Pretty much the only reason we know of the existence of Bowdoin College is because of the legendary service of one of its graduates (and later president) Joshua L. Chamberlain. I’ll leave it to the Civil War buffs here to tell Chamberlain’s story, but anyone who has seen the movie Gettysburg should know of him. To say he may have singlehandedly saved the Union that day might be a stretch, but only a small one. And that’s just the tip of his accomplishments.
So it is saddening, though hardly surprising, to see Andy at Ace’s place directing us to the Wall Street Journal story on Bowdoin, and the feeble state of what passes for intellectual thought in a liberal arts school.
The school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to “sustainability,” or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to “global citizenship,” or loving all countries except one’s own.
The Klingenstein report nicely captures the illiberal or fallacious aspects of this campus doctrine, but the paper’s true contribution is in recording some of its absurd manifestations at Bowdoin. For example, the college has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.
One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Queer Gardens” (which “examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces”), “Sexual Life of Colonialism” and “Modern Western Prostitutes.”
Those all may be topics worthy of academic analysis and greater understanding. What they aren’t are a solid intellectual foundation upon which to build young citizen’s minds.
Worse even than the virtual banishment of conservatives from campus (and the Klingenstein report addresses that as well), this fluffery steals from students the opportunity to learn how we have come to be where we are in history. A full, nuanced understanding of the triumphs and failures of America as a society is itself a huge endeavor, but laying out the basic precepts is certainly possible in a single year long course. Even if the university goal is to further liberal political viewpoints, such a course would better equip its students toward that end.
I’m hardly an intellectual. My academic achievements can only be described as “modest” under the most charitable meaning of that word.
But when liberals oh so often accuse political conservatives of anti-intellectualism, I can only reply that the state of so-called intellectualism is so shoddy that any decent person should indeed be contemptuous of it.