The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
The National Association of Scholars has announced a project “examining the curriculum, student activities, and campus values of Bowdoin College.” I am sure that Peter Wood and the research fellow he has hired will attempt to do a thorough and fair job. But obviously they bring certain biases to their approach. And one concern I have is the fact that the NAS article announcing this program didn’t mention who is funding the study. Wood emailed me in response to my question to inform me that Tom Klingenstein is the funder. Considering that Klingenstein is the center of the controversy about Bowdoin, it’s hard to regard this as a neutral, unbiased approach. It will be hard for the NAS to make a convincing case for their objectivity no matter how much research data they try to bring to the question.
Nor is the campus culture something that easily lends itself to a data-driven analysis. For example, Bowdoin has numerous religious student groups, but no atheist student group as far as I can tell. There is an entire department of religion, but none of its class descriptions mention atheism. Does that mean Bowdoin lacks diversity of views on religion, or that atheists face a climate of repression on campus? Of course not. And if there was a lack of atheist events on campus, there’s an easy solution: the atheists, and their supporters, can organize student groups and bring speakers to campus.
Instead of trying to prove an alleged lack of ideological balance or denouncing Bowdoin for failing to confess its liberal sins, I’d much rather see conservatives come up with innovative ideas for how to improve the debate of ideas on college campuses.