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Presidential History

On July 1, 2012, Clayton Spencer became the eighth president of Bates since the college’s founding in 1855. She was elected to the position by the Bates College Board of Trustees on Dec. 3, 2011.

2011–12 (interim) | Nancy J. Cable

Nancy J. Cable assumed duties as interim president on July 1, 2011. On July 1, 2012 she returned to a position as a vice president, serving as senior adviser to President Clayton Spencer.

Cable joined Bates in 2010 as vice president and dean of enrollment and external affairs, with responsibility for strategic enhancement in admission, financial aid, career development, and college communications, marketing and positioning. Cable has built a national reputation in higher education, compiling a distinguished record of senior leadership at highly regarded colleges and universities and in various national higher education organizations.

She began her career in 1977 at Denison University, where she served as associate dean of students and director of the career development center and graduate student advising. In 1987 she joined Guilford College as vice president for student development and dean of students. In 1992 she became vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Davidson College. She came to Bates from a senior leadership position at the University of Virginia.

2002–11 | Elaine Tuttle Hansen

Elaine Tuttle Hansen became the college’s seventh president in 2002 and served until 2011. A former professor of English and provost at Haverford College, she worked to enhance the traditional strengths of Bates: open and intense intellectual inquiry; individualized student and faculty interactions in a historic residential setting; and a community unified by the ethical principles of integrity, egalitarianism, and social responsibility. During her presidency, the college developed greater resources for financial aid, increased diversity of the faculty and student body, strengthened environmental sustainability and stewardship, and made technological advances. Hansen undertook a range of institutional planning initiatives, including facilities master planning and academic planning.

Under Hansen, a collaborative process of strategic thinking about Bates’ future prompted the college to pursue a deeper integration of ideas and practices in the areas of arts, natural science and mathematics, and learning across the entire Bates experience. Hansen appointed teams of faculty and administrators to lead the work for each major component of the plan. By 2011, Hansen had guided Bates through Phase I of its ambitious Campus Facilities Master Plan. A new residence hall for 150 students at the foot of Mount David opened in August 2007. A new dining Commons, opened in February 2008, preserves the Bates tradition of centralized student dining. The renovation and expansion of historic Roger Williams Hall and Hedge Hall, completed in 2011, has created new academic facilities, including state-of-the-art classrooms, faculty offices, study areas, computer labs, lounges, and administrative spaces.


1989–2002 | Donald West Harward

In 1989, an observer of the Hedley Reynolds presidency noted that Bates was somewhat isolated geographically and by temperament. Could the next president, it was asked, open Bates up to the challenges and problems facing the rest of the world?

As Bates’ sixth president from 1989 to 2002, Donald West Harward answered that question by affirming the important idea that “learning is a moral activity that carries responsibility beyond the self.” Harward helped Bates see how traditional College values of egalitarianism and social justice created a moral imperative to connect academically to the world beyond Bates. Students achieved greater opportunities to study and conduct research off campus and with their professors, and the capstone thesis program enjoyed greater integration with the rest of the academic offering.

Harward oversaw the creation of two dozen new academic programs, giving faculty the proper resources to investigate the new questions emerging where traditional disciplines bumped into each other. “You can’t just study the molecular structure of a substance,” he would say as an example, “without learning about the people who might be using the substance to create things that can destroy our environment.”

Under Harward, Bates for the first time in many years reached out institutionally to the Lewiston-Auburn community. Bates faculty and students built relationships with the community through one of the most active service-learning programs in the country. As a college, Bates has played a leadership role in the strategic alliance of community leaders known as LA Excels. While upholding the notion that a College’s intellectual activity must remain for the most part cloistered, he would help Bates provide a national model for ways colleges and universities can nevertheless connect to and support their local communities.

Bates infrastructure saw major improvement during the Harward presidency with the planning and building of 22 essential academic, residential and athletic facilities. These include Pettengill Hall and its Perry Atrium, the Bates College Coastal Center at Shortridge, Dunn Guest House, Keigwin Amphitheater and the Lake Andrews restoration, Residential Village, Benjamin E. Mays Center, Wallach Tennis Center, John Bertram AstroTurf field, track and soccer field, softball field, Underhill Arena and the Davis Fitness Center.


