Bates Community Letter: Fall 2014
Dear Members of the Bates Community,
I write to share news and plans at the start of a new academic year, my third as president of the college. As I have said before, serving Bates as president is a source of great personal joy, even as we tackle inevitable challenges. Every day I am struck by the dedication of our faculty, the energy of our students, the pride of our staff, and the solidarity and support of alumni, parents, and friends in sustaining the work and sense of common feeling that make Bates such an extraordinary college and community.
Soon we will welcome to campus the families and students of the Class of 2018, which includes approximately 500 students from 39 states and 25 countries. And for just the fourth time, we exceeded 5,000 applicants, a pool that yielded one of the strongest, most talented classes in our history.
The Student Experience
The Class of 2018 will join a campus community known for its strong and positive culture. Like most residential colleges, however, we struggle at times to achieve a healthy balance between freedom and responsibility in the student experience. As student life issues come under increasing scrutiny from families, the public, the federal government, and students themselves, I am pleased to report that this fall we will engage in a structured effort to move toward a more consistently positive campus culture through stronger student support programs, clear and candid discussion of risks like alcohol and drugs and expectations for sexual respect, a revised new-student Orientation, improved co-curricular programs, and a richer array of social options. This effort will engage the work and ideas of students, faculty, and staff. We will be led in this undertaking by Joshua McIntosh, our new vice president for student affairs and dean of students, who joined us from Johns Hopkins University on August 1. Josh comes to us with deep experience in student affairs and a reputation as a creative and effective leader in shaping student culture, tackling issues of social norms, and working collaboratively with colleagues to integrate the residential, academic, and co-curricular aspects of the student experience.
A crucial dimension of achieving a flourishing campus culture is to ensure that our classrooms and programs are welcoming to all students and that we are organized to provide all students with the support they need to take advantage of every facet of the Bates experience that interests them. Last year we were fortunate to add to our senior leadership team Crystal Williams, associate vice president and chief diversity officer. Crystal leads our campus diversity and inclusion efforts and oversees the Office of Intercultural Education, which has moved this fall to a renovated, centralized, and significantly more spacious new home in Chase Hall. Crystal has recruited an outstanding team to carry this work forward, and she and her staff will be key leaders and partners in our efforts to improve the student experience as well as the campus climate writ large.
Student life at the college will be greatly enhanced, as well, by the addition of two new residence halls along Campus Avenue, for which site preparation commenced this summer. These new buildings, which will open in the fall of 2016, will bring our campus housing to a better and more consistent level of quality, and will, among other things, allow us to eliminate the first-year “quads” in Smith Hall. These improvements will strengthen the residential experience for all students at Bates. As part of the project, the College Store and Office Services will move to attractive, new space on the ground floor of one of the buildings, and green space will surround the halls for students and the community to enjoy.
A second major area of emphasis for the coming year will be institutional planning designed to identify priorities to guide our budgeting and operational choices over the next five to seven years. It will also provide the substantive framework for an eventual comprehensive fundraising campaign. The process will involve the entire campus community, including students, staff, faculty, trustees, and alumni, and it will be well staffed and paced in order to use everyone’s time efficiently and produce actionable results. The planning process will build on current institutional initiatives – the Engaged Liberal Arts, Purposeful Work, and Opportunity and Excellence — but will not be limited by these rubrics.
This fall, Dean of Faculty Matt Auer and I will consult broadly with campus constituencies on questions of both process and substance. In structuring the planning process, we will be highly focused on engaging the faculty in identifying our most pressing academic needs and developing ideas that will add strength and vitality to our academic program. From the beginning, we will pay close attention to how areas of interest to faculty members may relate to the ongoing work of existing faculty committees, so that we can build on current progress and avoid duplication of effort.
Progress on Existing Priorities
Meanwhile, we continue with strong momentum on a number of fronts. Last year we raised the largest gift in Bates history — $11.5 million over five years as a “Catalyst Fund” to support institutional priorities. I am deeply grateful to current and former members of the Board of Trustees for their strong signal of support in making this gift.
