Open Forum

Of Ruth, Valentine, and Flowers

Thank you for honoring Ruth Rowe Wilson ’36 (PreAmble, Summer 2007). Mrs. Wilson’s late husband, Val ’38, became Skidmore president the year my mother matriculated there, so the Wilsons became honorary members of her class. In 1986, the year of Mother’s 25th Skidmore reunion, Mrs. Wilson, by then living on College Street, learned that I was headed to Bates. When I got to Room 201 in Smith North, a vase of flowers was sitting on my desk, a gift from Ruth from her garden. I just unpacked a box from a recent move and came across that vase. It’s a simple glass vase, but for me it’s a treasure.
Tina Brickley Engberg ’90
Marietta, Ga.

Rankled by Rankings

In April I received a Bates Fund letter as serting that Bates did not “game the system” by manipulating its alumni-giving numbers to improve Bates’ rank in the U.S. News & World Report college ratings. What struck me about this letter is that Bates, like so many other colleges, is in fact “gaming the system” by participating in college rankings.

About letters

Bates Magazine welcomes letters of 300 words or fewer. Letters will be edited and published based on for style, grammar, length, clarity, and relevance to College issues and issues discussed in Bates Magazine. E-mail or mail letters to Bates Magazine, Office of Communications and Media Relations, 141 Nichols St., Lewiston ME 04240.

Can any well-educated person take these rankings as a true indicator of a school’s worth? USN&WR’s primary goal is to make money, and its college rankings issue is no doubt a huge generator of revenue. This seems to be at odds with the kind of disinterested, scholarly research required on a subject as complex as the worth of a college education. I understand that in a nonbinding poll, members of the Annapolis Group, of which Bates is part, made known its intention to stop cooperating with USN&WR’s rankings, though each school will make its own decision as to whether it will continue providing information to the magazine. I do hope Bates will be a pioneer — just as it was the first school in New England to admit women from the time of its founding — and reject these rankings. Such an action would demonstrate that Bates has the intellectual independence to believe in its own worth, and not depend on a worthless magazine.
David Carpenter ’94
Philadelphia, Pa.


How do you know that Bates has made the big time? A good ranking in U.S. News & World Report? Being listed in the Hot 25 schools in Newsweek? No. It’s a clue in the August 2007 United Airlines in-flight magazine crossword that asks for “Founder of Bates College, ______ Cheney.”
Peter Brann ’77
Awaiting his Dulles–Portland flight

Dick Williamson

The death of Dana Professor Emeritus of French Dick Williamson on June 20 prompted many postings to the Bates Online Community. A selection follows:

Professor Williamson gave us Avignon in 1977. His fervor for France and the French inspired not only that Short Term experience for me, but also my winter-semester leave of absence in Chamonix, a business school exchange in Paris, and countless vacations and adventures in France since then. And I just know that he’s happy that I still have the French flag from the Mairie d’Avignon that ended up in my backpack late one rainy night. Dick’s unexpected death reminds me of the untimely passing of his senior colleague Alfred Wright several years ago. They were fine men who gifted us their enthusiasm for a beautiful and important foreign culture.
Jay Riley ’79
Durham, N.H.

Dick Williamson is, not was, what teaching is all about: enthusiastic, challenging, caring, and inspiring. I thought of him recently while buying a new edition of Georges Perec’s La Vie mode d’emploi to replace my tattered, decade-old copy. I smiled as I remembered Dick prancing about his old Hathorn classroom, illustrating the author’s genius. Dick was also a genius, at nurturing and feeding his students’ intellects and at teaching the language that he loved so much.
Christian Nauvel ’02
Arlington, Va.

Led by Associate Professor of French Kirk Read, Bates friends gather around an Autumn Blaze sapling planted in memory of Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus of French Dick Williamson, who died in June 2007. Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen.

In Dick Williamson’s classes I first encountered African and Caribbean authors and the voices of francophone Canada. I last spoke with Dick three years ago when I came up for Reunion. We spoke about independent research I had done, while finishing my degree, on an Afro-Caribbean author I had first studied in one of his classes and who is to this day my favorite author in any language. I mentioned feeling somewhat odd coming back to talk to him, as I had not graduated from Bates. But he said that people take their own paths, and I felt that he understood.
Carrie Curtis Young ’94
Baltimore, Md.

Dick Williamson is the reason I’ve had the confidence to do so many things in life — to become a French major (I was convinced that I could “never become fluent”), study abroad, enter the classroom as a French teacher, volunteer as a translator in Senegal, and apply to graduate school. Whenever I needed courage or a burst of energy, I wrote to Professor Williamson. Inevitably, he would bring humor, excitement, and a sense of confidence to the situation.
Nicole Woodson Hanover ’97
Newton, Mass.

I traveled with Professor Williamson to Nantes as a freshman in 1988. We were beginning intensive French immersion, and I was struggling. He knew I was homesick, so he took me to the beach one Saturday in August. He somehow found a couple of baseball mitts and we played pass and spoke English all day. It was one of the best days.
Bob Cole ’92
Sudbury, Mass.

Whether discussing Victor Hugo or describing cycling through France, Dick Williamson’s passion and zeal overflowed. I will never forget his theatrical analysis of Émile Zola’s spider-and-fly symbolism in La Bête Humaine. Dick jumped from the floor to his desk, his hands and fingers imitating a spider’s legs weaving its masterful web, his head tilted, his hair flying. He captivated everyone lucky enough to take his class.
Karen Finocchio Lubeck ’92
Marblehead, Mass.

When one of my geology honors thesis committee members dropped out, I asked Professor Williamson to be on my committee, as my secondary concentration was in French. He admitted knowing little about geology but agreed to give it a shot. He was fabulous and asked some of the tougher questions. Brilliant man.
Katherine Osborne Munno ’99
Stamford, Conn.

Professor Williamson’s intensive writing course required weekly essays, which I dreaded because my French wasn’t strong. But he made such thoughtful comments in the margins — wise and funny things on topics from love to friends to motorcycles — that I looked forward to writing those essays, and my most truthful writing in French was done in his class.
Swita Charanasomboon ’04
Boston, Mass.