Campus News

Convocation 2006 Welcome: President Barry Mills

Story posted August 30, 2006

President Barry Mills

Good afternoon. It is my honor to preside at the official opening of the 205th academic year of Bowdoin College. Today, I am very pleased to welcome our faculty, staff, students, and friends to this traditional ceremony, and to offer a special welcome to the members of the Class of 2010. We are delighted that so many members of our impressive first-year class have come to celebrate with us. We know you will make important and lasting contributions to this great College over the next four years and beyond.

It has become my practice to use the occasion of the welcome at both Convocation and at Baccalaureate to speak to issues facing the College that are especially important. At Baccalaureate in 2005, I spoke about academic freedom in the context of Bowdoin College. At last spring's Baccalaureate, I spoke about the environmental initiatives we had implemented and are implementing at the College in support of our environment here on campus and beyond.

Last year at this time, searches were underway for important campus leaders, and as it turned out, one more search — for a new dean of student affairs — than we had anticipated.

And so at Convocation last year I spoke about leadership — not only in terms of the important positions we were seeking to fill, but how each and every one of us, including every member of the faculty, should consider our roles as institutional leaders on this campus.

Our searches concluded very well, and I am pleased to welcome several new leaders to Bowdoin. Bill Shain — our new dean of admissions and financial aid — is with us after having served for eight years as dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University, and before that for 17 years as dean at Macalaster College. We are pleased to welcome Bill to Bowdoin. He understands well Bowdoin's mission to bring to our campus talented, engaged students from across America and the world who will contribute to the intellectual and residential community at Bowdoin in important ways.

I am also delighted to welcome Tim Foster to the role of dean of student affairs. Tim is well known to us all, having been at Bowdoin in the dean's office for ten years. But in a very short time I have learned to appreciate and admire Tim in a whole new light as an inspired, sensitive, thoughtful, ambitious, creative dean who will be a joy for us all to work with. Tim will be an inspiration for our students. And he will push us ahead as we constantly strive to enhance the residential life and community here at the College.

And we welcome Cristle Collins Judd to Bowdoin as a professor in the music department and as our dean for academic affairs. Cristle is our keynote speaker today, so I will have more to say about her in a while.

As we begin this academic year, we find ourselves surrounded once again by bulldozers, pick-up trucks, and construction workers. I would like to take some time today to talk about the progress of our projects, what we can expect this year, and most importantly, a context for Bowdoin to think about the investment that we're making in capital projects around the campus.

First, the progress on our projects. The Walker Art Building renovation continues on schedule and on budget. The renovation of the building is complicated and, in some cases, presents remarkably unique challenges to our architects and contractors. The lower level shoring and excavation work is completed, and a tour of the building in its current condition would allow you to see the new and renovated spaces as they will be configured. The excavation work on the lower level will result in much more useable gallery space. The art storage space is impressive. The glass pavilion, currently represented by the dinosaur-like structure between Walker and Gibson, will take shape this fall. It will be a glass and bronze structure as set forth in the renderings — designed to be a delicate and sensitive addition to the quadrangle. Most of the exterior work on the museum will be completed by late fall, with the remainder of the project completed by March 2007. A grand re-opening is scheduled for October 2007, since it takes a good deal of time to put the museum back together.

Another exciting project — our new recital hall — is also well under way. Concrete for the stage has been poured, and the structure of the hall is taking shape inside. This has also been a complicated project requiring removal of the old pool and a complete shoring up of the exterior walls that had been held up and made stable by the pool itself. Nine new practice rooms are also in the works to be located in the connector between the recital hall and Sargent Gymnasium. We have been assured that the acoustics in the building will be world class. The recital hall is also on time and on budget and will open in March 2007.

The renovation of our historic brick residence halls is going well. With the remarkably thoughtful renovation design of Boston architect Ku Sung Woo, Hyde and Appleton are now occupied by students in fully renovated condition. Coleman and Moore should be completed around Thanksgiving, and Maine and Winthrop will be completed in the spring. There will be some musical chairs taking place around Thanksgiving as the students living in Maine and Winthrop move to newly renovated Moore and Coleman.

The repair work at Druckenmiller to install much needed humidity and climate control is also on schedule, and we are uncovering and repairing the problems at Searles relating to roof leaks and moisture infiltration. In one case (Druckenmiller), we have a necessary upgrade of a building; in the other (Searles) regrettably, a necessary set of unanticipated and expensive repairs.

In addition to these building renovations and repairs, we have also done some work this summer to enhance the green space on our campus. This work is nearly completed. The area around the polar bear in front of Sargent Gym has been redesigned and landscaped to restore the green space. Next summer, many trees will be planted in the area to complete the design.

The area in front of the library is also being restored in accordance with the plans of campus landscape architect, Carol Johnson. This work is being completed in part because of the unsafe condition of the granite pavers that were in front of the library, and to repair the roof beneath the pavers that sits atop the underground space in the library. As we commence our 205th academic year, it has certainly occurred to me that barricades in front of the entrance to the library don't exactly convey the correct message or image, particularly as our faculty and students renew the intellectual life of our campus. But I am pleased to report that this work will be completed over the next two weeks and a restored and inviting library entrance will soon be available for us all. So there will be no excuses!

I can also assure you that our campus will be more tranquil this time next year as the construction projects on the main campus are completed.

