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.

web_120402_Clayton_Spencer_0611Soon 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.

Institutional Planning

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,

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Clayton Spencer

24 Responses to “Bates Community Letter: Fall 2014”

  1. Dini Coffin says:

    I am impressed with all of the continuous progress that has occurred in the past few years at Bates. I am proud to be a Bates parent and look forward to hearing these updates.
    Thank you, Dini Coffin (parent 2008)

  2. Kay Plantes (parent Lauren Christianson '12) says:

    We were delighted to observe how Lauren’s liberal arts education at Bates has helped her excel in her role in a NYC marketing consultancy. The continued advancements you are making will only add to Bates’ excellence. We paid the full fare out of pocket, but never doubted the value of Lauren’s education.

  3. Janice Hackney says:

    What an exciting community letter to us all…..
    I am most intrigued by the Purposeful Work Initiative program and learning about the substantial funds raised for our students.Being a recipient of some of these funds,I am truly grateful to have receivced them,allowing my son to attend Bates College for the past three years.
    It is hard to believe that my son Julian,class of 2015 will be graduating in May.
    I remember his freshman year so vividly.
    Thank-you for your leadership.

  4. Will Hillenbrand says:

    If you need any help next Summer for the Purposeful Work Initiative/Short Term, in the Graphic Design area . . . and would like to provide a class in THE ART OF MAKING A PICTURE BOOK. Please feel free to have someone contact me. I have made over 60 books for children, with major publishers.

    Thank you, THIS WAS A GREAT LETTER!
    Will Hillenbrand (father of 2nd year student Ian Hillenbrand)

    http://www.willhillenbrand.com

  5. Chiara Passerini says:

    Hello,

    Thank you for this very thoughtful and thought-provoking Community Letter. It is incredibly refreshing to be part of a community, if only remotely, that recognizes the value of a healthy spaces to live and learn. Perhaps more than ever, I wish I could go back and re-live my Bates experience! Moving forward, I hope the incoming classes recognize how fortunate they are to share in this profoundly caring and innovate community.

    Best wishes for the start of the new academic year,
    Chiara ’10

    Candidate, Master of Science in Urban Policy
    Milano School for Public Engagement, The New School

  6. Sam Cuddeback says:

    Thank you for this extensive overview. I commend the work your team and you engaged in and accomplished last year, and I am thrilled with your priorities and goals for the coming year. Good luck as the year starts. I know first-hand how exhausting – and rewarding opening a school year is. Your energy is evident and reassuring.

  7. ed tiffany says:

    Clayton,

    Stating the personal interaction among student and faculty is of great value and challenged by those offering online education at a fraction of the cost. I would recommend saying this early and often in you excellent mailings.

    Best for the New Year.

    Ed

  8. ReflectiveGrad says:

    I am so glad to hear that the college is looking to build more relevant, practical, skill-building curriculum that prepares students for the workforce – without losing the heart of a liberal arts education. It is absolutely critical for students to gain experience practically applying within a career context the analytical and critical thinking skills that traditional liberal arts disciplines develop.

    These are the kinds of courses I wish had been offered or required when I was at Bates (I am so glad to see some of them offered now): grant-writing, professional and business writing, strategic presentation skills, an OVERVIEW OF DIFFERENT PROFESSIONS (I thought that management consulting was only for gutless, money-hungry people and didn’t get that it had everything to do with solving problems), what kind of communications are needed to shape a policy narrative and how to target the right media outlets and social networks for advancing them (taught by someone who actually knows what Twitter is…), the importance of basic database skills, statistical analysis skills, leadership/management/organizational design (I don’t care whether you become a doctor, teacher, consultant, lawyer, or non profit advocate, these are IMPORTANT skills for every field and organization that should be taught intentionally), negotiation, budgeting/accounting for various industries, and many more along these lines.

    If you’re an English major today, it’s great to have spent a semester analyzing Paradise Lost, but your college has not prepared you for the real world if you haven’t also learned to write in a professional, business style or look at how to craft a compelling message, or the landscape of contemporary media, etc.

    All these are important practical skill areas to develop, and I personally felt that were absent from the course offerings for my majors. And worse yet, I didn’t know they mattered. Too many of my liberal, baby boomer professors basically gave me the impression that pursuing anything in the private sector was a soul-less endeavor and that the best education was in theoretical dissection of culture and society, NOT in building practical skills or knowledge of how the world outside liberal academia works. This was not universally true, and given, I shaped my own ideology, but the farther along my life and career path I move, the more I see how impractical that militantly liberal view of the world is. And the more I see the way in which it was absolutely indoctrinated into every aspect of the curriculum and teaching.

