Mills to step down as Bowdoin College president in 2015

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BRUNSWICK — Bowdoin College President Barry Mills announced Monday that he will step down in June 2015.

Mills, 63, has served as president of the college for 13 years. In an email to the Bowdoin community, he wrote that he does not plan to retire but “will seek another ‘professional challenge.’”

“Anyone who knows me knows how much I love leading Bowdoin, and Karen and I and our boys are proud citizens of Brunswick,” Mills said. “It is the honor of a lifetime to serve as president of this fantastic college, which is as strong today as in any period during its proud history. In fact, it is because of this strength and because of my affection for the college that I choose to step down next year. Transitions are inevitable, and after what will be 14 tremendous years as president, I believe it is time for me to make way for new leadership to propel Bowdoin into its next period of greatness.”

Mills became president of Bowdoin in 2001, replacing Robert Edwards, who had served as president of the college for 11 years.

Among the most notable accomplishments of Mills’ tenure are the replacement in 2008 of student loans with grants for all students receiving financial aid and the 2013 financial milestone when the college’s endowment surpassed $1 billion for the first time.

“He’s an outstanding president,” said Bowdoin professor Chris Potholm, who has worked with seven Bowdoin presidents since 1970. Potholm said Mills “guided the college through some financial difficulties … and now the college has never looked better, the college faculty has never been stronger. Barry has been an extremely powerful, positive force for the college.”

Mills on Monday declined to reflect on his tenure as president.

“While he made this announcement today, he is already back at work on behalf of the college – with more accomplishments to come,” college spokesman Scott Hood said in an email.

A native of Rhode Island, Mills graduated cum laude in 1972 from Bowdoin College with a double major in biochemistry and history. He earned his doctorate in biology in 1976 at Syracuse University and his law degree in 1979 at the Columbia University School of Law. He then served as deputy presiding partner of the international law firm Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City.

Mills’ wife, Karen Gordon Mills, served as administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration from 2009 to August 2013. She is currently a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School.

Beginning in July 2014, she will be a member of the Harvard Corp., known formally as the President and Fellows of Harvard College, the college’s principal fiduciary governing board, according to the release.

The couple has three sons, William, Henry and George, all of whom are graduates of Brunswick High School.

A search committee to name Mills’ successor will be selected in May and will include representatives from Bowdoin’s faculty, staff, alumni and student body, according to the college.

“Barry’s announcement today makes us value all the more his exceptional contributions to Bowdoin and his willingness to do what he thinks best for our college, even if it means stepping down from a job that he does so well and truly loves,” Deborah Jensen Barker, chairwoman of the college’s board of trustees, said in an email to the Bowdoin community. “We are going to miss him very much when he leaves, but – as he has so clearly reminded us – he’s not gone yet, and we all have much to do together before that day comes.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King said Monday in a statement that he and his wife, who live in Brunswick, would miss Barry and Karen Mills, “who have been trusted advisers and wonderful friends to our entire family.”

After he served as Maine’s governor from 1994 to 2002, King gave lectures about leadership at Bowdoin.

“Barry has dedicated much of his life and professional career, including his 13 years at the helm of Bowdoin, to seeing that students from all walks of life and from all across the globe have the opportunity to obtain a world-class education that prepares them to become leaders in today’s ever-changing society,” King said. “While I am saddened by his announcement today, I am grateful for his countless contributions to Bowdoin and to the great state of Maine.”

As president, Mills spoke often about improving the college’s relationship with its neighbors and with Brunswick town government. Under his leadership, the college created programs that increase opportunities for students to participate in community service projects.

“I can tell you that, from what I understand, for the college towns in Maine, Brunswick and Bowdoin College have one of the more amicable town-gown relationships,” John Eldridge, Brunswick’s acting town manager and longtime director of finance, said Monday. “I would say that’s due in large part to (Mills). It starts with the leadership.”

“He’ll be a difficult act to follow,” Potholm said. “He’d listen to the faculty when he should listen to the faculty, and he’d listen to the students when he should listen to the students, and at the same time, he didn’t take a lot of nonsense.”

Sidebar Elements

Barry Mills, center, with his wife, Karen Gorden Mills, right, and former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe in this April 1, 2009 photo. Mills this week announced he will step down from his post as president of Bowdoin College in Brunswick.