William G. Bowen is the immediate past President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a position he held from 1988 to 2006. He graduated from Denison University in 1955 and received his Ph.D. from Princeton University three years later. Bowen joined the Princeton faculty in 1958, specializing in labor economics. From 1967 to 1972 he served as Provost of the University. In 1972 he became the University’s President, a post he held until 1988; during those 16 years, he also taught courses in economics and public affairs.
Under Bowen’s stewardship, the Mellon Foundation has taken a marked turn to the political left, with its philanthropic focus shifting heavily towards racial preferences and “diversity” initiatives, environmental advocacy, and immigrant rights.
In 1989 Bowen oversaw the establishment of the Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program, whose mission was “to increase the number of highly qualified candidates for PhDs in core fields within the arts and sciences who come from minority groups that are seriously underrepresented in these fields — principally African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans.” In 2004, more than 100 MMUF fellows were awarded doctorates.
Also under Bowen’s leadership, the Mellon Foundation expanded its “Conservation and Environment Program” (CEP), which embraces the tenets of an anti-capitalist, anti-development worldview. Throughout the Foundation’s history, numerous Mellon CEP grants have been earmarked for the acquisition of private land, which in turn is sold to the federal government and is thereby effectively rendered off-limits to human habitation or development. The CEP continues to fund such land-acquisition initiatives by supporting the organizations Trust for Public Land and the Wilderness Society.
In 1998, Bowen co-authored (with Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University and former dean of Harvard Law School) the much-publicized book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions. This monograph strongly advocates racial preferences in college admissions, and calls into question whether the very concept of academic “merit” is even valid or measurable.
Other books that Bowen has authored or co-authored include: Equity And Excellence in American Higher Education (2006); The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values (2002); The Sacred and the Secular University (2000); Universities and Their Leadership (1998); Inside the Boardroom: Governance by Directors and Trustees (1994); The Charitable Nonprofits: An Analysis of Institutional Dynamics and Characteristics (1994); The Economics of Labor Force Participation (1969); and The Wage-Price Issue: A Theoretical Analysis (1969).
Bowen is the founding Board Chairman of Ithaka, a not-for-profit organization that helps universities plan business models and develop electronic infrastructures. He serves as a trustee on the Board of the Trust Committee, which oversees the Rockefeller Family Trusts. And he has served on the boards of Merck & Co, Journal Storage, American Express, the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development, and the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association and College Retirement Equities Fund.