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Bowdoin’s Idea of Diversity

Commitment to “diversity” on college campuses is nothing new, but the debate over what true diversity might look like on an elite college campus took a lively turn this week with the publication of an essay on the subject by Tom Klingenstein in the Claremont Review of Books.

The occasion for Klingenstein’s piece was a convocation speech by Bowdoin College president Barry Mills last fall, which included a reference to a conversation the two men had while playing golf. In Mills’s retelling, Klingenstein plays stand-in for all benighted conservatives who distrust liberal elite colleges.

“I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons. . . . And I would never support Bowdoin or Williams (his alma mater) because of all your misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.”

Of course, Klingenstein (whom Mills does not identify by name) never said anything of the kind. Instead, he made the point that what is called diversity on most college campuses is

too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference (particularly as it applies to blacks), and not enough celebration of our common American identity. I told him that I wholeheartedly support reaching out to those who have traditionally been excluded but that I prefer to call such outreach “inclusion” (not “diversity”).

But the real dishonesty in Mills’s speech is the notion that Bowdoin—

or, indeed, virtually any elite college in the nation—is committed to intellectual diversity at all. As Klingenstein points out in his essay, only 4 percent of Bowdoin faculty are self-defined conservatives, according to a study Mills cited in his speech (though he inflated the actual number to 30 percent).

And the course offerings at the college—which U.S. News and World Reports ranks sixth among national liberal arts colleges—confirm that liberal bias. The history department, for example, offers not a single course on the American founding, the Constitution, or on American political, military or intellectual history; and the one course offered on the Civil War is essentially an African American history course offered jointly with the school’s Africana Studies program.

Mills has refused to comment directly on the controversy. If he were halfway serious about intellectual diversity, he might begin by inviting a conservative to give Bowdoin’s next commencement address. I’d put Tom Klingenstein at the top of the list.


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