Campus News

Town Council Talk delivered by
President Robert H. Edwards
March 1, 1999

Story posted March 01, 1999

Town Council Talk March 1, 1999

Chairman McCausland and members of the Council. It's a great pleasure to make this fifth annual appearance before the Council to talk about the state of the College.

This year it is impossible to talk about Bowdoin without talking about Brunswick, because so much of what has been achieved has been important to both town and college. These achievements have been the result of cooperation between us the close working relationships established between my colleagues and able members of the Planning Department, the Planning Board and this Council.

I'd start with buildings. As we've discussed before, Bowdoin is in the midst of a $100 million building program, which has given us an opportunity both to test and to build confidence and trust with our neighbors and the Town. This past year, I think, has seen the beginning of a three cornered genuinely triangular relationship that presages tremendous benefits for us all. The three parts are, first, the formal planning and official structure of the Town that has responsibility for Brunswick's rational development and growth; second, the College, which is responsible to its Board and future generations of students for carrying out its own processes of planning and development; and importantly, third, the volunteer citizenry of the Town, who themselves take a generous interest in both town and college. Most of us, in fact, sit on at least two of these three points of interest and responsibility.

This year, a couple of examples suggest how well these three different optics can develop a common focus, when clarity about goals and a process of communication and discussion exist.

First is the planning and development of Maine Street and its neighboring downtown areas. If ever there were a common interest, this is it! And the planners have wisely seized first the issues that unite and don't divide. The renovation, cleaning up, rationalizing, tree planting, and mall restoration of the principal avenue of the town are essential to the face we give the world, be it future residents, investors, or parents and future students. Maine Street sets the standard for Fort Andross south. Not least, we all believe that the tide of black topping and "mallification" of America is beginning to reverse, as people yearn for personal ties, streetscapes and complex, interesting environments that are organic not artificial. It's interesting to note that created towns in Florida like Celebration and Seaside are reinventing Brunswick!

In this domain, the Planning Office, the volunteer In Town Group, and the College have worked well together. Our interests are not identical, but they substantially overlap. One result of our cooperation is the new Union Street building whose construction will begin this month. This is a carefully planned structure on what was Town land. It will meet urgent College program needs, will contribute architecturally to a neighborhood degraded by a weedy vacant lot, will mitigate for other neighbors and the College a troubling College parking problem, and will also contribute to the Town's plan for the railway station. We hope in the interim, while a fuller use is planned, that the Town will cause this Maine Street frontage to become a pleasant grassy space!

Bowdoin has been very glad to play a financial part in the citizens In Town Group that is raising volunteer funds to match to the Town's contribution to this Maine Street development project. We have no hesitation in using College resources for this purpose, because this approach to the College is so important to students and their families, and its lighting and crosswalks can literally be matters of life and death for our students.

One aspect of the upper Maine Street long range plan, currently unfunded, that I hope will soon receive attention is the traffic pattern around First Parish Church. When the Memorial Hall Theater project is completed, about a year from now, Bowdoin and Brunswick will have a wonderfully fresh interface at the northwest corner of the campus, just by the First Parish Church. I've seen one plan that would clarify and rationalize the transitions from mall, to church, to college, and make a nice approach for theater drop-offs and for theater goers to walk from downtown restaurants to the campus. It would convert a growing traffic choke point to a town focal point. We would love to help progress be made here too.

Other collaborations lie ahead: to "blue sky," the Council has wisely made fresh recreational space a major town goal. We can imagine two opportunities for collaboration in future years:

We both need access to more playing fields. Could we not join together to induce the Navy to return some of its unneeded acres to us, Town and College those nearest Brunswick neighborhoods and College, so we could develop playing fields and open spaces? And then the Merrymeeting Boat Club and Bowdoin both need better facilities and access to good water for our rowing programs. Maybe, with the roaring success of the walking path, we could imagine down near Water Street on the River a tripartite development of a boat house and floats: the College, the Boat Club, and, in the summer, a Recreation Department sponsored Town rowing program for Brunswick's young people in which our students help coach.

