DeWitt John Jr.

DeWitt John Jr. died on October 6, 2020, in Brunswick, Maine.      

(The following notice was shared by President Rose on October 10, 2020)

To the Bowdoin community,

I am sorry to inform the Bowdoin community of the death of DeWitt John, Thomas F. Shannon Distinguished Lecturer in Environmental Studies Emeritus, on Tuesday, October 6, in Brunswick. DeWitt came to Bowdoin in 2000 with an exceptional record of scholarship and public policy on environmental issues. He directed the Environmental Studies Program from 2000 to 2008 and was a lecturer in environmental studies and government and legal studies until his retirement in 2014.

DeWitt was born on December 16, 1942, in Duluth, Minnesota, to DeWitt and Morley John. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics magna cum laude at Harvard in 1964 and was a research student at the London School of Economics before earning a master’s degree in political science at the University of Chicago in 1969. His thesis, Indian Workers’ Associations in Britain, was published by Oxford University Press. DeWitt loved to travel and, throughout his career, he drew on his experiences in China, Indonesia, Ecuador, India, Central America, and Europe to inform his understanding of the nexus of environmental issues and government policies.

Over the next twenty years, DeWitt built an impressive record of academic and policy credentials as a member of the faculty at the University of Denver and in positions as project director of the Denver Research Institute; assistant to the director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; acting director of the Colorado Division of Mines; director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Research; policy studies director for economics, trade, and agriculture at the National Governors’ Association; a member on an advisory panel on coal leasing for the Office of Technology Assessment of the US Congress; and a member of an oil shale environmental advisory panel for the US Department of the Interior.

With these considerable accomplishments under his belt, DeWitt entered a PhD program in political science at the University of Chicago. He completed his doctorate in 1992, and his dissertation received the Williams Anderson Award of the American Society for Political Science for the best dissertation in intergovernmental relations; it was published in 1994 under the title of Civic Environmentalism: Alternatives to Regulation in States and Communities. DeWitt’s term “civic environmentalism” has since become part of the lexicon in environmental policy. Before coming to Bowdoin in 2000, DeWitt directed the Center for the Economy and the Environment (an arm of the National Academy for Public Administration). As part of that work, he evaluated the National Marine Sanctuaries Program and worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and congressional staff. In 2001 DeWitt was elected a Fellow of the National Academy for Public Administration.

At Bowdoin, DeWitt earned the respect of colleagues for his generosity of spirit and for the breadth of his experience and knowledge about the intersection of science and public policy on international, national, state, and local levels. He placed a high value on discussion, collaboration, and engagement with different perspectives on the complex interplay between science, policy, and society. His faculty colleagues and students discovered beneath his modest demeanor a keen analytical mind, informed by wisdom and experience. He continued his public service after joining the Bowdoin faculty. He evaluated the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology for the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2006, and he testified at the hearings of the US House Committee on National Resources about national marine sanctuaries in 2008. As a member of the National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology with the EPA from 2010 to 2014, he co-chaired a working group and coauthored an in-depth report. He chaired the Advisory Committee to the Marine Conservation Initiative of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, California (2010–2012). He also served as vice chair on the Maine Board of the Conservation Law Foundation of Maine. He leaves an enduring legacy in environmental policy and at Bowdoin.

DeWitt is survived by his wife, Jane (Greeley) John, of Brunswick, whom he married in 1974; a daughter, Elizabeth; and a son, Seth.

A former student of DeWitt’s said of him: “(He) changed my life, changed my direction, and helped illuminate the path I have followed for the past ten years. I came to Bowdoin without any real inkling of an environmental interest, but I found my way into ES 101, somehow, and into DeWitt’s Friday morning discussion section (which featured Frosty’s donuts, if I recall correctly), and I was hooked. I had never encountered ideas more compelling, more important, and more energizing than in DeWitt’s class.” For an educator, there is no higher praise.

Julianne and I extend our sympathies to DeWitt’s family and friends, and we join with the Bowdoin community in celebrating this life so well lived and dedicated in service to the common good.



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