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
Bates was founded in 1855 by Freewill Baptists, first as the Maine State Seminary and later as Bates College. The founders believed that all human potential should be developed, and opened Bates' doors not only to white men—the traditional college population of the era—but also to African Americans and women. They banned fraternities and sororities because they repudiated social hierarchy. Bates was exceptional in taking these positions at the time. However, the college's efforts at true equity, inclusion, and access were imperfect and were shaped from the beginning by U.S. social norms that promoted hierarchies of race and gender.
The college's origin story is complicated. The founder and first president of Bates, The Reverend Oren Burbank 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, and 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 in New England textile manufacturing. He established the Bates Manufacturing Company in Lewiston in 1852, accumulating wealth in the antebellum years from the labor of enslaved people who grew the cotton that was spun and woven in his mills.
Despite these and other contradictions, the pursuit of access and equality to and through education runs deep in the college's history and mission and animates current efforts to ensure that all members of the community are supported to thrive. The college is committed to inclusion and belonging, beginning with the Prologue and Bobcat First! programs for prospective and admitted students and extending through initiatives to transform curricula in the sciences and humanities, teach in ways that support all students for success, and offer co-curricular programs that allow students to engage deeply with each other and with the compelling issues of our time.
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 a model in which small groups of students to work with professors to develop new courses or redesign existing ones, incorporating practitioner-taught courses into the college's Short Term curriculum, and reinforcing Bates' role as a national leader in community-engaged learning and research as well as other forms of practice-based learning.
Bates is characterized by 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 to teaching undergraduates. As of October 2020, 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 2020, Bates enrolled 1,876 students from 49 states, districts, and territories and 54 other countries. The college is recognized for its inclusive social character; 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 72 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, a senior project, or a capstone 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. Expanding science facilities in Carnegie Science Hall and Dana Chemistry Hall, the Bonney Science Center, opening in 2021, will transform STEM education by embracing advanced technologies for teaching and research, facilitating faculty collaboration across fields, and centering equity in STEM teaching. 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. In 2017 Bates launched the largest fundraising campaign in the college's history with a goal of $300 million. Gifts to the college have surpassed the $30 million mark annually during this 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 2020 fiscal year, the college's endowment was valued at $341 million.