    I left Bates with a bunch of social justice theories, a decent ability to think, and a so-so ability to write (because I had practiced writing ONLY IN AN ACADEMIC STYLE… which translates to HORRIBLE writing in the “real world.”) Yes, the academic foundation and leadership training I gained at Bates was invaluable. And I wouldn’t have traded much of my learning there for anything in the world. But I wish that in addition to all my theory courses, I had also been offered the opportunity to/had been asked to take/had been exposed to some courses that were deeply practical and that gave me truly marketable skills for my career, and most important, that convinced me that these skills WERE needed for my career.

    I can’t blame anyone for the curricular choices I made. They were my choices. But I was 18. And no one gave me any guidance about how developing practical skills, not just theoretical thinking skills, would be critical to my career development. And there weren’t any courses (with a couple exceptions in Sociology) that developed those skills in my major concentrations. If Bates wants to keep gen. ed requirements, they should include the requirement that students take SOME practical, career-conscious, skill-building course as part of their time at Bates.

    The sociology department was great at moving in that direction toward the end of my time at Bates. The same cannot be said of the English department at that time (early to mid 2000s).

    Aside from tending toward an anonymous rant (my apologies), this is intended to be a whole-hearted endorsement of building more practical curriculum offerings, making students aware of them, and even requiring students to take them.

    I’m happy to hear Bates is moving in that direction. I only wish it had happened sooner, or that I’d understood “reality” a little better before I graduated…

    • Charis says:

      I think Bates should strive to balance the idealism of a true liberal arts education with incorporating some more practical elements that ReflectiveGrad rightly points out are essential to the business world. I think that my Bates education (’98-’02), focusing in English and French, provided the foundations for success in my chosen career of technology. I do, however, wish I’d developed skills in statistics and other more practical areas. While I believe that the majority of this type of training is best left to graduate school, I think that greater exposure to varied types of careers and practical knowledge in finance and business management would benefit all students. The Office of Career Services is actively courting technology firms, which is a positive first step. I’m excited to watch Bates’s evolution in this regard, and hope to contribute.

  9. Ann Frenning Kossuth says:

    I am glad to hear that Bates is finally starting to address issues of “sexual respect”: a welcome and well-coined turn of phrase for an institutional construct long overdue.

    Also, I hope the Harward Center for Community Partnerships will continue to engage with Bates students (past and present) as well as faculty and staff to “enact the college’s civic mission through reciprocal and sustained partnerships that connect the college and the community in mutually beneficial and transformative ways.”

    As FDR once said, we should train our students to be “citizens in that high Athenian sense” which compels us to live lives unceasingly aware that it is our civic significance which is our most abiding.

  10. Howard Taikeff says:

    Sounds wonderful.

    Howard

  11. David Ehrenthal says:

    Thank you President Spencer. We’re glad to hear Bates College is in excellent hands and I, along with the rest of Winchester, wish you a successful fall!

  12. John Harrer says:

    I confess that my comments do not relate directly with the observations and information contained in your letter, however I wanted to share with you how thrilled I am that my son, entering his junior year this fall, is completely enamored with his Bates experience. On the trip homeward last spring, he expressed his sorrow that but two more years remained ahead of him before his time at Bates drew to a close. That is a sadness that fulfills all of a parent’s dreams! His roommate of two years has become a dear friend. He has found a larger circle of close friends. He is enjoying a wonderful intercollegiate sport career. He has really liked almost all of his classes and professors!! Clearly a great deal is going terrifically right at Bates. He couldn’t be happier, and thus neither could I! My thanks to all the faculty and staff.

  13. Sifa Seraphina says:

    Dear clayton,

    I am the mother to Grace Ingabire from Rwanda and my daughter has just reported to Bates a few days ago. I am very excited to receive this informative letter about the long plans that Bates needs to take forward for the benefit of our children. I wish to thank you for the warm welcome you accorded to my daughter on her arrival at Bates college.

    Best wishes. Sifa

  14. Anne Sudkamp says:

    Thank you, President Spencer, for leading Bates. Every experience we have had with Bates (my daughter is a junior now) has been exceptionally positive.

  15. Ken Lindell '86 says:

    I’m glad to see Bates is making enhancements to student life by building new dorms and getting rid of Smith. It also seems to be a good idea to provide some programs to help transition graduating students into the workforce. Liberal Arts colleges face a serious challenge from vocational and STEM oriented colleges in an era when the best jobs are increasingly technical in nature.

