“Know the facts. Facts matter.”
You never knew where President Mills would turn up on campus. He has a penchant for quietly sliding into meetings unannounced, silently observing the proceedings until finding just the right moment to interject. On one particularly memorable morning in the final weeks of my senior year, I dragged myself to a trustee committee meeting, on which I served as student representative, just hours after having sent the joke issue of the Orient to the printer. I was groggy, late, and visibly petrified of the response our crudest, admittedly ill-conceived newspaper would garner. It had been a tumultuous year for the College: the conservative National Association of Scholars had unleashed a dubious attack against Bowdoin specifically and the liberal arts generally; students and administrators clashed loudly and publicly over divestment from fossil fuels; hazing incidents unsettled campus organizations. The joke issue covered it all, and President Mills figured prominently.
There were a few open seats around the table, but when President Mills glided in about half way through the session, he picked the one right next to me, grabbed a nearby copy of the paper, and, eyebrows raised, started flipping through it. “And how are you today?” he whispered, looking up at my increasingly reddening face with a bemused smile.
It was in this mode of friendly combativeness that we interacted, and I like to think it served us both well. I like to think this served us both well. Barry expected fair and thorough reporting from the Orient, and his high expectations pushed us to be better. “When I picture Barry, he's standing off to the side, head bowed, hands in pockets, listening,” one close friend from the paper told me, recalling a campus debate on divestment in which Mills did just that, before sparring with the faculty and student attendees. “President Mills off to the side, head down, hands in pockets, listening,” he had tweeted, followed by “Head up, jumps in. ‘Know the facts. Facts matter.’”
I tend to picture Barry striding across the Quad by himself on a gray morning, or swaying back and forth on the black rocking chair in his office, or eating at Thorne during his weekly office hours, waiting patiently for students. He always showed up, listened attentively, gamed out career moves, course choices, internships, futures. He liked to question and debate with students, and usually he was right.
—Linda Kinstler ’13
Contributing editor, Politico
Former Bowdoin Orient editor