President's Speeches and Remarks

September 4, 2002

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this convocation ceremony⎯the 201st convocation in the great history of Bowdoin College.  I welcome our faculty, staff, students and friends to this important ceremony.  Welcome especially to the members of our new first-year class⎯the Class of 2006.   We are delighted that you have come to celebrate with us the opening of our College’s academic year.  I have gotten to know you a bit over this week, and you are certainly an exuberant and spirited class⎯it will be a great four years for all of us at Bowdoin.

Today we hold convocation in Pickard Theater.  Historically, this event has been held just across the street, in First Parish Church.  On a practical note, we are here today because of the calendar which brought this year an early close of the Maine State Music Theater, the summer occupant of the theater.  We also wrongly anticipated that the air conditioning of Pickard might be appreciated today.  It is not easy or wise to change important traditions, the College having held convocation in First Parish for many, many years.  But, truth be told, there are some longstanding members in our community who have not in the past attended Convocation because they feel it is not appropriate for the College to hold its events in a church.  I welcome you to this convocation, and I am pleased that we are located today in a venue that allows us to meet and celebrate together as one united community.
 
So now let me officially declare the opening of the 201st academic year of Bowdoin College.  May this year be at Bowdoin another one of deep and rigorous academic and intellectual engagement on this campus by all of us.
 
We begin this year with a spirit a bit different from last year.  Last year we sat together in a relatively calm and secure world.  Today, a mere 12 months later, the world is a very different place, and we are understandably a bit more anxious.  That feeling of anxiety is entirely appropriate as we look at the world condition.  Peace seems to be a distant memory.  Economic prosperity here in Maine and throughout the world is much more uncertain.  These are genuinely anxious times for us all.

But, as we sit here today, we have much to be thankful for.  Among the blessings we each have to count, is the fact that we are here at Bowdoin College.  Now we are not by any means insulated from all of the world’s, nation’s or region’s anxieties.  But, we are very fortunate to be here on this beautiful campus surrounded by people who share  the value of a learning community.  It is a shared value that nurtures the soul and provides sustenance to our minds and hearts.

 I remain entirely optimistic about Bowdoin and its future.  We should be proud of its great past and be confident about its strong and vibrant present and future.  This community is what it has always been⎯a community of scholars and students doing important work teaching and learning, doing scholarly and artistic work of high quality. Given the strength and vitality of our academic program and the energy and excellence of our faculty and our student body, we each have every reason to remain optimistic about the future of Bowdoin College.

I have continued to listen carefully to the members of the Bowdoin community during my first year as president of this College.  And together with the optimism I feel for this College, I recognize that there remains much to be accomplished.  That is not to derogate Bowdoin, but to acknowledge that change and growth (in the broadest sense, not just in numbers of students and faculty) must be achieved at colleges like Bowdoin; colleges that by their very nature must be dynamic institutions to continue to prosper.

At my inauguration last year, I spoke of three important issues for the future.  First, access. I am pleased to recognize our continued success in making Bowdoin a broader and more diverse community of the best and brightest ⎯its faculty, staff and students.  As we greet the faculty joining us this year⎯welcome to Bowdoin, you are a talented group of scholars from around the United States and world with diverse and deep intellectual roots.  Our Class of 2006 is the most diverse⎯by almost every measure⎯in the College’s history.  Access to Bowdoin should and will remain among our highest priorities, and we will continue to ensure access to the best and brightest to the gates of this College.

Second, collaboration.  Many among us have worked this year to begin to explore relationships with other colleges, universities and institutions for our academic program that could be of great importance for Bowdoin.  Collaboration is not a concept intended to change fundamentally what Bowdoin is about⎯but is rather intended to create opportunities for our faculty and students to enrich and enhance our intellectual community.   I am gratified by the enthusiasm that many faculty and staff have shown as we have begun to explore these opportunities.  Collaboration is a very popular concept these days in education⎯whether for administrative or academic ends.  However, I believe that many underestimate the challenges that collaboration efforts present.  We must be very careful in envisioning and implementing collaboration to ensure that the fundamental principles of our college remain secure, that our partners and we have shared values and intention, and that we do not achieve the unintended consequence of diminishing opportunities for our community as we enhance our relationships with others.  I am well aware of these cautionary notes, but remain optimistic that opening our campus to cooperative endeavor with scholars and institutions around the country and world will enhance learning for our community.
 
Finally, size of the college.  I spoke last year about a process for us to consider the appropriate size of the College, and we will begin that process of consideration this year.  Now there are many issues to consider⎯financial, student life, admissions, facilities and countless others.  The cynical among you may believe that this is about nothing more than a strategy to improve the finances of the College.  That view could not be more incorrect, for I would not envision changing in any material respect the fundamental model by which we conduct the operations and academic program of this College.  There are very few economies of scale in the operations of a college like Bowdoin.  In thinking about college economics one must keep a sharp eye on endowment per student for that is what allows us to do special things on this campus to support our program.  Any increase in the size of the College will put stress on our endowment per student unless our endowment continues to grow through investment and contribution at dramatic rates.  So, if this isn’t about strengthening our economic condition⎯what it is about?
 
As I have said since I arrived, every decision we make here at the College should be first and foremost considered with regard to the academic program.   It is time for us to consider and refine our academic mission of the College⎯not because of some time clock that requires periodic reevaluation⎯but because our community has talked a great deal to me and among its different constituencies about the need to refine and reconfirm our basic principles of our academic mission.  This is the process we will begin this year.  To focus that discussion, I would like us to begin with the question of whether the current size of the College allows us to achieve our academic and intellectual goals.
 
Connecting our analysis to the important question of the size of the College has at least two important advantages.  The first is to focus the discussion of a subject that could be broad, vague and slippery by tying it a very specific policy question.  Second, showing my bias, I continue to believe that some increase in size of our College is integral to achieving our academic and intellectual goals in the classroom and in this residential community.

But the outcomes of this process remain open and the process is one that will unfold over the coming year. Over the next few weeks, I will describe a format for commencing these discussions.

Many in our community believe strongly that it is time to have this discussion of academic mission and program.  Others, I know, are quite skeptical about these types of discussions, having participated for years in discussions of mission and academic purpose.  Over the last two years, before I became president and during my first year on campus as president, many if not most of our community talked with me about the need for definition and constructive introspective examination of our mission.   Over the last 12 months, we should be proud of our success in reconfirming our Bowdoin community, based on trust, respect and cooperation.  We must continue these efforts to maintain and build further our sense of community because we will not succeed over the long haul as a college if we allow our important collective sense of ourselves as a College to wane.

Thus, now is the time for us to take up the challenge of analysis of our mission and the basic constructs of our intellectual and artistic life on this campus and its interconnection with the residential community.   We may not always agree, but I am confident that vigorous discussions conducted in good faith will benefit Bowdoin immensely and create for us a set of principles and guideposts for our future.

Once again, this is an exciting and important year for Bowdoin, with lofty goals for us to accomplish.   I look forward to celebrating our successes with each of you throughout the academic year.  I wish each of you a wonderful year of learning and exploring.  

Now, I would like to introduce Dean Craig Bradley, Dean of Student Affairs, who has some readings from Bowdoin’s past for us.