President's Speeches and Remarks
June 1, 2002
Welcome back to Bowdoin. And to those of you “from away,” welcome back to Maine!
It’s really an honor for me to stand before you this morning as president of this great college. I am proud to be an alumnus of Bowdoin College. This College provided me with an education that enabled me to achieve whatever success I have had in this world and was for me a transforming event in my life. Like many of you out there today, Bowdoin College in many ways provided me the opportunity to achieve all that I have.
I have to admit that as an alumnus of this great College I am enormously proud to have the opportunity to lead Bowdoin. I must also admit to being more than a little humbled by the responsibility I feel to all of you who feel so deeply for this College and who are so committed to its future. I am confident, however, that with the support of the enormously talented people in this room and the thousands of Bowdoin alums and friends around this country and world, that together we will chart a course for this College that will ensure its excellence and preeminance for the future.
I want to take just a moment to offer a special welcome to my friends and classmates from the great Class of 1972 here to celebrate our 30th Reunion. Hard to believe it’s been that long!
This has been a very special year for Karen and me and our three boys as we moved back to Brunswick. We are grateful to the entire Bowdoin community and to the people of Brunswick who have welcomed and worked with us with enthusiasm and generosity of spirit.
Bowdoin was just beginning its 200th academic year – my first as president – when our world and our sense of invulnerability changed forever amid the horror, chaos, and confusion of September 11th.
We gather here today two days after the last steel beam was solemnly removed from the site of the World Trade Center, as work to restore the Pentagon continues, and as the families and friends of victims struggle to recover.
Bowdoin lost friends, family, and alumni in the attacks of September 11th, including Jim Roux of the Class of 1981; Frank Doyle of the Class of 1985; and Chris Gardner of the Class of 1987. Last week at commencement the friends and family of Frank Doyle met on campus out at Farley Field House to plant a tree in memory of Frank. Frank’s wife and two young children were here to reaffirm their commitment and connection to Bowdoin, and we all felt once again the horrible void left by these tragic events.
On this Reunion Weekend it is fitting that we remember those lost and that we pay tribute to the servicemen and servicewomen from many nations who continue to place themselves in harm’s way for our protection and for the preservation of liberty.
Please rise and join me in a moment of silent remembrance.
As I reminded our graduating seniors and their families a week ago at Commencement, Bowdoin – like America – is resilient and optimistic. We have had another exciting year brimming with achievement in the classroom, on the stage, in the laboratory, in art and music, in writing and scholarship, and on the playing fields.
We have also seen time and time again that Bowdoin’s dedication to the common good continues unabated. During a year when it might have been natural to turn inward, Bowdoin students devoted themselves to their community with enthusiasm, recording over 20,000 volunteer hours. They organized blood drives, mentored and tutored schoolchildren, built shelters for the homeless and disadvantaged, collected trash, and assisted senior citizens. In the process they brightened lives, gained our respect and admiration, and made an uncertain world just a little bit better for us all.
The Bowdoin spirit – embodied in its alumni – also remains vital and optimistic. I have seen it first hand as I have traveled far and wide this year meeting with alumni around the United States and abroad.
Our connections to each other are as strong as ever – they’ve even taken on new meaning as we’ve tried our hand at holding Bowdoin Club breakfasts via videoconference with Honolulu and Dallas!
The care for and commitment to the College by you, its alumni, are inspiring and very much appreciated by all of us in the residential community of this College.
I’d like to address a question that I’ve been asked many times over the past year: “What is Bowdoin like today, and how is it different from when I was a student here some thirty years ago?”
Well…for one thing, these days we maintain chem.-free housing! That means no smoking, no alcohol, no caffeine – no substances at all! Hyde Hall and Howell House – formerly the AD House – are the chem.-free houses. For those of you out there familiar with the history of the former AD house: you will appreciate the irony here!
Then there are the students. Craig Bradley, our very able dean of student affairs, tells the story of a visit to his office this spring by a group of Bowdoin students. These young men and women had actually made an appointment with the dean to ask how one organizes a student demonstration – as if there was some sort of civil disobedience handbook left on the Dean’s shelf from the 1960s.