These projects represent a remarkable amount of work improving our campus being led by Katy Longley, Don Borkowski, Ted Stam, and our facilities group. In all of these projects, faculty, students, and staff from around the campus have been intimately involved in design, planning and implementation. All are doing a fantastic job on these projects, and all, particularly our facilities staff, deserve our thanks and respect and our patience.

So, what is all this work about? Why is it happening? Some observers, frankly, are convinced these improvements represent nothing more than Bowdoin being caught up in an "arm's race," seeking to impress alumni and applicants and to convince us all that Bowdoin glitters as much as other colleges and universities. And when you add the costs of attendance from a student's perspective, as well as the costs of operating the College, some might say these improvements are taking place at the expense of other important initiatives and without regard to the burden that college places on families of students attending the college. In truth, we are well aware of the costs and the choices we make when we embark on projects such as these, and I am confident that the financial burden we assume to make these improvements is at a prudent level consistent with our financial condition and in support of our core mission. This work isn't about keeping up with the competition. It is squarely about what is right and necessary for Bowdoin.

We are truly blessed with a campus of unique architectural beauty and historic significance. As President Greason wrote in the prologue of The Architecture of Bowdoin College:

"...To walk through the Bowdoin campus is to walk through the history of American architecture. The Federal period, the Greek Revival, the Gothic Revival, the Victorian and the modern — all are to be found here. Each age has left its imprint, and today the buildings of Bowdoin stand as a record of the changing tastes of our forebears. The student, who President Hyde hoped would learn 'to count Art an intimate friend,' lives daily with that opportunity. This very campus is a part of a liberal arts experience at Bowdoin."

And in the same book, our former Museum of Art Director Katharine Watson and Earle Shettleworth, the director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, wrote:

"...The campus of Bowdoin College, especially the central quadrangle, is one of the most beautiful in America. That beauty has evolved from an interweaving of natural site, and architecture with tradition. But the splendor of the architecture remains largely unsung, so familiar are the buildings to those who use them. They have served most often as a quiet backdrop to the human events of the College's history."

We are the stewards of a remarkably important place, and much of what we do today is in recognition of our responsibility to preserve, maintain, and enhance this important campus that serves in so many respects as the binding force that keeps generations of Bowdoin people connected passionately to this College.

But there is a second and more important motivation behind all of this work. This motivation is linked inextricably to our core mission: our academic program. Proper facilities are essential to the strength of our academic program, an academic program that is based on the liberal arts tradition.

Let's step back for a moment and think about the major projects we have underway and what they mean for this College. As we considered the renovation of the Walker Art Building, the very first priority given to our architects was to improve this facility so that it can serve its mission: the education of our students and our community. Our museum is an outstanding resource for the public, and it will be even more so after the renovation, but it is first and foremost a teaching museum for our students. The design of the classroom in the building, the building's art storage spaces, and in many respects the gallery space, are all designed to enhance our academic program here at the College.

The groups working on the concept for the re-opening of the museum are focused on education and how our museum will enhance the intellectual life of our community — students, faculty, staff, neighbors, and alumni are working on these plans. Planning is already in the works for a re-opening that involves academic departments and programs such as art history, studio art, and classics. Exhibitions are being envisioned to demonstrate our commitment to our students' work. We will focus on the architecture of Bowdoin and the re-opening to celebrate that architecture. In the future, it is my expectation that other departments and programs throughout the campus will work with our museum director and curator to devise program and exhibitions that connect directly with the academic life of this College. In many respects, one should view this museum as a laboratory for interdisciplinary collaboration.

The new recital hall is another space focused on the academic mission of this College. Our new recital hall will be a place for performance, it will be a place for the appreciation of music, but it will also support our mission of educating our community in the ways that artists think about their discipline. Many of our most talented students are dedicated musicians, and this space and the associated practice rooms will underscore for these students that Bowdoin is a place for them to grow intellectually.

Even the first-year residence halls have been renovated in a fashion linked to the intellectual life of our campus. We have heard much in recent years about the trend of our students to study in groups. Group study rooms have been added to Hawthorne-Longfellow Library in our recent renovation. But it is clear that it is important to locate these study rooms in other places on campus, particularly in our residence halls. In support of our academic mission, we often focus on how to translate the academic life of the college into the residential life experience of our students. The design of these facilities contributes to these efforts.

And so we are blessed with a historic campus and we have the responsibility to preserve and enhance it. We also have a vibrant and ambitious academic program that demands facilities to support it. Both are uniquely focused on Bowdoin and what is right for this College and its future.

Each of you may have other projects in mind that are of vital importance to the College. As we consider the addition of new faculty, we must address the issue of faculty space. And there is a long list of projects that would further enhance our community — a new arctic museum, for example. We will move forward with these projects as expeditiously as possible, consistent with maintaining the financial strength of this College.

Finally, all this talk about buildings could lead one to conclude that construction and renovation are our primary aims. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me remind you that a major event this year will be the public announcement of our capital campaign — a campaign that is not focused on buildings, but remains sharply focused on program. It is a campaign about financial aid for our students, enhancing our academic program through the addition of faculty, adding more support for faculty scholarship, and supporting the residential life of the College. Much more will be said this year about the campaign, which is proceeding splendidly toward its public phase.

And, so we begin a new year with resolute commitment to our core mission: educating our students in the liberal arts tradition, promoting and supporting the intellectual life of our faculty, providing a secure and rewarding place for our staff, and all of this with a focus on the common good for our college, our community, and the world.

I now declare the College to be in session. May it be a year of peace, health, successes, and inspiration for us all, and a recommitment to our most important tradition — teaching and learning together.

Thank you.

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