Karen A. Harris ’74
Harris’s organizational expertise has been a boon for Bates
Karen Harris as a student, coach, dean, parent and Trustee has given 39 years of support to Bates.
Karen came to Bates from Pennsylvania, having grown up in various parts of the Northeast, and in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Karen earned her BA in Psychology, with substantial course work in English, and a Junior Year Abroad at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Coming to Bates in the years when women’s varsity teams were getting started, she competed in varsity field hockey, where she was the leading scorer, and on the ski team. She also was heavily involved in activities that foreshadowed later commitments, both professional and personal: she took a Short Term course to East Harlem, where she helped set up a summer day camp for children, and on campus was the student director of the Big Sister program and volunteered for the Lewiston-Auburn Children’s Home. Following graduation, she worked in two residential settings for emotionally disturbed teenagers, and then founded and ran a psychiatric half-way house for adults leaving the state mental hospital — all in her first four years after Bates. In another foreshadow, Karen finished her psychiatric service with a well-regarded consultant’s report for the State’s Child Protective Services Division on the causes of staff burnout and discontent.
As she put it at the time, needing a change of pace from years of live-in work with psychiatric patients, she returned to Bates, first as an assistant field hockey coach, and then as an assistant dean of admissions. The Admissions office that summer of 1978 hired five new deans—Wylie Mitchell, Ginny Harrison, Karen Harris, Marcus Bruce, and Bill Hiss. That was a good summer of hiring: collectively, those five people have served Bates as deans, professors, vice presidents or trustees for 128 years. As Mark Twain famously put it in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, “They came to watch and stayed to paint.”
Karen next earned a master’s degree at the Yale Graduate School of Organization and Management, becoming interested in “workplace democracy,” worker-owned businesses, an interest that would have far-reaching later impacts for her. After some years of consulting to help New York firms create better working environments for women, she returned to Maine to help found a worker-owned firm in Maine, Baby Bag, that allowed workers to develop their talents more flexibly than most corporate environments. Since then, Karen has served nationally and internationally as a consultant for developing organizations in a wide range of formats from corporations to agriculture to developing societies. As a side benefit of her wide international travel, she made Bates well known from South Asia to South America.
Karen’s forms of service to Bates cover an extraordinary range, from volunteer to leader, from overseas interviewer to President of the Alumni Association. In 1993, Karen was elected to the Bates Board of Trustees, and in 12 years of service was on eighteen different trustee committee, led four chairs as chair or vice-chair and served for nine years on the Executive Committee of the Board. At a key transition point in Bates history, Karen co-chaired the Presidential Search Committee that brought President Elaine Tuttle Hansen to Bates. As a Trustee, perhaps parallel to her work as a skilled consultant, she frequently asked the pointed and on-point question that helped other trustees reframe assumptions. A high point in Karen’s decades of service to Bates was seeing her daughter Sara Gips ’07 graduate from Bates, and be inducted into this Society.
For her devotion to her college, and her decades of service and leadership, we are honored to welcome Karen Harris, Class of 1974, into the membership of the Bates Scholar-Athlete Society.