Queer Gardens, Pocahontas, and Prostitutes
A new report tracks the intellectual disarray at a pricey liberal-arts college.

Bowdoin College campus


Eliana Johnson

There are also at Bowdoin the kinds of people and attitudes you might expect on a progressive campus: a valedictorian elected by popular vote, a culture that enthusiastically promotes sex as long as it is safe and consensual, a student who tells Klingenstein that “it took balls” for him (a conservative) even to show up on campus.

The origins of the study lie in a game of golf. In the summer of 2010, Klingenstein hit the links with three others, among them Bowdoin president Barry Mills, whom he had never met. Over the course of 18 holes, Klingenstein shared his disapproval of diversity as it is practiced on many college campuses — by his lights, something used to emphasize ethnic differences at the expense of a common American heritage.


He was surprised to find himself the subject of an unflattering portrayal in Mills’s 2010 convocation address. Though Mills did not identify him by name, Klingenstein recognized himself when the president referred to the “opponent who announce[d] mid-swing, ‘I would never support Bowdoin — you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons.’” Mills told his audience that he had walked off that golf green “in despair and with deep concern.”

Mills “badly distorted my point of view,” Klingenstein tells National Review Online. The convocation speech expressed concern over the lack of intellectual diversity on campus, he says, but Mills’s attitude also revealed that he “wasn’t at all interested in exposing Bowdoin to alternative points of view.”

If Mills failed to acknowledge the legitimacy of Klingenstein’s views on the golf course three years ago, What Does Bowdoin Teach? is another call for him to do so. It sets forth his case in painstaking detail and scholarly prose over 360 pages. “There’s nothing in this that consists of cherry-picking the most outrageous cases,” Wood says.

Klingenstein’s immediate goal is for Bowdoin’s leaders to acknowledge that the school’s academic standards are in virtual free fall. He hopes that alumni elsewhere will start to ask, “What’s the case at our school?” If Wood, the anthropologist, is right, the study of transgressive gardens is par for the course.

— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.