On & Off Campus
The emotional range of Commencement 2002 had to accommodate not only the joyous conclusion for 416 seniors, but the sad final act of a Bates tragedy.
Edited by H. Jay Burns
A Final Chapter
Despite the presence of a few thousand people on a sun-splashed Memorial Day morning, the Quad was cloaked in silence as Kerry Maloney, the Bates chaplain, concluded her benediction. She spoke the final few words of the blessing that would follow new graduates as they took the literal first steps as alumni and their giant metaphorical leap into the world beyond Bates.
Then came a sound heard ’round the Quad.
The big bark that broke the silence, courtesy of a 5-year-old, 127-pound Newfoundland named Shadow, apparently seemed as good a way as any to conclude the 2002 Commencement exercises. The good-humored crowd laughed, and the graduates rose to march back whence they came.
After four years, the College sends its graduates off with a trim, 140-minute Commencement that has the pacing of a baseball game played with no errors and no walks. The speaker’s talk is around 10 minutes long (this year, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg delivered his comments against religious extremism in 8 minutes, 20 seconds). But despite its brevity, the event is not a rapid lock step toward the inevitable handoff of Bates parchment. Indeed, partly because of the heartbreak of early March, the stabbing death of senior Morgan McDuffee near campus, the emotional range of Commencement 2002 had to accommodate not only the joyous conclusion for 416 seniors, but the sad final act of a Bates tragedy.
Early in the exercises, President Harward noted that “our joy this morning is tempered” by the knowledge that three members of the Class of 2002 died since matriculating at Bates in September 1998. Those three were McDuffee and, two years earlier, Merrick Ryan, who suffered from an eating disorder and died in her hometown of Alpharetta, Ga., and Jessie Withrow of Anchorage, Alaska, who, on summer vacation, was killed by a drunk driver as she was riding her bicycle home.
Noting that McDuffee had completed his course obligations, Harward said, “The faculty is pleased to have voted Morgan’s degree posthumously. His classmates and all who knew him carry with us the spirit of his life and commitment to his family, his friends, and to this College.”
Morgan’s mother, Lisa Freeman, and his father, Regis McDuffee, accepted the bachelor of arts degree in economics, the first-ever posthumous degree from Bates.
Following Commencement — which featured honorary degrees to Weinberg; internationally acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns; former Surgeon General of the United States M. Joycelyn Elders; and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein — Regis McDuffee spoke to the media.
He talked about the Red Cross memorial fund in McDuffee’s name to support school programs to teach children how to communicate without violence.
He was then asked to describe his feelings while he and Freeman walked toward the Commencement podium to accept the degree from President Harward. He said he felt “nerves. But also a great deal of pride. Morgan was proud every day he was at Bates. So I carry that pride today, because that’s how he would have felt.”
McDuffee said that the Bates community, including alumni, “came out of the woodwork” to support his family. “I think if he had gone to a larger university, this would have been a lot more anonymous.”
He noted the shared pride in seeing Morgan’s friends receive diplomas. “I was proud of his friends,” he said. “Tomorrow I will deal with the heartbreak.”
Around and Beyond the Quad
“Why have liberal arts colleges been more successful in attracting black faculty than the nation’s large research universities?” That question was posed by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education as it analyzed faculty diversity at U.S. colleges and universities. The journal found a far larger percentage of black faculty at the 23 best liberal arts colleges, including Bates, than at the nation’s leading research universities. Bates ranked third on that list, behind Haverford and Wellesley. The journal concluded that the opportunity for mentoring students and an emphasis on teaching at liberal arts colleges were two factors at play….