These possibilities despite the financial constraints under which we all labor are genuinely arresting.

Closer to home and the College, the Town, this past year has been very understanding and helpful in the zoning domain, as we have begun conversion of the fraternities to College supervised student houses. We remain extremely optimistic about this program, which will phase out fraternities by the year 2000, but we needed your approval to continue to have students occupy the renovated fraternity structures. I'd mention that the new residence halls that abut South Street and a renovated Psi Upsilon fraternity that distinguished John Calvin Stevens building will be completed by late summer, and the Trustees, this past weekend, approved construction of the expanded dining hall along South Street that the Planning Board approved last week.

This new residential and social program for students, as you know, is designed to give all Bowdoin students a life beyond the classroom that is interesting, varied, enjoyable and responsible. Bowdoin is replacing fraternities and taking more direct College responsibility, for residential and social life. Unfortunately, despite the laws of Maine, the policies of the College, a system of College run party permits and supervision, education programs and disciplinary actions, underage students will still find ways to drink and over drink. When this happens, our joint instinct, and all our systems, aim at saving life, not worrying about liability or discipline. As the College works to prevent and mitigate in our college domain this great social ill of drunkenness, we rely heavily, not just upon our own deans and security department, but upon Brunswick's trained rescue service and police. They have helped us save lives. So have Parkview and Midcoast hospitals, for whose development we also feel responsibility and to which we are making capital contributions. We are grateful to them all.

Now a word briefly about the state of the College. The Trustees this weekend approved a balanced budget our seventh consecutive of $75 million. It was the toughest balancing act we've known since the grim years of the early 90s. The comprehensive fee increased 4.3 percent; the financial aid budget by 5.7 percent, enabling us to admit the incoming class "need blind" that is, regardless of the accepted students' ability to pay Bowdoin's full fee. We have received just under 4000 applications for 450 first year slots and 33 National Merit Scholars have listed Bowdoin as their first choice. The pool of candidates this year for faculty positions has been especially talented, and we've been successful in attracting 10 of 11 first choices. Needless to say, every candidate asks about the town, its life and, more often than not, the quality of the schools!

This leads me to a final word about our greatest point of cooperation, the College's sharing of its human resources with the town. I spent some years in Minnesota in the 1980s, where the city of Minneapolis is acutely aware that, if you have a good city, you'll attract good managers and talented people to the industries and high level services in and around it. They spend a lot of time and money on the symphony, the museums, the zoo and the library. The University of Minnesota in St. Paul is part of the draw.

This is the most important collaboration I see in future years. Bowdoin's Museum of Art, its Arctic Museum, and the Maine State Theater all attract the right kind of tourists, but also the right kind of residents. And as long as the College stays vigorous, we attract the faculty and staff and students who also help underpin the volunteer structure of our town. I sent each member of the Council a copy of Bowdoin Magazine which takes as its theme "community," the point of interaction far more important than any physical plans we collaborate on: the interplay of our people. I asked for a list the other day of the volunteer organizations on which Bowdoin students, faculty and staff serve fire departments, churches, political action groups, planning bodies, athletic organizations, business and service clubs, social service organizations, arts organizations, environmental groups, and libraries and I was happy to see the list ran for several pages. It is not just that Bowdoin people help these organizations; it is that we are able to attract people to Bowdoin because we can describe Brunswick as a healthy, active civic-minded town.

We're in a pretty good time at the moment: revenues aren't bad for governments federal, state or municipal or for colleges. But we'll have our downs too. All the better that we're forming these great habits of cooperation for the hard times when they'll really be needed!

Thank you for receiving me. One final point- an invitation to a gift from the College. A wonderful string quartet, the Da Ponte, resident in Maine but increasingly recognized nationally and internationally, will be playing in Kresge Auditorium on Sunday, March 7 at 3:00 p.m. Admission is free and I cordially invite the public, to the limit of the Fire Marshall's tolerance!

Thank you. I'm not sure Mr. Chairman, if you would like to ask any questions.

« Back | Campus News | Academic Spotlight | | Subscribe to Bowdoin News by Email