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Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Golf Story

Thomas Klingenstein tells his side of the conversation he had with Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College

It's quite entertaining.

So I take the liberty and the trouble of correcting the record. Taking the most serious charge first, I did not interrupt his back swing—not twice, not once. I made no reference to Bowdoin at all—much less the rather insulting remark attributed to me.

The actual scene, as I recollect it, opens, pleasantly enough, on a golf course in Maine, where I played in a foursome that included Mr. Mills, whom I had never met. Over the first nine holes I learned, among other things, that he had taken up the game of golf as part of his fundraising duties, and that he had been a corporate lawyer and a Bowdoin trustee on a presidential search committee that eventually persuaded him to take the job. I don't remember telling him much about myself, but, for the record, I am a Wall Streeter, a resident of the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I find plenty of opportunity to examine the workings of the liberal mind, a philanthropist of moderate capacity with an interest primarily in issues of American identity, and a grateful, though parsimonious, alumnus of Williams College.

This last item Mills apparently had learned elsewhere because on the tenth hole, he asked why it was that I did not give generously to my alma mater. I told him that Williams is, by my lights, too liberal. By way of example I explained my disapproval of "diversity" as it generally has been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference (particularly as it applies to blacks), and not enough celebration of our common American identity. I told him that I wholeheartedly support reaching out to those who have traditionally been excluded but that I prefer to call such outreach "inclusion" (not "diversity"). He pushed back some, making clear that we were not, as they say, on the same page. But the exchange, which occurred between shots over a matter of perhaps two or three minutes, was all quite civil.

In what I took as an attempt to find common ground, he then raised the controversy surrounding (former) Harvard president Larry Summers's speculation that innate ability might explain at least part of the absence of women in the highest reaches of science and math. Mills seemed to expect me to agree that Summers deserved the public thrashing he received. I did not. I said that Summers deserved a respectful hearing. Mills forcefully rejected this claim saying, in effect, that Summers's contention was based on junk science. Because his dismissive certainty did not encourage a reply, I moved the conversation to less contentious matters. The friendly golf game continued. That's all there was to it.

Read the whole thing.

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