Remarks by President Robert Edwards delivered at the Brunswick Town Council
March 4, 1996
Story posted March 04, 1996
Chairman McCausland, Members of the Council:
I'm very grateful to you for your invitation to appear again before the Brunswick Town Council, following my visit just a year ago.
As was the case last year, I've come to report on the health of Bowdoin College, one of Brunswick, and Maine's, major economic enterprises -- one that has enjoyed a relationship of trust and regard with Brunswick for more than 200 years. I'm sure that no other enterprise -- not even the U.S. Navy or the Bath Iron Works -- goes back that far! But the antecedents of this Council and my predecessor stood together under the Pines of Brunswick two centuries ago and jointly undertook to establish the great adventure that has grown and prospered into today's Bowdoin. I'm very pleased to be able to say this evening before the Council that I believe we are a substantially stronger college even than I was able to report last year.
This evening I have the pleasure of reporting on an endeavor that was in its early stages a year ago -- one that was fraught at that time with both promise and peril. Bowdoin after three years of careful planning had determined that, to be competitive with other colleges -- notably those in Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania with whom we compete for the best students and faculty -- we had both to grow in size and to improve and modernize the character of our educational services. On the service side we were being driven by changes in the natural sciences -- biology and chemistry -- and by electronic technology -- computers and the Internet -- and by the imperative of strengthening the quality of our student residential life. On the matter of size , we simply would be unable to afford the faculty and staff required to meet these service goals unless we increased our revenues by expanding the size of our student body. Our plan called for an increase of 10 percent -- 150 students -- over four years, bringing the College from an enrollment of 1,400 to 1,550.
Both of these drivers -- to improve our quality and to increase our size -- required an expansion and modernization of our physical plant. We envisaged projects totalling just under $30 million: a $20.5 million expansion and renovation of our science complex; a $5 million construction of two new residence halls; and a $4 million renovation for one of our major dining facilities. We were acutely aware that Bowdoin and Brunswick are tightly intertwined and that our expansion would intrude the College into the Town in various ways, and so we began to discuss these projects with our neighbors even before we were exactly sure where the new buildings were going to go. I am happy to say that our neighbors were equally sensitive to the fact that the College could not stand still -- that carefully planned growth is necessary if we are to meet our competition and remain a vital institution in the years ahead.
Therefore, the first matter I have to report is that, thanks to our neighbors and to the cooperative efforts of the Town Manager, the Town Planner, the Codes Enforcement Officer and the Planning Board, we have been able to solve the issues of siting, height, setbacks, parking and other issues of mutual concern. All three construction projects are underway.
In fact, the Moulton Union -- our dining facility -- was completed in three months last summer, and is now in full use. The residence halls are on a fast track and will be ready to open this fall, housing 100 students, and keeping the College's expansion plan on schedule. Finally, we have in the last weeks broken ground for the new science building, which will move biology, chemistry and geology into new, modern laboratories and classrooms -- at last removing our Department of Biology from Searles Hall, which proudly opened exactly 100 years ago. The new building will open in the Fall of 1997.
If not immediately, then in the century ahead, the College will continue to require room for expansion and modernization. We've been holding discussions with neighbors and Town officials about Bowdoin's needs, and based on these discussions we will soon ask you to help us by establishing new College-Use Zones, in areas that are already currently and predominantly used for College purposes. In establishing these new Zones, you would enhance our ability to plan for the College's future growth by giving us a clear understanding of our zoning obligations and what we will need to do to meet them. These changes require open and detailed discussions with our neighbors, which are in progress. Our hope is that, building on this last year's collaboration, we will be able to meet their concerns about these zoning changes and other matters of mutual interest.
I'm glad to say that the citizens of Brunswick and the surrounding area will be benefitting from a number of our program and building upgrades. I'm sure you are already generally aware that over 20,000 visitors and nearly 200 school visits a year enjoy the Bowdoin Art Museum and that another 15,000 visitors go to the Arctic Museum. Guest borrowers have for years checked out thousands of items from the Library -- some 6,000 last year -- while high school students and their teachers check out over 1,000 items a year, often in connection with advanced placement courses. But the growing sophistication of our electronic library connections will broaden these borrowers' access to the other colleges of Maine and university libraries around the country -- and the world. We shall also in the years ahead be upgrading the Pickard Theater, which the houses the Summer Maine Theater. Along with other programs of the College, the Summer Theater and the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival attract over 200,000 visitors a year to this region, to local restaurants, stores and hotels.
