The WSJ Is Unamused by Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality (;or, Bowdoin, You Disappoint Us)

The Wall Street Journal (April 6, 2013) has offered yet another critique of “liberal” colleges and their interest in diversity, among other things.   Believe it or not, the complicated tale  hinges on a golf-outing that the president of Bowdoin College experienced with “philanthropist and investor Thomas Klingenstein.” 

During the outing, Klingenstein apparently told Mills, “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 you have]  “misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.”  This is Mills’ version.  Klingenstein later weighed in: “I explained my disapproval of ‘diversity’ as it generally has been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference,” coupled with “not enough celebration of our common American identity.”  What that common American identity might be, he apparently did not say.

Klingenstein had also funded a study of Bowdoin by the National Association of Scholars.  He apparently got what he paid for as the study discovered, at least according to the WSJ, that  “[t]he 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.”

What a lovely rhetorical moment has unfurled here.  First, note the scene and the actors: A white male president of an exclusive college has his back-swing interrupted by a wealthy man who doesn’t like newfangled ideas.  Hilarious.  Nobody knows the trouble these two have seen. What next–a double-bogey on the 18th?   One hopes the round of golf occurred at an exclusive country club because Klingenstein apparently complained that the school brings in “all the wrong students for all the wrong reasons.” Note that neither the WSJ nor the aggrieved wealthy golfer explain what makes “the wrong students” the wrong students.  By the way, the online source Peterson’s [guide to colleges] says the student body at Bowdoin is 65% White or “Caucasian.”

Then, the WSJ plays the equivocation-game.  The small liberal arts college has “ideological pillars.”  It has courses that concern race, class, gender and sexuality; therefore, it is “obsessed” with these.  Not that evidence matters, but if you look at the areas of study Bowdoin offers, you will find such subjects as math, physics, neuroscience, chemistry, biochemistry, music, philosophy, Classics, economics, art history, and a variety of “foreign” languages.  Wow, what a radical bunch these Bowdoin folks must be!

The WSJ also claims that  “[i]n 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.”  But in the Spring term alone, you will find courses on “Colonial America and the Atlantic World, 1607–1763,” which surely includes military, diplomatic, and intellectual concerns, and a course on “Place in American History,” which “Investigates place as a set of physical and biological characteristics, as a product of the interaction between humans and the environment, and as a social and cultural construct. Also attends to the challenge of writing history with place as a central character” (Bowdoin online catalogue).

But the WSJ doesn’t like even a whiff of environmental issues: “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.”  Again with the equivocation.  If you perceive the world to be highly connected—here we are, by the way, on the Internet—you don’t love your country.  If you reasonably deduce that “we” are running out of water,  facing the consequences of global warming, and encountering all sorts of problems with pollution, then of course you must be anti-capitalism—as opposed to being, you know, realistic and practical. And how dare Bowdoin offer opportunities for students to think about how to reverse the harm done to the planet. 

The WSJ and the poor (read: wealthy),  victimized Klingnstein have fielded an entire team of straw men in their arguments.  Therefore, one must agree with them.  Bowdoin should offer an old-fashioned course on rhetoric and invite them to take the course—online, in person, or on the golf course.  

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