Barry Mills: The Story That Won’t Die

A newspaper story reminds Barry Mills that it’s always difficult to tell others what to do.

It’s summer at Bowdoin and the campus is just gloriously beautiful this time of year. There are about 250 students working here this summer. They are conducting research in the labs and in the library, working on technology projects, helping out in the admissions office, doing projects in the development office, interning in our investment office, to name just a few of their activities. All of this speaks powerfully to the vitality and opportunity at the College for our students. Forty years ago, when I was their age, most of the guys who hung out for the summer were painting houses (also not a bad way to spend the summer in Maine, and good experience too!).

The past year was another active year at Bowdoin. But the story that just won’t stop hitting the press is Meatless Monday. One thing you learn in my job is that you never know where the big stories of the year will come from—one can only be sure they will happen. Meatless Monday was a day in the winter when folks decided that no meat should be served at dinner in either of our dining halls. This was one very controversial evening at Bowdoin. Enthusiasm on both sides of the issue was quite high and was chronicled well in the Bowdoin Orient. Today—more than four months later—the event is mentioned again, this time in The Portland Press Herald. It is the story that will not die! I guess the vision of our students selling Kentucky Fried Chicken in front of Thorne on a freezing cold February night is just too good a story on a slow news day in Maine in late June.

When, in the spirit of doing the right thing, do you decide to mandate that a group do something or take something away?

The larger story surrounding Meatless Monday is the vexing question of mandates. When, in the spirit of doing the right thing, do you decide to mandate that a group do something or take something away? In another example a few years ago, I was approached to ban trays from the dining hall. The proponents of the ban argued that people would take less food and there would be less waste. Others insisted that the ban was environmentally responsible because cleaning the trays requires a lot of water. On the other side, there were those who argued convenience and practicality that trays were invented to address. Ultimately, I decided against the ban because I felt the right way to deal with this was to educate people on both sides of the issue and let people make their own “tray choice.”

On the other hand, a number of years ago I decided that we should ban smoking in all of our College buildings—a story that was covered in The New York Times. The health issues associated with smoking are so compelling that as a College we believed there were strong reasons to mandate a change of behavior on our campus. In the main, this decision has been well received and respected. We did link the ban on smoking with extensive education about the dangers of smoking and provided opportunities and assistance for people to stop smoking.

Questions about Meatless Monday and dining hall trays could have you thinking that everything at Bowdoin is about the food. Well, not exactly, but these are the sorts of things that pop up from time to time on a college campus, and they are good examples of what happens when we seek to make decisions for others. Overall, decisions that affect people’s behavior and choice must be made with a large measure of restraint and humility. But there are also times when decisions have to be made to ensure that our College adheres to our principles, while also promoting the intellectual engagement and residential experience that represents Bowdoin.

I will be writing often in the coming weeks, so please stay connected to the Bowdoin Daily Sun, and have a great summer!

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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.

3 comments to Barry Mills: The Story That Won’t Die

  • Bruce Lynskey

    I still don’t understand ‘in the spirit of doing the right thing’. I guess that I missed the lesson on defining ‘right’.

  • Joe Leghorn

    Barry,
    This is link, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/29/tough-week-for-meatless-monday/, to a column by Mark Bittman in 6/30′s NY Times. (It’s worth a read.) He reports that the Meatless Monday campaign has influenced the animal protein intake of 27% of American adults. The motivating facts behind decisions can sometimes start to persuade people to change behavior. Remember flying in the ’70′s when airplanes were filed with cigarette smoke? That behavior is no longer found acceptable, or even smoking in restaurants. Change takes time, explaining the benefits makes it easier. The issue is persuasion vs coercion in the context of the social compact. Have a great holiday weekend.
    Joe

  • James A Pierce

    Concerning the article and the comment by Bruce Lynskey, I also have a question about “doing the right thing.” It sound more like one more on the list of politically correct mandates that Bowdoin so eagerly embraces these days. If an individual at Bowdoin wishes to participate in a campaign like this, it should be done because because of that person’s views and not because an ukase promulgated by the administration.

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