Since 1855, Bates College has been dedicated to the emancipating potential of the liberal arts. Bates educates the whole person through creative and rigorous scholarship in a collaborative residential community. With ardor and devotion — Amore ac Studio — we engage the transformative power of our differences, cultivating intellectual discovery and informed civic action. Preparing leaders sustained by a love of learning and a commitment to responsible stewardship of the wider world, Bates is a college for coming times.
The Foundations of the College
As with many New England institutions, religion played a vital role in the college's founding in 1855, first as the Maine State Seminary and later as Bates College. The Reverend Oren Burbank Cheney, a Freewill Baptist minister, a teacher, and an abolitionist, is honored as the founder and first president of the college. Freewill Baptists' beliefs in individual agency — free will — informed their commitments to higher education for all who could benefit from it. Students were welcomed regardless of race, gender, or religious affiliation. Great efforts were made to ensure that no qualified student would be turned away from the new college because of the cost. Although the founders met with considerable criticism from other colleges, they were steadfast in their pledge to educate women as well as men, making Bates New England's first coeducational college and one of the first coeducational colleges in the United States.
While the college's origin story has long been narrowly defined by the virtuous shorthand, "Bates was founded by abolitionists," the full story is far more complicated, and reflects the ways in which all aspects of American society — even the most idealistic — are rooted in slavery. President Cheney was an ardent abolitionist: he established Storer College in West Virginia for freed slaves; he traveled to the South to recruit formerly enslaved persons to attend Bates; he worked with the Underground Railroad. He wrote of slavery, "We hate it — we abhor it, we loathe it — we detest and despise it as a giant sin against God, and an awful crime upon man."
As he sought financial support for his growing institution, Cheney looked to the Boston-based entrepreneurs who had invested in Lewiston, including Benjamin Bates, for whom the new college was named in 1864. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Benjamin Bates had built his fortune, as did many wealthy Bostonians, in New England textile manufacturing. He established the Bates Manufacturing Company in Lewiston in 1852, building wealth in the antebellum years from the labor of enslaved people who grew the cotton that was spun and woven in his mills.
This moral paradox can be seen throughout New England: numerous institutions were established for the public benefit yet funded by slave-grown cotton. Currently, Bates faculty, students, and staff, with support from the college's Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, are studying this paradox, looking at the relationships among Southern cotton traders, local textile mills, and the college. Like nearly all American institutions, Bates profited from slavery, a legacy we must continue to understand and acknowledge, as we strive to become a truly just, inclusive, and antiracist community.
Clayton Spencer became the eighth president of Bates College on July 1, 2012. She came to Bates from Harvard University, where she was Vice President for Policy and spent more than 15 years on the university's senior leadership team. Under President Spencer's leadership, Bates has launched new initiatives in a number of areas, including creating an interdisciplinary Program in Digital and Computational Studies; prioritizing equity and inclusion in the recruitment and experiences of students, faculty, and staff; transforming the college's approach to preparing students for work and career; and significantly increasing fundraising. One of the college's signature initiatives is Purposeful Work, launched in 2014. Built on the premise that preparing students for lives of meaningful work has always been a central purpose of the liberal arts, Purposeful Work represents a fundamental rethinking of traditional approaches to preparing students for work and career. It is grounded in Bates' mission, includes curricular and cocurricular components, and takes a four-year, developmental approach to working with students. Spencer hired Bates' first chief diversity officer in 2013 and elevated the position to vice president for equity and inclusion in 2018. Under Spencer, Bates has also introduced innovations in curriculum and pedagogy, including inviting small groups of students to work with professors to design new courses or redesign existing ones, incorporating practitioner-taught courses into the college's Short Term curriculum, and expanding Bates' established role as a national leader in community-engaged learning and research, as well as other forms of practice-based learning.
Bates offers a culture of academic seriousness and an exceptional degree of faculty engagement with students. The faculty exemplifies the college's commitment to academic excellence and intellectual rigor. Faculty members' professional lives encompass scholarship and research, but they are at Bates because they are dedicated first and foremost to teaching undergraduates. As of October 2019, 100 percent of tenured or tenure-track faculty members hold the Ph.D. or another terminal degree. Bates students work directly with the faculty; the student-to-faculty ratio is 10-to-1, and faculty members teach all courses, with exception of five to six practitioner-taught courses. Approximately 70 percent of class sections, excluding independent studies, have fewer than twenty students enrolled.
In fall 2019, Bates enrolled 1,820 students from 48 states, districts, and territories and 55 other countries. The college is recognized for its inclusive social character; there have never been fraternities or sororities, and student organizations are open to all. Bates offers a compelling education for students while they are undergraduates, and prepares them well for further study and careers. Bates is consistently a top producer of Fulbright awardees. Bates students have great success in graduate and professional school; more than 75 percent pursue advanced study.
The Curriculum and Student Scholarship
In their academic work, Bates students are encouraged to explore broadly and deeply, to cross disciplines, and to grow as independent thinkers. Bates requires a senior thesis, senior project, or senior seminar to graduate. The senior thesis provides an opportunity for extended, closely guided research and writing, performance, or studio work. Many students launch their scholarly careers by collaborating with faculty in their research during the academic year and through the summer. Bates recognizes the special role that international study plays in providing students with the perspective and the opportunities that lead to international careers or service as well as a sense of world citizenship. Typically, 60 percent of students study abroad for a semester or longer during their time at Bates, one of the highest rates in the nation.
A core value of the college holds that liberal education includes the development of social responsibility, and Bates is a national leader in community-engaged learning and research. A Bates education seeks to connect learning to action, a connection expressed by high levels of student participation in academic and volunteer work in the community as well as by graduates' careers and community leadership. Many faculty members routinely incorporate community-based learning and research into their courses, and about half of Bates students are involved in a wide variety of community-based projects. Bates is committed to its home communities of Lewiston and Auburn, together constituting Maine's second-largest urban area, which provide a valued setting that enriches Bates' educational mission and social life. The college intends its many forms of engagement beyond campus to be true partnerships, drawing on the strengths of all partners for mutual benefit.
Bates is located on a 133-acre traditional New England campus, at the center of which is the verdant historic Quad. Academic and cultural resources on campus include the George and Helen Ladd Library; the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library; the Olin Arts Center, which houses a concert hall and the Bates College Museum of Art; Schaeffer Theatre and two smaller theatrical venues; the Peter J. Gomes Chapel; and an extensive athletics complex. The college also holds access to the 574-acre Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, in Phippsburg, Maine, which includes coastal wetlands and preserves one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier beaches on the Atlantic coast. The neighboring Shortridge Coastal Center includes an eighty-acre woodland and freshwater habitat.
Alumni and Parent Engagement
The educational mission of the college is supported generously by a significant percentage of alumni who have made a lifetime commitment to their alma mater. The college's alumni, living in all fifty states and around the world, remain actively connected to Bates in various ways. Parents of current Bates students also are engaged with the college in programs and activities on campus and off. Alumni and parent volunteers serve as admission representatives, class agent and reunion volunteers, regional and affinity leaders, young alumni volunteers, parent fundraising volunteers, and career networking volunteers. Gifts to the college have surpassed the $30 million mark annually during the college’s comprehensive campaign. The college's endowment provides resources for financial aid, academic programs, faculty and student research, Purposeful Work Program, and general support of the educational mission. At the close of the 2019 fiscal year, the college's endowment was valued at $330 million, and the distribution from the endowment supported 11 percent of the college's operating budget.