1967–89 | Thomas Hedley Reynolds

When Thomas Hedley Reynolds retired after serving as Bates’ fifth president from 1967 to 1989, he could say that of the 159 faculty members, all but 16 had been appointed during his presidency. While key facility improvements also marked his tenure, the championing of the Bates faculty was perhaps his greatest achievement.

“President Reynolds has given us more time, more colleagues, and perhaps above all else, more self-esteem,” said a member of the history faculty John R. Cole, in 1989. “The result is that a good college of good teachers has become a better college of better teachers.”

An early move towards this achievement was Reynolds’ emphasis on improving salaries in an effort to attract and retain high-quality faculty. Bates achieved greater gender equity during the Reynolds years, as well as an improved faculty-student ratio and an average class size of 15.

Furthermore, Reynolds also encouraged closer faculty involvement in the governance of the College through elected committees as well as the expansion of the sabbatical program. His own experience as a teacher and a scholar allowed Reynolds to recognize teaching and scholarship as complimentary professorial activities (previous administrations had viewed the two as generally antithetical), leading Reynolds to encourage faculty research and creativity.

Arriving at Bates during a tumultuous time for U.S. colleges, Reynolds was also faced with students upset by strict campus social rules reflecting 1950s sensibilities. He guided the College through the campus tensions of the late 1960s and 1970s with a renewed emphasis on involving all members of the community in decision-making.

Significant renovations and physical additions to the campus include the George and Helen Ladd Library, Merrill Gymnasium and Tarbell Pool, the Olin Arts Center with its Bates College Museum of Art, the conversion of the former women’s athletic building into the Edmund S. Muskie Archives, and the acquisition of the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area. The houses on Frye Street, a popular and creative residential alternative to traditional dormitory housing, were also acquired primarily during the Reynolds presidency.

President Emeritus Reynolds died Sept. 22, 2009.


1944–67 | Charles Franklin Phillips

Charles F. Phillips was a full professor at Colgate and a leading economist before coming to Bates as the college’s fourth, and youngest at age 34, president. He had also taught at Hobart College, and at the time of his interview at Bates was on leave from Colgate and working for the U.S. government in the Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supplies as deputy administrator in charge of rationing.

At Bates, Phillips initiated the Bates Plan of Education, a liberal-arts “core” study program, and developed the “3/4 option” which allowed students to complete their college education in three years if they desired. He also saw the campus expand with the additions of Memorial Commons, the Health Center, Dana Chemistry Hall, Lane Hall, a new Maintenance Center, Page Hall, Pettigrew Hall, Treat Art Gallery, and Schaeffer Theater. Phillips also added full-time administrators to the College staff: an alumni secretary, a director of admissions, a dean of men, and an assistant to the President.

Known for bridging the gap between the academic and business worlds, Phillips won many friends for the College, and often encouraged young graduates not to join a big company, but to start their own. Convinced that the American economic and political systems thrive on competition, Phillips applied this theory to Bates College and its graduates. In his inauguration address he quoted Edison: “Genius [required to make it big] is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” During his time at Bates, Phillips lived by this adage – he was famous for keeping a tight schedule, with or without a clock, and for working late hours.

President Phillips retired in 1967, leaving a student body of 1,004 and an endowment of $6,938,000. He lived in Auburn after retirement and passed away in 1998.


1920–44 | Clifton Daggett Gray

As the college’s third president, Clifton Daggett Gray, clergyman and former editor of Chicago’s The Standard, saw Bates through an era marked by vibrant growth, the Great Depression, and World War II.

In the early 1920s, Bates debating went international; Libbey Forum and Hedge Laboratory were renovated, and the Clifton Daggett Gray Athletic Building and Alumni Gym were built. Then, in 1929, the stock market crashed. Students became hard to find. Who could afford the $600-a-year tuition? The result was a year in the red. However, the financial difficulty did not last long.