In fact, last spring there was a sign on the door of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library inviting students to gather on the steps of the Walker Art Building for a “pick your issue protest.” At the appointed hour, there was a lone student on those steps – undoubtedly the designer of the event.
Of course, as president, I should be careful to count my blessings, but this is clearly a different place – a very different world -- than what many of us recall. And these wonderful Bowdoin students are brighter, more talented, more engaged and more diverse than ever. I can assure many of you out there that the adage, I couldn’t have gotten into Bowdoin today, is certainly true for me and I am fairly confident that it is true for many of you out there today. We are blessed with a remarkably talented group of students. I only regret that this weekend is held when the students have left the campus so you don’t have the chance to engage our future alums.
But in all seriousness, for every change that has taken place since I was a student here, much of Bowdoin’s core remains as it was.
Bowdoin is still a place committed to the principles of a liberal arts education in a residential setting. And it remains committed to the principle of service to the common good.
Generations of Bowdoin graduates – right up to and including the 410 who received their degrees last Saturday – have been shaped in fundamental and lasting ways by their close association with members of the Bowdoin faculty, by coaches, and by members of the staff here.
Each of us has left this campus in our time with a greater appreciation for and a stronger commitment to lifelong learning. We gained – and our students today continue to gain – an enhanced ability to communicate clearly and precisely, to analyze and evaluate complex issues, to pursue new ideas and new directions with courage and passion, and to understand the meaning of leadership.
We also gained lasting friendships here as we came to know classmates from different places and different backgrounds. These differences are greater today than ever, with students from nearly every state, several foreign countries, and a variety of socio-economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. But these differences in experience and background have not changed the fact that Bowdoin students stay in touch with each other throughout their lives and continue to build on the relationships born in an atmosphere of learning in this residential college.
Many of these most important relationships were forged in the academic buildings where the Bowdoin faculty continues to work elbow to elbow with our students.
Many of us remember the likes of Ernst Helmreich, Sam Kamerling, Herbert Ross Brown, and Nate Dane. We remember Matilda White Riley, Roger Howell, Barbara Kaster, and many others. These were our teachers and our mentors. Our faculty today offers that same commitment to teaching and learning, as they engage in intense and serious scholarship, research, and artistic work.
These close student-teacher relationships should never be taken for granted. A valuable difference between Bowdoin and some of our nation’s fine research universities is our size and extraordinary resources; the access our students have always had to their teachers – the opportunity to participate in exploration with and to tap the curiosity and imagination of active scholars, researchers, and artists without the barrier or buffer of graduate students or postdocs.
As we think about Bowdoin’s future, it is this opportunity to study with and learn from a curious and engaged faculty that will continue to set this College apart. As the most talented students consider their myriad options for study, many will continue to be attracted to Bowdoin because of our residential life, our history and traditions, our commitment to the outdoors and athletics, and because of the beauty of Maine. But ultimately, the most important feature of Bowdoin – the one we must work hard to maintain – will be the opportunity to spend four years of rigorous and rewarding study with a devoted and involved faculty.
So with that imperative as backdrop, what else does the future hold for Bowdoin?
In my inaugural address last fall, I spoke of three important issues: “access,” “collaboration,” and “size.”
We can talk more about the size of the College this afternoon at the “Chat with the President.” Rest assured that we aren’t talking about uncontrolled growth of this College – the vision is a college with around 1800 students in residence. The reasons for growth are grounded in embracing our academic program. In any event any growth would be done slowly and incrementally. This fall we will begin a process to think about growth and whether it is feasible given the likely dilution in our endowment per student growth would entail. We can talk more about that this afternoon.
But let me take a few moments this morning to talk once more about “collaboration” and “access.”
First, “collaboration,” as it pertains to our academic program.
Bowdoin’s curriculum is impressive. We offer forty-one majors. Nearly ten percent of our students earn a coordinate major in Environmental Studies. At Bowdoin today, one can study ethnomusicology and Asian studies; neuroscience and advanced physics; creative writing and Hegel. Our curriculum is varied, broad, and intellectually rigorous.
