January 13, 2004
Dear Bowdoin Parents,
Happy New Year from Brunswick! I hope that you and your daughters and sons are enjoying this time together between semesters. Campus is predictably quiet at the moment — although over the course of the break we will have about 350 students here working on honors projects and participating in athletics.
We are looking forward to welcoming everyone back with enthusiasm for the start of the Spring semester in just a few weeks. But before we're off and running again, I thought this would be a good time to be in touch to review some of the accomplishments and high points of the semester recently concluded, and to write candidly about two areas of concern, particularly a certain ethical and legal matter, and the issue of student health and well-being during times of high stress and in a society that seems to place more and more emphasis on narrow definitions of success.
More on these later on. First, I want you to know of the great pride that I and my faculty and staff colleagues continue to take in the young men and women you have sent to Bowdoin. I'm proud to be the president of their college and to have the daily opportunity to speak with them about their ideas and concerns, and to share their energy and enthusiasm for education and for Bowdoin.
I also continue to be impressed by our faculty, who continue to work closely with our students and who understand and take very seriously their responsibilities as scholars and teachers. The emphasis here on small classes, on independent study and on one-on-one mentoring and instruction is a hallmark of Bowdoin that we continue to emphasize and encourage. At the same time, it is important that you know about the high levels of scholarly and artistic work being done by our faculty. This past semester, we took steps to more actively publicize these accomplishments by launching a new Web page dedicated to showcasing faculty research, scholarly activity, and artistic endeavors. If you've not yet had an opportunity to review the site, I would invite you to do so at: http://academic.bowdoin.edu/academics/news/. Previous postings to the site are also available from this Web page.
I also invite you to periodically visit Bowdoin's news gateway page on the Web at: http://sun.bowdoin.edu/sun/ for a sense of the activities, sporting events, exhibitions, and performances taking place on campus, and for news about the College — news like the announcement this past fall that Bowdoin's Government and Legal Studies Department was named the top small college political science department in the world in a study conducted at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is always gratifying to see the outside world recognizing what we already know to be true!
Further confirmation of academic excellence and distinction came to the College in December with the news that Bowdoin senior James M. Wilkins of Medina, Ohio, is one of only 44 students nationwide to earn a prestigious Marshall Scholarship to study at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Following graduation in May, James will begin a two-year program toward a Master of Science research degree at Oxford, conducting genetic research on osteoarthritis while working with Dr. John Loughlin. His future plans include the pursuit of a combined M.D./Ph.D. degree, focusing his doctoral research on genetic studies of musculoskeletal diseases, and leading to a residency in orthopedic surgery. James — who is also an accomplished track athlete at Bowdoin — graciously credits members of the Bowdoin faculty, including Professor of Chemistry David Page, Professor of Biology William Steinhart, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Rick Broene, along with Biology Laboratory Instructor Kate Farnham with encouraging him along his way and for helping him to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for his laudable success. Not everyone can win a Marshall Scholarship, but I know that the instruction, guidance and care experienced by James Wilkins is available to every student at Bowdoin through a talented and fully engaged faculty.
Not all of our successes were in the classroom this past fall. We saw great excitement on the playing fields, in our theaters, and performance spaces. Our women's basketball team — which at this writing remains undefeated and nationally ranked - was placed on the 2002-03 Academic Honor Roll by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association — an honor shared by only 25 colleges in the country. There was also terrific publicity for Bowdoin this fall as "Outside" magazine ranked Bowdoin and Brunswick as among the nation's "40 Best College Towns," and "The Wall Street Journal" named Bowdoin as one of the top "feeder colleges" for the nation's elite business, medical, and law schools. We even hosted HBO Films and its cast of Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ed Harris, Robin Wright Penn, and others at our Breckinridge Public Affairs Center as they filmed scenes for the film adaptation of Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Empire Falls," to be released on HBO next winter.
Financially, we have made steady progress in dealing with the difficult economic conditions that have faced the College and each of us during the past two years. There has been a great deal of belt-tightening and work here focused on ensuring our ability to meet core priorities, including financial aid for students, competitive salaries for members of the faculty, and full support for the academic program. I am very optimistic about the College's finances, bolstered by the generous support of parents, alumni, and other donors, and by the very impressive relative and real returns on Bowdoin's endowment. According to Cambridge Associates, a firm that tracks the performance of endowment funds nationwide, Bowdoin's investment returns placed it third among 158 college and university endowments and tenth among all endowed institutions for the fiscal year that ended July 30, 2003. As I said publicly at the time, strong returns like these send an important message to those who support the College because they show donors that the College is serious about and successful in preserving and building its assets for today and into the future. We are fortunate to have sophisticated fund managers, skilled professional staff, and strong trustee leaders working together on Bowdoin's behalf, and I remain hopeful that we can sustain this success into the future.
