After a busy week on the road, Barry Mills takes in some of Bowdoin’s best and reflects on the right and wrong reasons for building new facilities at the College.
I returned to campus Friday after traveling last week to Boston, London, Boston, Rhode Island, and then back to Maine. The trips to London and Rhode Island were for alumni events and individual meetings with alumni. It was great fun to join a very large group of alumni for our event at the British Museum in London. And on Thursday night, we had over 100 people at the Providence Art Club in Rhode Island—my home state.
As I travel around and speak with alumni, I’m often asked about the so-called “arms race” among colleges and universities over facilities. Folks want to know when it will stop. I can’t speak for other schools, but I am confident that here at Bowdoin, we have invested in our facilities to promote excellence and to support the scope of our program, not to keep up with the competition. Facilities are not the only ingredient, but there’s no doubt that with excellent facilities, one can attract the talent in students, faculty, and staff necessary to create a wonderful program.
I arrived back on campus last week just in time for Common Hour—the Friday series of campus-wide lectures or performances held at the noon hour when classes and meetings are generally not in session. That afternoon there was a set of performances by our students in Studzinski Recital Hall’s Kanbar Auditorium. Three groups of students in chamber ensembles performed works by Brahms, Bozza, and Dvorak. These students were “coached” by George Lopez, Kathleen McNerney, and Mary Hunter of our music department. It was a wonderful hour of music that allowed me a moment of relaxation and reflection after a very hectic week on the road. As I sat there listening to these students and as I looked around the hall, I was very proud of what we have accomplished. The quality of the performances was really excellent, and I am convinced that these students (almost all of whom are not music majors) would not have even considered Bowdoin College had we not renovated the Curtis Pool into Studzinski Hall. When they visited the College for the first time, they saw a fantastic recital hall where they knew they could perform and express their love of music, even if they came to Bowdoin to study chemistry or something else. Of course, the hall is quite beautiful, but the impact the facility has had on music at Bowdoin is impossible to exaggerate. Hence, an example of a magnificent facility that enhances and even helps to build an important program at our liberal arts college.
Facilities are not the only ingredient, but there’s no doubt that with excellent facilities, one can attract the talent in students, faculty, and staff necessary to create a wonderful program.
Friday night, in a completely different vein, I headed off with Karen to the 199th Bowdoin-Colby men’s hockey game. While it is inaccurate to claim that the new Watson Arena created Bowdoin’s hockey program, the talent that Coach Terry Meagher has assembled this year on the ice is a testament not only to the legacy of the program and the skills of our coach. It is also, at least in part, connected to the fantastic facility that draws students to the College. On Saturday, the women’s team took to the ice against Colby and their team is also a reflection of a great history and a fantastic facility attracting talented women students who are great hockey players. So, here again, Watson Arena is a facility that has allowed us to build a first-rate, exceptional program.
The renovation of the Walker Art Building was, admittedly, very expensive and complicated, but the result is nothing short of an architectural gem. This work provided a rebirth for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, which now draws hundreds of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents to enjoy and learn about art. And the tens of thousands of visitors who came to the Hopper and Wegman exhibitions provided a tremendous boost for Brunswick, for Maine, and for our College. None of this could have happened without the renovation and expansion of the facility.
This month, we commence the renovation of the recently acquired Longfellow Elementary School located directly behind Coles Tower. Opened in the 1920s, Longfellow has long been an important anchor in our community, and we plan to keep the exterior largely intact. Inside, we will improve the 40,000 square feet of space to consolidate into this one building studio art and dance facilities now spread around campus and around town. Again, this is not about an “arms race.” It is about creating space near the main campus for dynamic and excellent programs at Bowdoin.
Other examples of buildings created or renovated to enhance or create program at the College include Druckenmiller Hall (which houses biology, chemistry, and earth and oceanographic studies), Kanbar Hall (psychology and neuroscience), and Pickard and Wish theaters (theatre and dance). And there are many others. The point here, again, is that we don’t embark on this work and spend this money to keep up with anybody else. We do it to make sure Bowdoin remains exceptional.
As we think about the future and the economic constraints going forward, it will be more difficult to create new program and hence new facility. We will have to be more creative in finding ways to improve program by using our existing facilities more efficiently and flexibly. But rest assured that our decisions will be made using one yardstick: What is best for Bowdoin?
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 email@example.com