Bates Matters

In offering one Bates student the chance to be president for a day (see photo essay in this issue) my primary goal was educational. I wanted students to learn that their insights about the College can be enriched by a deeper understanding of the issues, offices, and constituencies comprising the modern administration of a place like Bates.

But there was also a self-centered motive, as I wanted a good reason to get out of the office (and the meetings, conference calls, and airports) for some first-hand experience myself. True, I’ve been a professor most of my adult life, but I needed to update and localize — at Bates — my sense of student life. And so Meg Creedon ’08 and I traded places.

President Hansen and Meaghan Creedon ’08 compare notes after their day in each other’s shoes.

MC: Like most students, I wondered what the president does all day. Put her feet up on the desk? Smoke cigars with other Bates bigwigs? Though I’ve taken education courses and pondered what an ideal learning place should be like, I discovered in one day as “president” that the production of higher education is more complex than I’d ever imagined. While President Hansen plays the most visible role in making our college distinguished, an entire network of people help her make Bates the place that it is.

ETH: On and off campus, I love to extol this College’s intellectual vitality, yet the reality of my classroom experience was even better than my rhetoric. Attending three very different classes, in sociology, philosophy, and psychology, I witnessed uniformly excellent academic work. I saw students strenuously exercising the muscles of the mind and grappling with the kind of big questions that define a liberal arts education: How do power and privilege work, at Bates and beyond? Should actions be guided by reason or faith? What are the forces that shape human identity?

MC: saw the collaborative nature of College work in a gathering of the President’s Council, administrators who represent all departments. I had a phone conference with a Trustee, and with the dean of faculty discussed a fictional scenario involving issues of academic freedom and the exhibition of art. I was surprised at how many people help make Bates operate — some holding positions I didn’t even know existed — and how these people communicate with each other and the president regarding the College’s progress and needs. I was astounded by the complexity of budget and enrollment planning. Everything interconnects. The amount of beds, professors, classrooms, and food depends on the number of students, and too many or too few in one semester can really throw off housing and the budget.

ETH: In the classes I attended, professors effectively used different pedagogical strategies befitting their audience and the material, deftly guiding their students’ encounters with difficult texts and issues. Sociologist Emily Kane drew on small-group work completed before class to develop and field questions about the reading as it applied to real, local contexts. Philosopher James Swan-Tuite lectured on a dense treatise but with a level of accessibility that made it feel like a conversation. In Krista Scottham’s psychology class, small groups of students, working as both teammates and sparring partners, presented their findings based on recent research. Scottham listened, prodded, and then brilliantly summed up.

MC: People also ask President Hansen to make decisions. Around noon, the deans came to me with a problem: a student had meningitis, and it was possible that she’d infected her teammates, who were traveling to an important contest. They asked for my input, which I gave — then they told me it was a mock situation! I got a sense of the scope and complexity of decisions the president must make.

ETH: Walking across campus, picking up my lunch in the Den, or working at the Pettengill reception desk, I felt connected to people who stopped and talked to me in a different way. At Slovenski Track, track coach Jay Hartshorn built an inclusive team identity by starting practice with some show and tell, in which first-years shared a favorite possession and explained its meaning. Sitting in this circle of friendly young folk, I realized just how many parts of our community had drawn me toward them during the day. At Bates, the classroom experience, so rich and central, is embedded within a durable fabric of human interaction, woven by a variety of remarkably talented people.

MC: I was most impressed, however, with a subtle aspect of the day: everyone’s upbeat willingness to spend time with me. Their excitement about their work was genuine, as was their interest in gaining a student’s perspective on what they do for Bates. And that’s my lesson of the day — that a president’s efforts to produce a great education can be only as successful as the quality of people around her — and why one day as president leaves me with an enduring sense of pride in Bates and our community.

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