While a strong endowment relieves some pressure on the College's operating budget and permits us to minimize increases in tuition and fees, I want to state candidly that our comprehensive fee will almost certainly increase next year. Our costs — particularly in the areas of employee benefits, utilities, and maintenance — continue to rise. Measures to control costs have been put in place and we continue to look for efficiencies, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that the very deliberate decisions used to set our budgets will relieve us of the necessity for an increased comprehensive fee next year. It is important to remember that our stated tuition and fees only pay about 60 percent of the cost of educating your daughters and sons. Please be assured, however, that we will not abandon our commitment to financial aid, or our emphasis on academic excellence, when we finalize next year's budget between now and May.
Which brings me to the concerns I mentioned at the start of this letter. First, the use of Bowdoin's high-speed computer network for the downloading of copyrighted music, video or other electronic files. I am no expert on this subject, but with three teenage boys of my own, I witness daily the power of the media — including music, films, andvideo games — in their lives. Whether or not one agrees with the legal arguments being put forth by all sides on this issue, it is currently a violation of copyright law to download or to share these materials without permission or compensation. Monthly, the College receives notification from music and/or film companies that its computer network is being used for this illegal activity - activity that is also in clear violation of the College's Computer Use Policy signed by each of our students and employees. Thus far, Bowdoin students have not faced the sorts of sanctions meted out to students at other campuses — sanctions that can run into tens of thousands of dollars. But I mention this issue here because the possibility exists that Bowdoin students participating in this activity — using either their own or College-owned computers — could face serious civil penalties. We are doing our part to make sure that students understand the law, and to discipline those in violation of College policy and copyright law. I ask for your help in making sure your sons and daughters understand the issue and their responsibilities. Ignorance of or disagreement with these policies and laws will not be a legitimate excuse.
Finally, I also want to bring to your attention what appears to be a national trend: an increase in stress-related conditions among college and university students. There are many theories as to why larger and larger numbers of students are seeking counseling for these conditions. It might be related to the stress and anxiety we have all experienced post-9/11; it could be a function of a challenged economy; it could simply be that today's young people do not experience the stigma associated with counseling by previous generations. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that colleges across the country are seeing more complicated illnesses, more psychosomatic illnesses, more depression, and more eating disorders among students than ever before. Bowdoin is no exception.
The good news is that Bowdoin is particularly well equipped to deal with these issues. Compared to schools of similar size, Bowdoin's Counseling Service is well staffed in terms of number of professionals, level of training (psychologists, clinical social workers, professional counselors) and years of experience dealing with college students. Our Residential Life staff and Student Affairs staff work very well together with the health and counseling services to assist students and to keep a watchful eye for signs of student distress. We conduct psychologically-related outreach programs and ongoing wellness programs, and we consult regularly with faculty and staff regarding student mental health and developmental issues. We are seeing fewer students who smoke, and fewer students who drink abusively. Meanwhile, our health education outreach efforts in the residence halls continues to expand, while our connections with community providers, the Bureau of Health, and state and regional college health networks help us refine and broaden our focus.
I raise this matter not to alarm you, but simply to make sure that you are aware of the issue and to assure you that this is something we take seriously and feel prepared to deal with effectively. For my part, I believe it behooves each of us to foster an environment of learning for learning's sake in which we encourage and celebrate accomplishment and excellence, and to reject an atmosphere consumed with superficialities and needless personal competition. We should remember that gaining admission to a college like Bowdoin in the first place isn't easy, nor is it easy to maintain the high academic and personal standards established and promoted here by faculty, coaches, staff, and by peers. You are rightly proud of what our students continue to accomplish, and we share your sense of pride. Together we can do a great deal to promote a healthy environment for these very talented young men and women and to make sure they get the very best out of their four years at Bowdoin.
Thank you for your interest, enthusiasm and support. And please come for a visit when you can. I look forward to seeing you on campus. With best wishes for 2004,