Barry Mills: A Hard Decision

In the aftermath of a clear violation of College policy, Barry Mills writes of a difficult decision and the values that must be upheld at Bowdoin.

I write often in the Bowdoin Daily Sun about my appreciation for the accomplishments of Bowdoin students. But it is also important to admit that sometimes our students make mistakes. We are not perfect, and we must acknowledge the rare events when we fail to live up to our aspirations and sometimes fail to remember our core values. These values include clear social and honor codes, and at times throughout our history, the College has had to take stands in order to protect and advance these important principles.

We learned last week that members of our NESCAC champion men’s ice hockey team had recently conducted a post-season initiation of first-year members. After a full investigation, we determined that this initiation clearly violated Bowdoin’s Social Code and our very well articulated policy that prohibits hazing. This policy, which is published on the College website and reviewed each year as part of our team captains’ training, states in part that:

“A learning community has a distinctive set of values and qualities meant to support individual growth and development. At Bowdoin, we value traditions, rituals, and rites of passage because they remind community members of their connections to one another and to the past and future of the College; they can build important bonds between groups and individuals. Athletic team or student organization initiations or traditions, however, that attempt to build these bonds between members, must do so in an affirming way without coercion of any kind. In a learning community such as ours, we value lasting relationships grounded in mutual respect, not artificial connections created through shared humiliation.”

The discovery that members of our men’s ice hockey team had willfully disregarded this well-established policy was bad enough. Compounding the problem was the fact that team members were not forthcoming when confronted about the incident.

After a great deal of consideration and with genuine regret, the College decided to forfeit officially Bowdoin’s first-ever NESCAC championship in men’s ice hockey that was earned by the team in March. This action—supported by me, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, Director of Athletics Jeff Ward, and Head Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Terry Meagher—is intended to send an unambiguous message that Bowdoin will not tolerate this sort of behavior, nor will we compromise the values of this institution when confronted with clear violations of College policy. In addition to vacating the NESCAC title, the College has imposed individual sanctions where appropriate, and there will likely be consequences within Athletics and educational programs to follow as a result of this incident.

I recognize that this is a tough consequence, particularly for our seniors. I personally celebrated with the team on the ice when they beat Williams for the title. These are good people who accomplished a great deal this year with the guidance of our truly legendary coach, Terry Meagher. They worked hard and they achieved their goal. But these players are all members of the larger Bowdoin community, and they are and must be held to the same high standards that have long defined this College. There is much more to celebrate at our College and in our athletic program than mere victory on the ice. We certainly celebrate victory and acknowledge loss, but only when conducted by participants who abide by and respect the College’s principles. With their recent actions, the team has lost the right to be recognized as champions.

I want to stress that no student was harmed physically in these events. But students were exposed to a situation in clear violation of the College’s hazing policy.

As Dean Foster wrote in a letter to each of the players, it is during periods of crisis that we have the opportunity to learn and to move forward as people and as citizens. We can all learn from success, but sometimes, we can learn even more from failure. Bowdoin and our players will survive and flourish without an extra championship banner hanging in Watson Arena. And as our seniors take the steps of the Walker Art Building next Saturday to receive their diplomas, it is my hope and expectation that Bowdoin will be an even stronger college because of this experience and the opportunities for learning and reflection that it presents.

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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.

Comments

  1. Thank you for taking the honor code so seriously and continuing to use Bowdoin as an example of excellence in the classroom, in athletics, and in society. Thank you.

  2. henrietta watson says:

    I support your decision and hope this is used as a learning lesson
    rather than a punishment. In the future I hope that all Bowdoin
    Athletes follow the rules, not because they fear punishment, but
    because it is the right thing to do.

  3. Eric Luft says:

    Barry, as a member of the class of 1974, I knew you as a student, two years ahead of me. We did not know each other well in those days, but I always respected you. I was delighted a few years ago when you became president. Now, even as much as I celebrated our hockey championship this spring, I applaud your decision to forfeit it and, because of this decision, I respect you more than I ever did. Your priorities are in the right order. You put Bowdoin’s honor ahead of its worldly accomplishments. That’s the right way! Well done!

  4. Basil Clark 1960 says:

    Thank you, Dr. Mills, for making this tough and right decision, and for this forthright column in “The Bowdoin Daily Sun.”

  5. David Fernald '62 says:

    Barry, thank you for what is unquestionably difficult, but the choices were few. This will stay with those young men the rest of their lives, hopefully as “sadder but wiser men.” Whatever caused this behavior, I feel badly for them, but, perhaps more so for those who didn’t participate (if there are those) who not only lost their trophy, but can rightfully question respect, loyalty and trust.

  6. Mike Coster '57 says:

    President Barry:
    Your Presidency and our dear Bowdoin stand TALL after your brave decision.
    Thank You!!
    Mike Coster 57

  7. Robert Loeb '73 says:

    Late this past winter I said to my daughter (class of next week), “Order is restored in the world. Bowdoin won the conference championship in hockey.”
    With that perspective, I recognize the difficulty of the decision. More importantly, I truly appreciate that perhaps her final lesson at Bowdoin, learned not by lecture but by example, will be to do the right thing. For that, I thank you.

  8. Jane Liechty, parent of 2011 graduating senior says:

    B Mills: I agree with all the above comments, but would like to add that this difficult decision has the potential to save a life down the line. While no one was hurt physically in this incident it remains a fact that hazing is dangerous. Perhaps another, more serious, incident will be prevented in the future. Lives are more important than trophies.