If I might, I'd share briefly with the Council an experience I had a couple of months ago, because it places these and future improvements at Bowdoin in a wider context -- one that is having a powerful impact on all our lives. In January my wife and I spent three weeks in Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan, visiting alumni and parents of Bowdoin students, and identifying schools and universities that could be future collaborators with the College. The vitality of those countries, and the investments they are making in infrastructure -- telecommunications, roads, airports and seaports -- are absolutely astonishing. But contrary to some, I returned heartened: we have in this country a stable, democratic, free political system which allows human imagination to flourish as nowhere else in the world. We could throw away our advantages if we fragment as a people or fail to invest in physical plant, research, and our education system. Jobs would then migrate to the countries that have more inventive, hard-working citizenries. But I do not believe, for all our challenges, that this is a prospect in this country.
But let me give an example of the challenge we face. We visited an amazing new university, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which is almost a precise clone of MIT, created by the authorities of Hong Kong who see clearly that the intellectual power of universities will be a crucial ingredient of the region's future economic success and job creation. On this theory, they had put 600 million U.S. dollars into their new institution. But the great question hanging over this marvelous new physical structure is whether China, which assumes control of Hong Kong in 1997, will allow the University the intellectual freedom a great university must be able to give students and faculty if they are to do world-class thinking and research. It is not clear that China has the political self- confidence to do so now, but the long term potential is clearly there for scientific and technological excellence.
This global context is the one in which I present Bowdoin College to you this year. For even here in Brunswick we are challenged to meet increasingly sharp national and even international competition. It may not be immediately obvious, but Bowdoin is a major Maine export industry. Over 85 percent of our students come from outside Maine. We compete head-to-head with excellent colleges around America -- and even the world -- for these students, who bring $34 million a year in tuition and fees to Brunswick. These dollars convert into local salaries and purchases. So we have to go on getting better, not least because we are now also seeking to attract some of the best young people of East Asia to the College as students.
Second, we at Bowdoin see ourselves in the same frame in which the Hong Kong authorities see their new university. We believe our first charge as a college is to educate our own undergraduates excellently, but we believe one of our duties is also to make their energies and our faculty's talent available to the public school system of Brunswick and beyond. Many of our students volunteer to tutor, help as teachers' aids, and work one-on-one in reading and English language instruction in the schools. More systemically related to the schools, I'm especially proud that Bowdoin faculty teamed up with people in Brunswick to obtain a $900,000 grant from National Science Foundation to link 14 of the area's schools and two public libraries to the Internet and the unlimited resources of the world wide web through the Bowdoin computer system. Bowdoin faculty and staff helped the Town make decisions on technology, cable carrier, and hardware purchases in this vital, fast-changing area of information technology for the schools. We trained over 100 teachers last summer in the uses of the Internet, and Brunswick students have now begun to conduct projects with other students over the Internet around Maine and the country.
I'm sure, Chairman McCausland and members of the Council, that you are generally aware of the close relations Bowdoin has had with the Town for many years, and the fact that the College has been able both to pay over $44,000 in taxes and $87,000 in voluntary payments a year in recent years, excluding the $65,000 paid by fraternities in real estate taxes. But in the future I believe it will be these educational links between Bowdoin and Brunswick and Topsham that will become increasingly important. I sometimes think that, just as municipalities in the past used to provide water, sanitation and telephone connections to create a healthy, effective community, municipalities may in the years ahead need a new "public utility" -- one that helps a town and its schools stay abreast of new communications and educational technology and help select among the bewildering, shifting array of technologies and their salesmen. The right decision on these technologies will be essential to the vitality of our schools and the work force that they produce. In this endeavor, public utility or no, collaboration between citizens, business and Bowdoin scientists and technologists will, I think, be a vital community asset.
In closing, I fear I must sound a somewhat somber note. As you may know, there is State legislation pending in several states of the Union that would authorize municipalities to tax charitable entities such as colleges, by charging them "service fees" based on their student revenues or on the valuation of their buildings and property. Although colleges and hospitals must understand and be sympathetic to the needs of hard-pressed municipalities, I personally hope that the legislature of Maine, if it is tempted to pass such legislation, will recognize that there are far better ways for a town to derive benefit from a college. It would not seem sound public policy for the State to authorize a tax on the science laboratories and services of a college that make it both competitive with institutions in other states and an effective contributor to its surrounding community.
My particular hope is that Brunswick and Bowdoin will be creative and vigorous in setting the example for the country of a real collaboration for the future. I devoutly wish, personally, to continue to build on these vigorous, warm connections that my predecessors helped establish.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, may I congratulate you and wish you a serene cruise as you guide this Council forward. They say that the lot of a college president is to inhabit a world which is wall-to-wall toes waiting to be trod upon! I suspect and fear that that is also true for the Chair of the Town Council, but I wish you all also the compensatory joys that I experience in my job.
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