When World War II came, the College responded. President Gray arranged for a V12 Naval Training Unit on campus, assuring the College good students during wartime while other colleges were feeling the draft. Ninety Bowdoin students came upriver to Bates for the V12 program.

By the time he retired in 1944, Gray had increased student enrollment from 527 to 749, faculty from 36 to 70, and the endowment from $1 million to $2 million.


1919–20 (acting) | William Henry Hartshorn

Following the May 1919 death of President Chase, faculty member William Henry Hartshorn served as acting president for nearly a year until the appointment of Clifton Daggett Gray, whereupon he returned to his teaching duties. A member of the Bates Class of 1886, Hartshorn taught at his alma mater for 37 years. He began his Bates career in 1889 as an instructor — later professor — of physics and geology, and in 1894 he became a professor of English literature, a position he held until 1926.

Hartshorn was one of the most beloved Bates professors of his day, was affectionately known by his students as “Monie.” In addition, the Class of 1923 dedicated their senior edition of The Mirror to him.

On the morning of Feb. 24, 1926, just before the start of the day’s classes, Hartshorn died at his classroom desk and was found by his students, sitting with his copy of Paradise Lost open to that day’s lesson. After his death, a testimonial to Hartshorn appeared in The Bates Student, attesting to the love his students felt:

“[H]is perspective on life was not a relic of other days. He understood our present generation of students as well as he understoood the generation of thirty years ago. Some professors are appreciated only after they are gone. Not so with ‘Monie.’ Human and fair in all his dealings with his students, he was the bed-rock upon which Bates men and women could base their ideals.”


1894–19 | George Colby Chase

George Colby Chase graduated from Bates in 1869 and taught for 22 years as professor of English at the College before he became the second president of Bates.

Chase, known as “the great builder,” oversaw the construction of 11 new buildings, including Coram Library, Rand Hall, the Central Heating Plant, the Chapel, Libbey Forum, the Carnegie Science Hall, and Chase Hall; he tripled the number of students and faculty; and he managed to increase the College’s endowment from $259,000 to $1,135,000.

Chase was known for being “fanatically frugal” and money-conscious: when he went on fund-raising trips, he often had his son take his trunk on a wheelbarrow to the railroad station. And when the faculty said they thought students should bear more of the cost of their education, he reluctantly approved a $5 tuition increase (the Trustees later voted to raise the cost fifteen dollars, making tuition $90).

A teacher-president in the old tradition, Chase taught at least one course throughout his entire incumbency. His home, at 16 Frye Street, functioned as a campus facility where students would go for their admission interviews, various progress checks, and upon graduation, for letters of reference.

In April of 1919, at the age of 74, Chase wrote to the Trustees regarding his retirement, and the selection of a new president: his successor was to be “a man strong in scholarship, in his Christian character and influence, in business ability, and in warm sympathy with young people . . . and hopefully not older than 35.” On May 27, 1919, after a full day at work, George Colby Chase died of a heart attack.


1863–94 | Oren Burbank Cheney

The Reverend Oren Burbank Cheney was the founder and first president of Bates College. He was a Freewill Baptist minister, a teacher, and a former Maine state representative. In 1854 the Parsonfield Seminary, a school at which Cheney had been a student and a teacher, burned down. Seeing a need for a new, larger, and more centrally located school for his denomination, Cheney steered a bill through the Maine Legislature in 1855, creating a corporation for educational purposes called initially “Maine State Seminary.”

According to Bates history, the two existing Maine colleges, Bowdoin and Colby, were confident they could offer all the higher education the state needed. But Cheney persevered. He assembled a faculty of six dedicated to teaching the classics and moral philosophy and in 1863 received the collegiate charter. In 1864 the Maine State Seminary became Bates College. The College consisted of Hathorn and Parker halls, and the student body numbered fewer than 100.

At the end of Cheney’s tenure, tuition was $36 a year, the library amounted to 16,500 volumes, and the campus had expanded to 50 acres with six buildings. Bates was known for its nondiscriminatory liberal education, made available even to students of limited financial means, and for “doing great work for the state of Maine in educating teachers for its public schools.”


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