Barry Mills on Tackling the Tough Issues

President Barry Mills writes about the importance of addressing tough issues head on.

One of the things about Bowdoin that makes me most proud is that we are a place that doesn’t shy away from a difficult discussion or from difficult issues. The genuine and candid nature of our community makes Bowdoin a place that is “real,” and creates a valid sense of humanity for our students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni.

There is no more vexing issue in the area of student life than alcohol. I was a student at Bowdoin in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and my sense is that there isn’t a whole lot more drinking on campus today than in those days. Fortunately, however, I also believe that the drug scene is a whole lot less active than during my days as a student.

That said, the issues of underage drinking and binge drinking are very serious and much more apparent than in my day, largely because young people today frequently seem to drink to get drunk. This is also a generation where specialty drinks and hard alcohol are a significant part of the culture—much more so than the glasses of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz that I remember.

I recommend to you a letter written by Dean Tim Foster that was sent to all students and parents this week discussing, in a very candid fashion, the issues on our campus related to alcohol. I don’t have much to add to what Dean Foster wrote, except to say that our effort to reach out to folks on this issue was carefully considered.

In the end, we decided that it was more than appropriate for Dean Foster to address students and parents in a straightforward manner on these issues, rather than to sugarcoat the problem or pretend it doesn’t exist at Bowdoin. Make no mistake—the issues surrounding drinking are serious on our campus, but no more serious than every other college or university campus in America. In fact, our data suggest that at Bowdoin, we are doing better than many campuses. That’s not good enough for us.

Our students are young people who, in many cases, are experiencing freedom of choice for the very first time in their lives. We encourage Bowdoin students to take advantage of this freedom and we try to educate them about how to make smart decisions.

I meet with every first-year student in my office, as they come to sign Bowdoin’s Matriculation Book. This is a tradition that goes back over one hundred years. It gives me the opportunity to talk to students both individually and as a group, since they arrive with their “floor mates” from the first-year dorms. We talk about college and the new experience that awaits them. I remind them that college is, first and foremost, a time for education and growth. I also acknowledge that college is a time for fun.

Bowdoin students don’t need to be reminded about the opportunity to have fun. Most graduate summa cum laude in this regard. But as they leave my office, my message to them is always: Have fun but stay safe.

I hope you will read Dean Tim Foster’s letter closely. It has received rave reviews in the last few days from parents and students. The message is important, and I am proud of Dean Foster for the manner in which he has addressed these issues directly and forcefully.

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