Barry Mills on the State of Town/Gown Relations in Brunswick

President Barry Mills responds to suggestions of tension between Bowdoin and the Brunswick community.

We’ve had a lot of rain in Maine lately, it’s getting dark early, and the temperatures have been pretty raw. On Monday morning before dawn, we had one of those storms that sends tree limbs flying and power lines cascading to the ground. After a glorious summer and beautiful fall, getting ready for winter can be tough.

Maybe that’s why some folks around here seem especially cranky. Monday’s edition of the Times Record—our local community newspaper—included a front page 1,600-word story about alcohol-related medical emergencies at the College, describing what could appear to be mounting tensions between Bowdoin and Brunswick. An extensive article by any measure, it used phrases like “dramatic increase,” and words like “tension,” “overzealous,” and “disgust” to describe the atmosphere here as the College and town focus on an issue that vexes nearly every college and university campus, town, and city in America: drinking and sometimes excessive drinking by college students. An article like this could lead readers to believe that there is a genuine town/gown problem in Brunswick. In fact, the College and the town have excellent relations. The cooperation we have developed over the recent past makes all of this “noise” distracting and paints a picture that couldn’t be more inaccurate.

Don’t get me wrong; drinking on college campuses is a serious challenge and one that defies easy solutions. Bowdoin Daily Sun readers need only refer back to Dean Tim Foster’s September letter to students to know how seriously we take this issue and how we fully intend to—and do—hold students responsible for their behavior. Despite the headlines and inflammatory language, the reality is that, in relative terms, drinking at Bowdoin is nowhere near the problem experienced at other colleges, including many of our peers. One reason for that is the strong, cordial, and cooperative relationship Bowdoin enjoys with Brunswick on this and other issues.

You wouldn’t necessarily know that if you read Monday’s local paper or picked up a copy of Friday’s Bowdoin Orient. That issue of the Orient included an article about a student Halloween party on Pine Street that had to be shut down by Brunswick police because of noise. This act generated an angry letter to the editor by a student whose ill-advised solution was to promote a student boycott of local businesses. His letter, in turn, prompted a sarcastic rebuttal in a citizen’s blog, and likely other angry reactions.

All of this, I suppose, is natural. College students don’t like their Saturday night parties interrupted any more than neighbors like to be blasted out of their chairs while reading bedtime stories to their children. But those of us at the College don’t take seriously the threat of a student boycott, any more than most citizens of Brunswick see Bowdoin as some sort of unwelcome intruder in their town. Brunswick has been around for 271 years, and Bowdoin has been an integral part of the Brunswick community for all but 55 of them. We have weathered all sorts of challenges together for a long, long time, and we will continue to do so in the best of spirits. Bowdoin College continues to have an excellent and cooperative relationship with the Brunswick Police Department grounded in our collective efforts to ensure public safety and the safety of our students.

The fact is that there really isn’t a divide separating Bowdoin College and Brunswick. We are fully integrated. Bowdoin employees live in Brunswick, pay taxes, send their children to local schools, serve on local boards and committees, and share in the pride and concerns of other Brunswick citizens. Six of our first-year students—all graduates of local schools—were, just months ago, considered “townies” by some. Our faculty and staff even call to complain about loud parties from time to time!

Our neighbors in town join us on campus to cheer on the Polar Bears and to participate in lectures, concerts, and exhibitions, while Karen and I have a wonderful time working the Snack Shack at Brunswick High School lacrosse games. Our students volunteer in local schools and other organizations, and townspeople volunteer as host families, opening their homes to our students from (far) away. The businesses in town couldn’t be more welcoming to Bowdoin students, to their families, and to our alumni, and we at the College are proud to promote and welcome newcomers to this jewel of a community on the coast of Maine.

So, as we sit down together in local restaurants, stand side by side at college and high school sporting events, meet on Maine Street, or gather on the Bowdoin Quad, I hope we can remember that all of us make up the community of Brunswick.

As troubling as drinking and loud parties can be, the most pressing issues these days are economic. Whether it is our future without the Brunswick Naval Air Station, the development at Maine Street Station, the beauty and profitability of our downtown, or even the future viability of expensive liberal arts colleges, experience has proven that Bowdoin and Brunswick must and can work together. Given our history and actual relationship, I have every confidence that we will.

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In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at mills@bowdoin.edu

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.

1 comment to Barry Mills on the State of Town/Gown Relations in Brunswick

  • This does a fantastic job of synthesizing and soothing many of the recent concerns surround Bowdoin/Brunswick relations. I was quoted (rather poorly) in the Orient and the Times Record regarding my frustration with the way Security and BPD handled the campus-wide celebration on Oct. 30th and would like to clarify my concern. While the BPD do not have a great reputation among students for a variety of reasons, their attitude was not my primary annoyance on Oct. 30th. Rather, the idea of sending a huge contingent of students away from a registered event (one of the few truly campus wide celebrations) on an evening where people are looking for a safe place to gather seems like a recipe for disaster. Breaking up this event sent people to all sorts of unregistered parties, back to their room to drink or straight to super snacks to overwhelm the staff. I think BPD had other options that would have allowed a few unhappy residents and over 400 students to meet in the middle on Hallows Eve.

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