Another question was recently raised by Bates Magazine letter-writers. Will the intellectual who holds the new Thomas Sowell Professorship in Economics share the perspectives of the chair’s famous namesake? The short answer is, not necessarily. The longer and better answer was heard in the rhetoric at the professorship’s inaugural event in May. “The relentless search for truth, and the courage to express it despite its occasional unpopularity, distinguishes Thomas Sowell,” said Joe Willett ’73, the Bates Trustee who established the professorship with his wife, Janice. Dean of the Faculty Jill Reich picked up on that theme. She praised the intent of the professorship for recognizing that the intellectual world demands “a fundamental trust among us — a trust that we can go forward with agreements and disagreements alike, knowing that integrity and good faith lie at the heart of each person’s ideas and actions.” Thomas Sowell himself, unable to attend due to health reasons, forwarded comments delivered by President Harward. The nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, wrote Sowell, “are closest to ideal for helping bright young minds develop the ability to think for themselves. It used to be the proud boast of higher education that ‘We are not here to teach you what to think, but how to think.’ May that spirit still survive in whoever holds this chair in the years ahead.” Regarding the administration of the Sowell Professorship, the endowment will support visiting economists who will teach and work with students for a semester at a time. “Their interests will range widely and they will share in this commitment to lively discourse, a free exchange of ideas, and a commitment to the public good,” Reich said….
Town and gown officials echoed themes of mutual cooperation and respect at the dedication of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships in late May. But it was a student, Katherine Burke ’03 of Canton, Mass., who offered first-hand insights into what it’s like to experience Lewiston through service-learning. Community partnerships, Burke said, “allow Bates students to have teachers from all walks of life. Students have learned about Somali culture from local elders and schoolchildren, Lewiston’s Franco-American history from elderly resident immigrants, and the social and political implications for welfare reform from Calvin Dube and the Trinity Soup Kitchen.” As part of the dedication, the Bates Trustees announced $1.7 million in gifts to endow the new Harward Center, which consolidates the existing array of Bates’ community-oriented programs under one roof….
Historic and contemporary Bates connections were at play in the announcement of an award to Director of Athletics Suzanne Coffey from the Institute of International Sport, based at the University of Rhode Island. Coffey won the 2002 Keaney Award, named for legendary URI basketball coach Frank Keaney, who was also a 1911 Bates graduate. A second Bates connection is Dan Doyle ’72, who heads the institute. Last winter, The Sporting News included Doyle among “10 sports figures to watch in 2002,” and in 2003 he’ll have a book out, The Encyclopedia of Sports Parenting, edited by none other than classmate Deborah Burch….
Bates’ 416 graduates aren’t the only members of the College community beginning new lives, of course. June 30 marked the end of the Harward presidency, and the moving truck that pulled away from the President’s House on College Street headed south to Washington, D.C., where Don and Ann will spend part of the year. The Harwards also have a home in slightly quieter Corea, Maine, a Down East town whose population of about 500 barely exceeds that of an incoming Bates class. The Harwards’ plans aren’t etched in stone yet, but, as he told The Bates Student, “We’re going to serve, we’re going to be involved, we’re going to be active.” Their e-mail addresses remain firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com….
When the Red Sox signed Ted Williams’ 33-year-old son, John Henry, to a minor league contract in mid-June, the Boston media expressed surprise, opining that the Sox were doing a favor to the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. But nobody’s more surprised than former Bobcat baseball players who remember how John Henry, a Bates student briefly in the late 1980s, tried out for, and quickly got cut from, Chick Leahey ’52′s team in the spring of 1987. “It’s a story you figure you’ll tell your grandkids,” says Pete Doucette ’90, a former Bobcat pitcher. “How you saw Ted Williams’ son get cut from your college baseball team.”
We tell one last story about Bates’ retiring president. Never much to tell tales about himself, Harward offered a few reminiscences in the waning days of his 13-year presidency. This story Harward told to Bates Student reporter Lisa Nager ’02 of Nantucket, Mass. During his first year, Harward was traveling for Bates and got caught in a snowstorm in Connecticut. He was due to deliver a lecture in Boston that night, and this aficionado of public transportation found that nothing was leaving Hartford. Rather than hole up in a hotel, he tried to rent a car. Nothing doing. So he rented an RV. Never having driven in a northeaster, he nevertheless made it to Boston and parked the camper in a snowbank near the lecture site. A Boston cop stopped him, and Harward explained his situation, to which the officer responded with a few choice words about the smarts of the new Bates president driving an RV to Boston in a snowstorm.
