October 4, 2002
To the Bowdoin College Community:
The College has initiated a planning process to focus our aspirations for Bowdoin. The purpose of this memorandum is to set forth, in a preliminary manner, the context for our deliberations and an outline of some key issues. It also suggests an organizational structure and a general timeline, with the understanding that this process will be dynamic with appropriate adjustments certain to arise as the planning group conducts its work.
I do not intend for Bowdoin to conduct the obligatory review of institutional mission that many colleges and universities feel compelled periodically to perform. Rather, it is genuinely important for us to consider – carefully and thoughtfully – the College's present strength and future excellence. In keeping with the rigorous nature of discussions at Bowdoin, I expect that this process will be focused and specific, characterized by strongly held and carefully considered opinions about the College. The result will be a portrait of Bowdoin's future along with specific courses of action for us to implement in the next few years.
I will chair a planning group that includes Craig McEwen, Wells Johnson, Sara Dickey, Mary Hunter, Katy Longley, Bill Torrey, Craig Bradley, James Miller and Donald Zuckert, chair of the Board of Trustees, along with student representative Jason Hafler 04, BAS representative Marianne Jordan, and SSAC representative Amy Donohue. Scott Meiklejohn and visiting ACE Fellow Stephanie Fabritius will work with the committee. Our mission is to set the preliminary agenda for consideration; evaluate the conclusions and recommendations of committees working on specific topics such as admissions, facilities and others; adopt recommendations for the campus and trustees to consider; and prepare a report summarizing these matters. The planning group held its first meeting two weeks ago and will come to some conclusions through the spring and fall of 2003.
Our efforts will be organized around a central question: how would increasing the size of the College from 1600 to 1850 students strengthen Bowdoin, and in what ways would such a change impose costs on the College and make it more difficult to achieve our goals? Discussions of size must focus on fulfilling the mission of the College and our goals for academic and intellectual life at Bowdoin. Because we are a residential college, we must also carefully consider the quality of student life and the impact of growth on one of Bowdoin's most valued principles - our sense of community. Our ability to enroll additional students of the quality we require also must be considered, with thorough analysis of demographic trends and Bowdoin's expanding national and international profile. The financial implications of growth are inescapable and will also be examined. We know from our most recent expansion that there are no important economies of scale. We are cognizant of the faculty and facility requirements of a larger student body, and we are acutely aware of the capital resources – measured by indicators such as endowment per student – that figure both in our financial health and institutional reputation.
As we enter a planning process organized around the question of growth, I have outlined to the planning group the reasons that I think growth might enhance the College. These thoughts are not meant to foreclose discussion but rather to initiate it. We should only invest our time and energy in this planning effort if there is a plausible case to be made for growth. These ideas are to be treated in some ways as a set of hypotheses to be tested rather than as a set of firm conclusions.
Based on our wonderful successes of the past, many have remarked that the College has made such progress and has such strength that we are now poised to move to the next level of excellence. We have made tremendous strides, and we should acknowledge that Bowdoin is one of America's preeminent liberal arts colleges, providing the highest quality education to students from across the country and world with a talented, engaged faculty. Simply stated, we at Bowdoin have much to be proud of and deserve the acclaimed reputation we currently enjoy. But we cannot be complacent and thus we should ask: what is the next level of excellence? Answering that question is the challenge to which we must now turn.
It is fundamental to our quest for excellence that we understand and endorse as a community the mission of our College. In addition, we should consider the principles upon which our academic program is based and whether the substance and organization of our curriculum fully supports these principles. This process is designed with the goal of allowing for a full debate and analysis of these vital elements of our College.
Some may wonder if now is the time to consider ambitious plans or change for the College, particularly because we are in economic times that may not allow us to achieve dramatic or even modest change at Bowdoin. Consideration of change in uncertain times quite naturally makes people uneasy or skeptical. However, we cannot let ourselves become absorbed with our daily challenges, missing the opportunity to keep Bowdoin moving forward. This is an important time for us to consider carefully our future.
It can take a good deal of time in a college community to implement change. It is important to consult, synthesize views, and achieve a consensus about priorities. Because our goals often require additional resources, we should anticipate additional time – after setting our course to undertake any fundraising required to realize our ambitions. In that regard, among our many strengths is a cadre of loyal and successful alumni, parents, and friends who sustain us every year and who can be counted on to share more generous support in better times so Bowdoin may reach its goals. We should spend the time we have today understanding what we need to strengthen the College further, educating and engaging loyal friends of Bowdoin with an eye towards a comprehensive campaign in the not too distant future.
It is important to me, and to the process, that faculty and staff, students and others contribute to our discussions of Bowdoin's future. We are designing a process that will invite your participation, and I will be in touch about that in the weeks ahead.