Bates Community Letter: Fall 2016

Dear Members of the Bates Community,

With opening days behind us, the Class of 2020 duly welcomed, and new and returning students ensconced in their dorms, classes, and activities, I write to share news from campus and provide a preview of the year ahead.

Since Commencement

We had an unusually busy and productive summer, of which I’ll highlight two items.

Facilities

We completed our two new Campus Avenue residence halls, which also house our transformed College Store and our Post & Print office (formerly Office Services and the Package Center). More than 240 students from all four classes have moved in over the past three weeks, and these wonderful new structures have sprung to life.

The advent of the new residence halls has had the added benefit of allowing us to “decant” Smith Hall, restoring it to the two-room doubles for which it was designed, removing students from sub-standard rooms on the ground floor, and giving us the opportunity to create new common spaces in both Smith and Wentworth Adams.

Construction on our new boathouse, which began this spring, will wrap up very soon, giving our rowers a beautiful new home on the Androscoggin. And our Campus Avenue Field, home to field hockey and other sports, has a much-needed new surface replacing the 16-year-old AstroTurf.

Health Services and Counseling — A New Partnership

Over the past academic year, we undertook a comprehensive evaluation of our health and counseling services and the physical space they occupy. This evaluation, which included extensive input from students, made clear that we needed to improve these services in a variety of ways.

We spent the spring and summer forging a partnership with Lewiston’s Central Maine Medical Center to provide our on-campus medical care, while retaining key Bates staff for nursing and office management. This new arrangement provides students access to a wider range of medical specialists and easier access to after-hours care.

We have also enhanced the staffing of Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), allowing us to better serve students by expanding outreach, offering more programs, and implementing a new records system to better coordinate services. To support these enhanced programs and services, we renovated the Health Services facilities at 31 Campus Avenue over the summer. The new space is receiving very positive reviews from students and clinicians alike.

The Year Ahead

Following are some of the larger undertakings on deck for the current academic year.

Institutional Planning

This fall, we are in the final stages of a two-year planning process designed to create a framework of priorities to guide decision making at the college over the next five to eight years and inform choices for a comprehensive fundraising campaign. The plan sets forth a series of recommendations that address the nature of community at Bates, the academic experience, the education of the whole person, and financial sustainability.

By design, the process has been collective and highly collaborative — our goal was to draw on the insights and creativity of the entire Bates community. Nearly 80 students, faculty, and staff served on four working groups and a steering committee, and emerging ideas and text have been shared with students, faculty, staff, and alumni in a variety of forms and venues throughout the process. The resulting report has been greatly enriched by this input.

The faculty as a whole and the Board of Trustees will be asked to consider the plan for endorsement in October. Pending a positive outcome, in the months ahead we will begin the work of translating recommendations into action, understanding that the plan is meant to be flexible and dynamic, evolving over time, and informed by appropriate governance processes. It is an exciting time for Bates, and we all have a part to play in turning our highest ambitions for our college into tangible realities.

Faculty and Curriculum

As we open the 2016–17 academic session, we have completed our largest faculty recruiting year in recent memory, with 11 long-term hires in a range of fields. This year we will search for 15 new faculty — 11 tenure-track, three long-term lecturers, and one senior, tenured position to lead the new program in Digital and Computational Studies.

As we recruit historically large cohorts of incoming faculty each year and add new faculty positions, we are committed to carrying forward the exceptional teaching and scholarship of today’s faculty and increasing financial support for our faculty and academic programs. We are also guided by the principle, affirmed in the institutional planning report, that an excellent faculty in the 21st century is, by definition, a diverse faculty. We are beginning to see the results of this philosophy in our hiring.

With regard to curriculum, the most consequential undertaking for this year is a review of our General Education program, called for in the institutional planning report. This review, led by Dean of Faculty Matt Auer and the faculty’s Academic Affairs Council, asks the faculty to assess the current program and make changes, as necessary, to better align our General Education requirements with our mission, to achieve greater balance across disciplines, and to provide a structure that promotes agency, integrative learning, and creativity among our students. The evaluation and potential restructuring of General Education is expected to extend into the next academic year.

Race and Campus Culture

We are living in a moment in which issues of race, inclusion, and social inequality are top of mind in our public discourse and on every college campus. Because of Bates’ founding values and mission, it is especially important that we do the hard, collective work needed to address the barriers that preclude full participation in the Bates experience by all members of our community.

The founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, says it well. He urges us to “get proximate” — to get up close to issues and problems in order to truly understand them; to live in community and with a sense of responsibility to that community; and to act with the empathy and intention that come from close knowledge of and genuine care for those around us. To paraphrase a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, we need to foster a culture in which “ideas are always challenged, but never one’s humanity.”

In this work, we have important progress to build on. Under the leadership of Associate Vice President and Professor of English Crystal Williams, we have put in place a strong staff and creative programming in the Office of Intercultural Education that supports students across a variety of dimensions of the Bates experience and promotes an informed and inclusive campus culture. This year, we will work to further develop our programs and cultural offerings, and, as usual, students will help shape these efforts. More details will be coming soon from Crystal.

Finally, we will continue the work, initiated by “Concerned Students of Color” last year, to address the issues most critical to their success at Bates. We listened hard to these students to better understand their experience of the campus — inside and outside the classroom. To tackle a series of practical issues, we formed action teams, bringing together students, faculty, and staff to find meaningful solutions — clearer communication to families about financial aid packages, access to food and transportation during breaks, and affordable options for accessing textbooks and open-source materials, to name a few. These efforts are just a start, but they are already yielding benefits for the entire student body. We will continue this work this year.

Purposeful Work

Our Purposeful Work initiative, launched in 2014, continues to grow. Built on the premise that preparing students for lives of meaningful work lies at the heart of the liberal arts mission, Purposeful Work represents a radical departure from traditional approaches to preparing students for careers. It is grounded in our mission, has curricular and co-curricular aspects, and takes a four-year, developmental approach to working with students.

For students from families without strong professional networks, Purposeful Work is especially important in furthering our equity promise. Through financial aid we provide access to a Bates education; we support all students for success once on campus; and Purposeful Work helps to bridge students to life after college.

With the benefit of fundraising, we have piloted an array of programming over the past three years — curricular elements that link coursework to questions of meaning, purpose, and careers; Practitioner-Taught Courses in Short Term, taught mostly by Bates alumni; a speaker series called “Purposeful Work Unplugged”; and a greatly expanded platform of funded internships and other summer opportunities. Each new element is assessed for effectiveness, and we continue to adapt our programming as we move forward.

This past summer, in addition to the many jobs and internships students secured through the Bates Career Development Center, 238 students benefited from Bates-funded opportunities through a variety of channels — Purposeful Work internships, including our Bates-specific Core Employer network; academic research experiences on campus with our faculty and in external settings; and Harward civic engagement fellowships. This year, we will continue to build toward our goal of giving every Bates student the opportunity for a funded summer experience in an area of interest.

Athletics

As he recently announced, Director of Athletics Kevin McHugh will step down at the end of this academic year. Our athletics program has flourished under Kevin’s leadership over the past decade — not only with considerable competitive success, but with his careful attention to the student-athlete experience as a whole.

We will begin over the next several weeks to organize the search for the next Director of Athletics. The process will include the formation of a search committee, consideration of firms to assist us with the search, and outreach to interested constituencies. We will share more details as we firm up these plans.

Fundraising

Thanks to the engagement and generosity of alumni, parents, and friends, we raised $28.2 million in the fiscal year ending June 30 — a record for Bates and the third straight year we have increased fundraising by 30 percent or more. Notably, this past year’s fundraising included commitments of $19 million in endowment to support six new professorships — the first new faculty lines in more than a decade. Roughly $13 million was added to the endowment in this year alone, also a record high for a fiscal-year period. And with 47 percent of alumni making gifts, Bates remains in the top third of its peer set on alumni participation.

As noted, the institutional plan identifies a number of areas in which we wish to build strength in order to improve the Bates experience. Some of these require more creative and effective work within existing resources, and some will require fundraising. To that end, we are currently engaged in planning for Bates’ first comprehensive fundraising campaign in more than a decade. This planning will continue across the coming semester, and we look forward to engaging alumni, parents, and friends in a variety of campus and regional activities in the new year. More details about the campaign will be forthcoming in the months ahead.

Enough Already

Long texts are not the vogue, but I believe that anyone who cares about Bates should know what we are working on and how we are thinking. As always, I am deeply grateful for your interest, engagement, and support, and I invite you to share any concerns or creative suggestions you may have.

Warmly,
Clayton Spencer

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