Ruth Rowe Wilson ’36 is retiring as Class Notes editor of Bates Magazine, as is her faithful proofreader, Jane Ault Lindholm ’37. At Reunion 2002, Ruth and Jane were lauded by Alumni Council president Mike Bosse ’93 for “helping tell the stories that keep a community like Bates strong. They have chronicled first jobs and graduate degrees, marriages and babies. They’ve presented promotions and cross-country career moves, children’s first words, first steps, and first days of school. They’ve spread the word about emptying nests, retirements, world travels, and new grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They’ve helped you share your happiest news, and your saddest, with this community.”
Joseph Poulin, the Dining Services worker who coined the famous Bates phrase “happy tray,” has retired.
So has Robin Brooks, professor of mathematics since 1969, and Doug Hodgkin, political science professor since the Johnson administration (though as one of the few devout Republicans on the faculty he probably wouldn’t use that marker). And David Ledlie, professor of chemistry, and Rober Moyer, professor of psychology.
They were among the 15 retiring Bates faculty and staff honored at this spring’s Employee Recognition Luncheon, a little-known (by students, anyway) campus event during the relative calm between winter semester and Short Term.
Bates has about 800 employees now. Maintenance and dining services employ the most, at around 100 each. Not surprisingly, most of the retirees honored at the luncheon are from these two departments, and many carry local Franco names like Cote, Dubois, Poulin, Chouinard, and Tardif. Years ago, they may have begun their working lives in the now-defunct Lewiston mills. But they gave their final work years to Bates as groundskeepers, plumbers, carpenters, boiler operators, and production, service, and sanitation workers in Commons.
After lunch (for many years catered by Graziano’s, so the dining staff can enjoy the event), each honored retiree walks to the lectern, where a supervisor or colleague gives a two-minute testimonial. The honored retiree may make a few remarks, too.
In those two minutes, we hear the expected praise. One year, a great buffer of floors retired. Indeed, whether Bates floors would ever be as shiny seemed to be in doubt that day. But usually we learn more about the person and less about the job.
Wallace Fenderson retired from the Commons recycling and trash center this year. It was nice to hear that he helped institute recycling guidelines that made Bates a national leader. But it was better to learn that Fenderson has been a Cub Scout volunteer and a disc jockey on WRBC-FM, the Bates radio station. “Bates has changed over the years, but there are still a lot of good people here,” Fenderson told the crowd.
Then to the podium came political scientist Jim Richter, who told us how Doug Hodgkin usually advised more thesis students than his colleagues. We smiled more when Richter told us that Doug is a wonderful tenor and that he sings with the Androscoggin Chorale and High Street Congregational Church.
Mathematician David Haines described how Robin Brooks consulted on the design and implementation of the energy system in a Farmington supermarket — the first such system in Maine where a single personal computer controlled everything from heating to parking lot lights. And then Haines told how Robin plays banjo and mandolin, and is a “mean square dance caller” who used to perform for Chase Hall dances.
We heard that Elaine Labonte spent 17 years as a custodian, and how she’s a perfectionist who likes to collect Beanie Babies. And after 20 years, Margaret Ashton stepped down as the Health Center receptionist. “Mother Margaret,” as director Christy Tisdale described her, was someone who “touched and helped students who just needed someone to talk to.”
Joe Poulin retired; he’s the man who coined “happy tray” — when a diner removes napkins from a tray after eating, puts glasses upside down, and removes utensils to help the dishwashers do their job. Dining Services director Bob Volpi recalled how Poulin took him fishing to Tacoma Lake just after Volpi arrived at Bates years ago. Fish were caught, but Volpi said he mostly remembers how Poulin told him how Bates people respected one another.
The luncheon ended with gifts for Don and Ann Harward — a pair of Adirondack chairs. You can get chairs like those through L.L. Bean for $179 apiece, but catalog chairs aren’t what the Harwards got. Theirs were hand-crafted by Bates physical plant carpenter Frank Roy.