But as deep and strong as it is, the time has come for Bowdoin to consider reaching out to other institutions in order to enhance our academic program. This makes sense for Bowdoin for at least two reasons:
First, what we do here is expensive. Bowdoin’s annual budget is over $100 million a year. Our comprehensive fee has risen to $36,000 a year. That’s a lot of money, but even our students who are able to pay the full fee are actually only covering about fifty-five percent of the cost of their Bowdoin education. The remaining forty-five percent is funded by income from our endowment – worth approximately $450 million today – and by gifts from alumni, parents, friends, and foundations.
So, given the expense of a Bowdoin education, how do we enhance our program without significantly expanding the budget and thereby increasing the cost of attendance?
I believe the best way may be to share resources with other top institutions. Areas ripe for consideration involve pedagogy related to technology and environmental studies and science, but every area of the Bowdoin curriculum is ripe for consideration.
Second, we are a small college in Maine. The benefits of reaching out to places around the United States and internationally are significant for the depth and breadth of Bowdoin’s intellectual environment. Reaching out to other colleges, universities, and research centers – while preserving our distinct identity and traditions – can only bring to this college a wealth of new intellectual drivers that will offer tangible benefits to our students and faculty.
I believe collaboration has enormous potential for Bowdoin so long as it is pursued with respect for and adherence to our core mission and values, especially the close student-faculty relationship I spoke of earlier.
Collaboration does not mean building research centers at Bowdoin. Rather, it means creating opportunities for our students and faculty to interact and learn in different and more diverse environments. In my view, the possibilities for effective collaboration at Bowdoin are exciting and waiting only to be unlocked.
Bowdoin has long been dedicated to providing opportunity for students who ought to be here regardless of their ability to afford this form of education.
A few weeks ago, the College hosted a luncheon for alumni and friends who currently support students at Bowdoin through their gifts of financial aid. Many of these alumni have a heartfelt appreciation for the importance of this aid because they themselves came to Bowdoin only through the generosity of others.
This generosity should never be confused with charity. I can’t emphasize that point enough. Financial aid is not charity. It is an investment in the lives of future leaders. It is an investment in our society.
Many Bowdoin alumni – champions of industry, of the professions, of non-profits – received aid that allowed them to attend and earn a degree from Bowdoin. Some of these are national leaders. Many are leaders in their communities and in their chosen professions. One of them is the president of this College.
The issue of access is only growing more complex for Bowdoin. Each year a larger and larger number of our applicants seek financial aid.
Bowdoin is need-blind. That is, we admit students of great promise without regard for their ability to pay. Moreover, we meet the need of these students for the entire four years. It’s expensive, but we are proud of this practice and we see it as vitally important to the College.
When we surveyed the landscape here a decade ago, it was clear that our facilities were in need of expansion and improvement. We took up the challenge and devoted ourselves and our resources to the task of upgrading our science and performance facilities, improving our social and dining spaces, and building new dormitories. The scope of this work was truly impressive and the results are lasting.
As we look at Bowdoin today, we see before us another great challenge: to build the resources necessary to continue to support superior students with need. It is a challenge we must meet.
Each of us is proud of Bowdoin – that’s why we’re here today. And we seek for it a sustained future of excellence. We want it to endure as one of this nation’s truly great liberal arts colleges, and to continue its proud tradition of educating future leaders from all walks of life. These are high aspirations that can only be achieved – or exceeded – if we continue to attract the very best students and make a commitment together to bring them here.
Having visited extensively with alumni this past year, I am proud to report that our alumni community continues to display the energy and determination that are required to achieve all that we want and expect for Bowdoin.
Colleges and universities across this country yearn to have an alumni group as talented, as generous, and as enthusiastic as this one. Bowdoin creates and nurtures a special relationship with its sons and daughters. We respect and value that relationship and look forward to building even stronger ties with each of you as we advance the mission of this wonderful college.
I share your love for Bowdoin and I am deeply grateful for your devotion and connection to it. Karen and I are glad to have you back on campus with us today, and we look forward to speaking with as many of you as we can this weekend, and to welcoming you again as many times in the future as you are able to return.
Now, enjoy the weekend. I hope you take time to tour the campus, visit with faculty and staff, and take pleasure in your classmates, family, and friends.
As you do so, I also hope you’ll revel in some nostalgia for Bowdoin’s past, take pride in the Bowdoin of today, and think about how we can all work together to shape an even stronger Bowdoin of tomorrow.