Building on this momentum, Bates last year surpassed $16 million in gifts received — a 33 percent increase over 2012–13. With 49 percent alumni participation and a record 40 percent in giving from our parents, we enter the new academic year with a broad base of support.
Fundraising is highly significant as a measure of the engagement and enthusiasm of our community, and also because it has enabled us to begin immediately to undertake new initiatives and increase support for core programs. Over the past year we have, among other things, made tangible progress on our three institutional initiatives mentioned above.
With the Engaged Liberal Arts we strive to deliver a rigorous and highly personalized education that centers on deep and sustained interactions among students, faculty, and community, while also engaging the forces that are transforming higher education and the world. Dean Auer is leading much of our work here, which includes hiring the next generation of faculty. Five tenure-track faculty members have joined Bates this fall, and we expect to hire six more this academic year.
An example of tangible progress came out of last spring’s Short Term, when five faculty members each chose a small group of students to work with them to design or redesign a semester-long course. This model gave students an unprecedented opportunity to see what goes into constructing a course; it gave faculty the ability to test ideas for course content and structure directly with students as the course was being put together; and it gives the college a mechanism for curricular renewal and innovations in pedagogy on an ongoing basis. Based on this first round of course redesigns, the curriculum will include new or significantly revised courses in introductory statistics, computational neuroscience, presidential campaign rhetoric, multi-level Russian language instruction, and community organizing.
A rigorous assessment of this past spring’s pilot program showed very strong results, so the educational policy committee of the faculty has approved continuing the model this academic year, where we again expect strong interest from faculty and students.
Our Purposeful Work Initiative is based on the conviction that preparing students for lives of meaningful work lies at the heart of the liberal arts mission. Although this goal has always been an important dimension of the education we provide at Bates, it now needs to be carried out with greater intentionality and effectiveness.
Today’s students are likely to hold a number of different jobs over the course of their careers, many of which have not yet been invented. The liberal arts have long been regarded as especially strong preparation for a lifetime of flexible and creative engagement with a changing world. With the increasing velocity of change and demands of the global marketplace for talented employees, however, we feel strongly that we will better serve our students by building on the fundamentals of the liberal arts with a mission-based, targeted, and pragmatic approach to equipping our students with the values and skills they will need to pursue meaningful work.
To this end, the Purposeful Work program will include curricular and co-curricular elements designed by a faculty-led working group, Practitioner-Taught Courses during Short Term, and a highly structured Bates internship program, segmented according to the geographic and career interests of our students.
As part of our Purposeful Work Initiative, this past spring we enlisted alumni experts to design and teach four Short Term classes in their fields. The courses covered digital innovation, graphic design, health care administration, and social change advocacy. The courses were intensive, and student demand was high – 71 students were chosen to participate out of an applicant group of 148. Based again on strong assessment results, we are in the process of selecting practitioners to teach courses in Short Term 2015.
Under Opportunity and Excellence, we continue to recruit motivated and talented students from a wide range of backgrounds, provide them with the financial aid that enables them to enroll, and ensure that they are supported for success once at Bates and after they graduate. The average financial aid package at Bates is just under $40,000, and 42 percent of the Class of 2018 will receive need-based assistance. This is possible only because of the tremendous support we receive from alumni, parents, and trustees.
And still there is a college to run…
As we press forward on a number of fronts, we continue to welcome about 1,750 students to campus each year, who bring with them an astounding array of talents and interests that are reflected on a daily basis in our classrooms, in athletics, in the art on our walls and the music in the air, in theater and dance performances that amaze us in their ambition and reach, in community-engaged work and learning, in the conversations that animate our pathways, and in the myriad undertakings – planned and unplanned – that make up college life.
I have come to look forward to the “whoosh” of energy that marks each new September, even as I lament the waning of yet another gorgeous Maine summer.
I hope this letter gives you a sense of the energy we feel on campus and the ambitious goals we have for Bates. With your engagement and support, we accomplished a great deal last year, and I am eager for more progress in the year ahead.
With all best wishes,