Dialing for Bobcats
About 4,200 students worldwide seek admission to Bates every year. About 26 percent will receive a letter of admission in late March.
After acceptance letters go out, the balance of power shifts in the admissions game. Students with multiple college options now get to decide which college they’ll attend.
The beggars have become choosers.
Each April, colleges like Bates go to work wooing accepted students. Off-campus receptions around the country wine and dine prospective students and their parents, and on-campus weekends showcase campus life for visiting students.
Students play a big role, too.
Last spring, Carrie Curtis ’04 of Yarmouth, Maine, and Meghan Ryan ’04 of East Dummerston, Vt., oversaw the Bates Connection, students who volunteer to call potential Bates students, both in the fall and again in the spring after they’re admitted, and talk to them about Bates.
Bates: What is the most common question you get?
Curtis: A lot of them want to know why we chose Bates, what distinguished it from other schools. I chose Bates over another school because of how friendly the people were during my visit. I remember going into Commons and not knowing anyone, and I began to sit down at a table with other accepted students. When I found out they were first-years, I excused myself and started to leave. They told me to stay, sit down, and talk with them.
Bates: Do the students you call ask you to compare Bates with other schools?
Ryan: The parents ask us more questions than the students, like how is Bates different from Colby?
Bates: So you trash Colby, right?
Curtis: We’re not supposed to talk about the other schools. One of the things we tell all our callers is not to be negative about the other schools; be pro-Bates.
Bates: Are the parents tough consumers?
Curtis: I had one friend who called the other night and spoke with the mother for 45 minutes. The kid wasn’t around, but the mom kept asking questions. The parents usually have more questions than the student; the student is usually really surprised, so they don’t know what to ask.
Ryan: The parents are a little less bashful about it!
Bates: Do students think you’re telemarketers?
Curtis: Some people think we’re admissions deans, making the decision. They get all official on the phone and want to make sure to say all the right things. I’m like, Relax! I’m a student! I’m just 20!
Bates: I imagine the poor kid arriving home, and someone has scrawled a message: “Bates admissions called. They want to talk to you.”
Ryan: I got an e-mail back from a kid I called last year. He wasn’t home when I called. He said, “I’m so sorry I missed your call. What do I need to do?”
Bates: Are you prepared to answer questions about campus safety, after the death of a student near campus?
Curtis: We let them know that security has been increased on campus and in Lewiston, that the Health Center is really flexible for students who want to talk. We let the students know that we are all working with this, and it is a trying time.
Ryan: We share our opinions, but we have to keep it in perspective. This is not a common thing. And we’ve been getting so much support from the community.
Bates: At any college, the amount of drinking is an issue. Does that come up?
Curtis: More often they’ll ask about alternative activities. I tell them there are so many other opportunities here. I think it’s really impressive how much the dean’s office tries to put on events that do not include alcohol.
Bates: If there’s someone who seems like he or she isn’t going to come to Bates, do you try to change their mind?
Curtis: If they’re adamant, the call ends pretty quickly. If they’re iffy about it, if they keep asking questions, then you might have a chance to persuade them to come here.
Bates: Or sell them TV Guide.
Ryan: You can read them a little bit. If they’re responsive to the call, you can keep it going. We try to tell them to come up for the weekend for accepted students, the first weekend of Short Term!
Curtis: They understand that when we call them, or when they take a tour from a student, just how much students want them to come to Bates. I have a friend who is a tour guide, and she’s had a bunch of kids come up to her and say, “You’re the reason I came to Bates.”
Ryan: Even though we’re catching students off-guard, they appreciate the call and a little contact with a Bates student. It’s the little things that show that people here care about the individual.
Bates: What do you tell them about professors?
Curtis: That they’re all wonderful! [laughs]. No, really, I always give the example of my first chemistry test, freshman year, when I got a D on it. My professor, Paula Schlax, called me in, and she said, “Carrie, I just want to talk to you. I just want to make sure everything’s going OK.” We went over the test together. She wanted to make sure my personal life was OK. At the end she said, “I’m not worried about you; I think you’ll do fine in this class!”