In Bates Through the Years, Charlie Clark ’51 offers this historical insight: The Board of Trustees, prior to approving President Phillips’ radical new academic calendar in 1964, did not know that students and faculty loathed the new schedule.
(“Loathed” is my word; Charlie’s phrasing is more restrained and insightful, twin skills employed throughout the book, which won Clark the 2006 Sesquicentennial Prize for alumni achievement in literature or science.)
Back to ’64. The longer academic year emphasized a pedal-to-the-floor acceleration of the liberal arts experience from four years to three. Reflecting campus sentiment, The Bates Student grumbled, “One Bates mill is enough.” But this all escaped the trustees. Perhaps the board took its lead from the president. Or, to borrow a phrase from Virginia Wright’s story on recent changes in how Bates governs itself (“Board Plan”), the trustees were simply not “self-critical” about their performance.
The Bates board has since morphed into a dynamic, fluid institution whose bylaws and culture enable it to take a chance on bringing aboard talented thirtysomethings. And thanks to the Oral History Project of the Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, we have a clue as to how the board came to be this way. In fact, as the oral record shows, the board owes its evolution to E. Robert Kinney ’39, now a trustee emeritus who turned 89 in April.
Kinney joined the board in 1960. By the mid-1980s, he’d been board chair for about a dozen years. Then only in his mid-60s, he was on a trajectory to serve until, well, now. And he didn’t fancy the prospect. “As smart as some people are when they’re 75 or 80 or whatever…you’ve got to have younger people,” Kinney told oral historian Andrea L’Hommedieu. “They stimulate thinking. You should want to renew; you need new blood.”
Employing “a little politicking,” Kinney got the board to support a resolution mandating age-70 retirements. The key vote came from Ed Muskie ’36. “I went to Ed, and I said, ‘You know, I’m not going to succeed unless I can get some help from somebody over 70…. I need your vote,’” Kinney said.
President Reynolds, meanwhile, didn’t want to lose his longtime chairman. According to Kinney, Reynolds urged him to stay on as a grandfathered member. Kinney said no: “’I’m going to quit because I believe in it.’ And I still do. I don’t think anybody should run a business in America longer than 10 years at the most.”
Ironically, there was an upside to the trustees’ rubber stamp of the longer calendar in 1964. Though the new format lasted just four years, and though the three-year emphasis disappeared from College recruitment publications, subsequent calendar revisions have retained one signature element.
Indeed, if you still recall fondly the warmth of the May sun at Bates, or happily losing track of the day of the week, or flying down Tuckerman on a weekend getaway, or enduring/enjoying Cell Hell, or ending a day with a barbecue, give thanks to the inadvertent achievement of those trustees long ago: Short Term, which marked its 40th iteration this spring.