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Bowdoin College responds angrily to Gladwell podcast

By Globe Staff 

Author/essayist Malcolm Gladwell has said that his new podcast, “Revisionist History,” is “about things forgotten or misunderstood.” It’s familiar terrain for the frizzy-haired New Yorker writer famous for imparting counter-intuitive wisdom.

In the latest episode, titled “Food Fight,” Gladwell argues that some liberal arts colleges, notably Bowdoin, located in Brunswick, Maine, spend too much money on the food served to students at the expense of financial aid that might enable a greater number of low-income kids to attend the school.

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As you might imagine, Bowdoin disagrees and posted an angry response to Gladwell’s podcast on its website Friday.

“Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast ‘Revisionist History’ (aptly named) takes a manipulative and disingenuous shot at Bowdoin College that is filled with false assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and incorrect conclusions,” the statement says.

The podcast episode, which includes interviews with Bowdoin students marveling at the gourmet food served by chef Ken Cardone — Orzo and tofu salad! Smashed chickpea, avocado, and pesto sandwiches! — is a brutal takedown of the college’s alleged priorities.

“The food at Bowdoin is actually a problem, a moral problem,” Gladwell says.

By contrast, he claims, Vassar College, located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is an example of a liberal arts school that serves ordinary — and sometimes, according to some Vassar students, crummy — food because the focus is on education.

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“There’s only one solution if you’re looking at liberal arts colleges,” Gladwell says. “Don’t go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your kids go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your friends go to Bowdoin. Don’t give money to Bowdoin or any other school that serves amazing food in its dining hall.”

In its online response, Bowdoin says that Gladwell never inquired about budgets or financial aid practices: “Gladwell and his producer focused only on Bowdoin’s food in a manner that was disingenuous, dishonest, and manipulative. Their only questions were about food and were directed at dining service staff and students, not the president, not the chief financial officer, not the dean of admissions, and not anyone else.”

The school posted its response on Facebook and Twitter, and alums immediately flamed Gladwell for the podcast that one person called “asinine drivel.”

Gladwell isn’t backing down. In an e-mail Friday, he told us Bowdoin is deflecting. “Bowdoin College is a school with a rich and privileged alumni group, over a billion dollars in the bank, a tiny student population, and every conceivable material advantage — that nonetheless ranks 51st nationwide in offering opportunities to low income students. If I am ‘disingenuous’ in pointing out that disgraceful fact, then what is Bowdoin in choosing to deny it?”