged the Bowdoin community and its programs left no doubt that the president’s office was unusually open for business. And that openness is probably why Barry was so well informed about so many aspects or dimensions of the college’s life. He was perpetually engaged, listening and responding in the best interests of the college.
But in addition to opening up the office of the president in an unprecedented manner, Barry also opened up the constituency of the student body in an unprecedented way too. During his first or second year at the helm, he announced at a faculty meeting that “Bowdoin was about to change fundamentally.” By that he meant that the student body would become much more open, more diverse, that Bowdoin was about to become more accessible to demographics that previously were not well represented on campus. Eventually, more than 30 percent of our students would be persons of color, and 45 percent would be on financial aid. Bowdoin, too, was becoming much more open than usual.
Barry’s openness benefited our institution. It’s now part of its ethos, forged in no small way as a reflection of Barry’s style of leadership: open and responsibly engaged.
—John Clifford Holt
William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies