Message to Faculty and Staff—Thank you (June 7, 2021)

Faculty and staff colleagues,

Thank you!
Commencement and our virtual Reunion are now both behind us, and the vast majority of our students have left campus, and all are on to their summer endeavors. We now turn both to summer work and to rest and recharge as we move close to the end of one of the most challenging periods in the long history of our college.

Your incredible effort and sacrifice, and your dedication to the College—to our mission, our students, and one another—has allowed us to successfully navigate the past sixteen months. Please take a minute to read about a few examples of what went right during a period when so much went wrong beyond Bowdoin, and know that none of it would have been possible without every single one of you.

After weeks of planning and shifting to accommodate the changing protocols and guidance for large gatherings (and the weather!), Commencement this year was the most joyous I’ve experienced—even with the wind, rain, and chilly temperatures. We were together in person for the first time in a long time, our student speakers were amazing with their words of community, the pride that comes from accomplishment, and how love can bring us to a better world. Our inspiring honorands were generous with their time and wisdom, and the Class of 2021 was able to walk without masks across the steps of the Walker Art Building where their Bowdoin journeys began four years ago. It was a fabulous event pulled together with all the care and imagination we’ve come to expect at Bowdoin, with the Quad full of guests and more than 4,000 people watching the livestream from all over the world. What a day! Next up is a celebration in August for the Class of 2020 and an opportunity for this class that missed so much last spring to gather, walk across those same Walker Art Building steps, and renew the bonds that were cut short so abruptly in March 2020.

We worked together to keep one another and our neighbors in Brunswick safe. Over the course of the year, we conducted more than 110,000 COVID-19 tests and dealt effectively and compassionately with the fifteen student and thirty-two employee positive cases—a positivity rate of 0.043 percent (or in academic terms, A+!). None of this would have been possible without your cooperation and goodwill, that of our students who were amazing, and the truly heroic efforts of so many of our colleagues. As one example of these efforts, if you haven’t had a chance to read Rebecca Goldfine’s story about the folks who ran our testing center, please have a look at it here on the College website. They are an inspiration to us all.

Right now, 87 percent of you—our faculty and staff—have uploaded your vaccination cards to Workday, indicating that you are either fully vaccinated or nearing the end of the two-week waiting period after your final dose. This is fantastic progress, and we are well on the path to having everyone fully vaccinated for a full campus, in-person classes, athletics, performances, and meals in Thorne and Moulton, among the many activities that make life at Bowdoin real, full, and special.

Thirteen of our seniors and one graduate were offered prestigious Fulbright grants this year, and Bowdoin is the top producer of Fulbright students among our peers. We celebrated our first Churchill Scholar and our first Gates Cambridge Scholar, and we held our first outdoor Honors Day on Whittier Field to recognize excellence in teaching and the academic achievements of our students. And there were achievements outside the classroom too. We saw exceptional work by student leaders in Peer Health to engage with the community on wellness efforts. Student volunteers served the larger community by volunteering at the vaccination clinic in Brunswick. And ten students were recognized by the McKeen Center for exceptional commitment to service, leadership, and the common good.

Our faculty also continued to excel even as they had to adapt to the pandemic and shift to online classes. While there are too many honors to list here, examples include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and the Maine Arts Commission, and grants from the National Science Foundation, the Maine Sea Grant Program, and the Grass Foundation, among others. Also during this challenging year, four members of the faculty were promoted to full professor, six were granted tenure, and a total of ten (eight in March and two in May) were named to endowed professorships.

We have significant work to do with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion and racial justice—work that will engage all of us and that must (and will) be sustained. I want to thank you for how you have embraced this work in a year consumed by managing the pandemic. We laid the groundwork for educating ourselves and for identifying the policies, practices, and behaviors that impede equity of opportunity and a shared sense of belonging. And we made progress on understanding the ways to break down these structures and on understanding our institutional history with respect to race. A semiannual update on this work will be coming soon from Michael Reed and me.

Our From Here comprehensive fundraising campaign for Bowdoin continued throughout the year, with great success. As of today, we have raised more than $383 million in gifts and pledges from 14,889 donors toward our $500 million goal—funds that will allow us to meet our promises of an education that is accessible, transformational, dynamic, and personal and one that will set our graduates on a course to find that great first job and to build lives of meaning. It’s been only sixteen months since we launched the public phase of this campaign, and all of this time has been during the worst global pandemic in a century. It is both amazing progress and further evidence of the devotion to Bowdoin shared by so many alumni, parents, and friends, and it promises a successful conclusion for the campaign and a bright future for the College.

Of course, our students are at the center of our mission, and I know we are all excited to be back with them on campus and in person in the fall. We will have a full house, with students returning from time away, with fewer students studying away, and with a larger-than-normal first-year class of about 520 students. This was the toughest year ever to earn a spot at Bowdoin (8.8 percent admit rate) and also a new record for the percentage (60 percent) of admitted students who accepted their offer. This is a testament not only to the strength and appeal of our College but also to all of you who make Bowdoin so special. Here are a few demographic details about our newest students, another amazing group of Polar Bears:
  • 51 percent men, 49 percent women
  • 17 percent students who are the first in their families to attend college
  • 40 percent students of color—the highest percentage in our history
  • 12 percent students with international backgrounds
  • 71 percent from outside New England
Not all the numbers are in yet, but it looks like we will have more students than ever receiving need-based aid from the College when we reconvene in the fall, with an average grant for our aided first-year students of $54,000—an all-time high. We’ve taken additional steps to further strengthen our financial aid program, already among the handful of the very strongest in the nation. We added $3.5 million to our student aid budget to assist both low- and middle-income families, and we’ve eliminated the typical $2,300 summer work requirement for students from families making less than $75,000 a year.

These are just some of the successes we’ve seen this year, and there are many others. Thank you for your amazing and excellent work, your perseverance in historic circumstances, and your kindness and care for one another. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this community. I look forward to seeing you in person on Thursday as we gather on the Coe Quad to celebrate (and eat!).

Have a wonderful and restful summer!

All the best,

Clayton