    Unfortunately some of the other stuff President Spencer refers to is a bit vague and lacks context for me. The passive sentences and academic jargon leave a lot to the readers imagination. Oh well, I guess that’s just the style of writing we must get used to in today’s culture of avoiding frank and direct discussions, lest someone be offended.

    Anyway keep up the good work, things seem to be going well at dear old Bates.

  16. Michael Arenstam says:

    Having had 10+family members graduate from Bates I thought I knew Bates.More and more I am both pleased and impressed with your leadership. It is important to remember that we went to Bates, not to get a job; but to obtain a way living. our own children have made us both proud and mystified by the benefits of a Bates education

    . One son has been a bank vice president, a computer programmer a math teacher, an English teacher, an author (Book to be published by the end of the year. is perusing
    A Master’s in Writing from Harvard University. All this from a student that dropped out of Bates early his sophomore year to get Married and join the Coast Guard. He then returned to Bates and graduated.

    A second son, wait listed, then admitted. Graduated wit a B.A. (Philosophy Major ) went on to Bath Maritime, to learn to build wooden Boats. Became maritime Department head ( i.e. Mayflower!). , consulted in a major movie, he as written five childrens books.
    Pete has gone on to obtain a MFA from Simmons College. He now is employed with an Antiques Restoration Company.

    Incidently both just discovered that they are descendants of an iIllegal Alien –William Bradford. just as they were to enter college their father was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. None of the above jobs were the reason they attended Bates!

    Yes, Bates, prepares her graduates for living. Traing for a specific job is not only unnecessary, but also impossible.

    My family connection with Bates started with my father (1924) I have been proud of being part of the Bates family. President Spenser is moving Bates in the right direction. my pride is increasing. Thank you. Life, is not lived from answer to answer. We travel from path to path, mostly by faith this is possible only with a strong foundation.

    Bates has done well by our family, I am glad you are also with us.

  17. Ellen Mrazek says:

    Thanks for the letter!! I was glad to read this:

    “…the curriculum will include new or significantly revised courses in introductory statistics”

    Excellent!

  18. Terry Byrnes P'05 says:

    Great newsletter. Thanks so much for the updates. Exciting to hear of all the new initiatives. I look forward to future updates.
    If possible, it would be nice addition to include some pictures of new buildings, new staff, engaged students, campus activities, etc. Just a thought.
    Terry

  19. Terry Byrnes P'05 says:

    Just received Jay Burns Bates Magazine news. It has lots of good info and all the pictures I was looking for. Thanks.

  20. John Graziano says:

    Dear President Spencer, Thank you for the wonderfully informative update and progress report of Bates College. I am so impressed with your leadership and dedication to your students.Your leadership during the difficult moments and the challenging decisions you have made make me proud and happy. Your personal approach and positive demeanor allow students to get to know you. You are respected and admired. I could not be more pleased with the commitment of your dedicated faculty and staff.Bates is definitely taking a leadership role in helping students feel safe and make good decisions. I have had several opportunities beyond parents weekend to visit the campus; each time I am indeed impressed and delighted. Finally, The food at commons is absolutely delicious and second to none. Bravo ! Best wishes for an exciting school year, John Graziano

  21. Dottie Hutch says:

    It sounds like an exciting time to be a student at Bates, a very different from the College in the mid-1950s! Thanks to what Bates was, and continues to be, I have had several careers, and experienced “modern” academia at Yale Divinity School, graduating in 2007.
    Thank you, Clayton, for keeping Bates relevant to the culture, while sustaining the liberal arts foundation. With a Bates background, there is no end to learning!
    Dottie, Class of 1958

  22. Robin Hodgskin says:

    Thank you Clayton! I am excited for the future of Bates and proud to be a part of the culture of excellence. I did not fully appreciate all that Bates provided for me until many years after graduation. It just keeps getting better.

    Fondest regards, Robin

  23. Eric W, husband of Bates '90 alumna says:

    Very bland and windy letter, as if the most important news to communicate first is the new or recent appointment of two campus bureaucrats…. the premises for one of whom, we should be pleased to learn, “has moved this fall to a renovated, centralized, and significantly more spacious new home in Chase Hall.” None of Clayton’s plainspokenness is manifest in even a single sentence. The oft-invoked “energy,” it seems, comes entirely from the 20+ responses underneath from people who truly love Bates and have no trouble saying so quite simply.

Reply to Dottie Hutch

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