  9. Helen Bodell says:

    President Mills,
    It is heartening that at Bowdoin, community values are held more dear than an athletic title. Precisely because the hockey team is so highly revered and supported, it is critical to uphold the values underpinning the team. You, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, Director of Athletics Jeff Ward, and Head Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Terry Meagher made a tough decision that strengthens the college, the community and the honor of every team at Bowdoin.

  10. Bob Spencer'60 says:

    Sad, but the right thing to do.
    Bob Spencer’60

  11. Dick Michelson '58 says:

    Right decision!

  12. Glenn K. Richards '60 says:

    A very difficult but necessary decision and action. Thank you again for your outstanding leadership at Bowdoin.

  13. The Common Good has been served. Well done!

  14. Ken Rholl says:

    It is not to say that we all haven’t made some, perhaps many, bad decisions in our lives. Rather, it is how we face the consequences of our decisions, learn and move on that is the measure of our humanity. Sadly, I wholeheartedly support the decision to forfeit the NESCAC title. To the hockey team I would only say that next year would be a perfectly good time to win the first ever Bowdoin NESCAC title.

  15. Barry,

    Thank you. There are many ways to do things, among them the easy, the quick, the expeditious, the politically correct…and the right way. You have reaffirmed the connection between Bowdoin College and the notion of honor.

  16. Barry – I know that had to break your heart but it was clearly the only correct decision to make. I am proud that Bowdoin is in such capable hands.

  17. Sharyn Zembruski, parent of Class of '13 says:

    Dr. Mills,

    My husband and I read your column yesterday and agree wholeheartedly with the difficult decision you and your associates made. Putting the good of the institution ahead of any specific group of students is what makes Bowdoin the unique institution it is. It is for reasons like this that our positive impressions and experiences with Bowdoin continue to grow each year, not to mention that our son is the happiest he has EVER been.

  18. Shaun Gilmore Merrick says:

    Ditto to all of the above. As a parent of a graduating senior I am grateful that my son
    has had the experience of 4 years at a school whose leadership continues to promote
    these positive values.

  19. Kate Treadway Hughes '84 says:

    I am very proud to be a graduate of a college which will sacrifice glory to stand firmly behind its values. Barry Mill’s decision makes me even happier with our son’s choice to matriculate at Bowdoin this Fall in the class of 2015.

  20. Bob Bessette says:

    Mr Mills,
    Being a parent of a daughter of the class of 2013, I commend you for making this tough decision. It must’ve been especially difficult for you after you were celebrating with the team on the ice. I would imagine that this tough decision will put an end to any of these practices in the future. I also have to mention, as another parent did in an earlier comment, that my daughter is also the happiest she has EVER been. Thank you again for your deliberate and strong leadership.

  21. My grandmother always told us, “the right thing to do is usually the hardest thing to do.” Clearly that was the case in this situation. Thank you for making it very clear what our priorities are as as institution and upholding that which makes Bowdoin a strong and special place to be.

  22. Geno Ring says:

    Mr. Mills,
    I support your decision and believe that you have taught all of the young men and women who attend, have attended, and will attend that doing the right thing is key in living a life of integrity. Thank you.

  23. Julia Schoettle says:

    Thank you for making this brave decision to honor and protect the principles that Bowdoin stands for. My daughter, a junior at Bowdoin, sent your note on to her close friends and to our family with pride. Thank you for being such a great role model for all of us.

  24. Funny how they just decided to come out with this now after they competed in the NCAA’s. What a Joke! Why don’t you tell us what exactly happened? Funny how I remember getting spit on by the fans at Bowdoin and food thrown at me on the bench. I guess I got the wrong picture of Bowdoin now because a few teammates enjoy playing in some drinking games! But almost the entire crowd hazing their frat pledges and acting like idiots in the stands. Why take the easy way out and why not just kick those players off the team and send them home. Probably because they are the best players. Doesn’t seem like a slap on the wrist! Why not put a one year ban on post season play? Seems like their should be a more appropriate and logical punishment than what was handed down.

  25. Jim Willey says:

    This was the right decision! You are the ultimate teacher! Good job!

    With gratitude,

    Jim Willey, ’66

  26. Cory O'Brien says:

    Babson College student, just wanted to say that I respect this tough decision immensely.

  27. James A Pierce says:

    The decision to revoke the NESCAC championship was announced on May 21, but the news did not reach the general public until June 6, when sports reporter Travis Lee made public the revocation on news channel 8. So why all the secrecy? Is it because Bowdoin would rather hide its misdeeds, or because the college didn’t want to upset any influential alumni during graduation and reunion weekends? Despite Travis Lee’s mention of the letter written by Dr. Mills, it took me until yesterday to find it. So much for openness and transparency here. The whole procedure reminds me of the English liners who sailed to India in the days of the Raj; any casualties who died were buried at night so as not to upset the quality folk on board…

  28. From the Editor: A column by President Mills regarding this decision was posted to the Bowdoin Daily Sun as the top story on Saturday, May 21. You may still view it as it appeared that day. The post remained prominently displayed on the Bowdoin Daily Sun for a full week and is still available on the site. Thus far, the post has generated comments from 29 people. The story was covered by the Brunswick Times Record in their May 26 edition. We cannot speak to why other media outlets ignored the information, but there was certainly no secrecy on the part of the College.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] a link to the President Mill’s on-line posting of this statement – there are a bunch of comments from Bowdoin alumni, all indicating support for his [...]

  2. [...] President Barry Mills drafted this statement explaining the decision to forfeit in response to an incident of “hazing” post- [...]

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