Comments from colleagues about Clayton Spencer (2011)

On Dec. 4, 2011, the college’s announcement of Clayton Spencer’s election as president of Bates included comments from colleagues, all of whom agreed: Her election is a natural step forward for this widely admired leader, colleague, and friend.

Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University

Bates has made a brilliant choice. Clayton Spencer has been an astute and always forthright adviser to Harvard’s presidents, deans and governing boards for the last 15 years, bringing her exceptional intellect, her wisdom, her unfailing sense of humor and her deep commitment to higher education and its fundamental values to bear on the wide range of issues facing the university. While it is hard for me to imagine Harvard without her, it is also wonderful to anticipate Clayton making what I know will be a distinctive mark as the leader of one of the nation’s most distinguished liberal arts colleges.

Nick Littlefield, former chief of staff for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, now partner and chair of the government strategies group, Foley Hoag, Boston

If Sen. Kennedy were here today, he would be the first to say that Clayton Spencer was as outstanding as anyone who ever worked in the Senate in higher education — pointing out her dedication, hard work, brilliance, common sense, team spirit and utter reliability.

Clayton was in charge of higher education policy for Sen. Kennedy, which essentially meant that she was managing policy for the Senate and for the country during those years. She was a leader: she could master the substance of any issue; she could build the bipartisan alliances required to get the initiative passed; and then she could communicate the objective and details of the initiative in a compelling and charismatically persuasive way. She was one of the most respected staff directors I’ve ever known.

It is no surprise to see Clayton as a college president — it was just a matter of when and where. I think she’s had many opportunities, but something about Bates captured everything she cares about: the history of the school, its potential and ambition, the special quality of the students and the faculty, the affection engendered in its alumni, and of course, the community and the state of Maine.

Clayton is an extremely persuasive charismatic thinker and speaker, with a style that is very gracious — it comes from her years in the South.

She’s great to work with. She is competent, candid, unassuming and down to earth. She has no edge.

Terry Hartle, Senior Vice President, Division of Government and Public Affairs, American Council on Education

I’ve always seen Clayton as a potential college president. She is a superb choice for Bates.

Clayton is usually the smartest person in the room, but doesn’t act like it. She wants to hear what everyone in the room thinks, and then shape an outcome that incorporates the variety of viewpoints. She builds consensus; she reconciles divergent views and articulates a way forward.

Her job as a member of Sen. Kennedy’s staff was not only to reconcile the opinions of Republicans and Democrats on issues of higher education, but to put forward legislation that would win a majority in the Senate, and then to sell it to the House. And she was very successful at it.

She has a unique sense for the public face of higher education and is aware of the issues faced by highly selective colleges; she fundamentally understands how the country is changing and knows how to respond to those changes in terms of policy.

She is warm and funny, always on an even keel. There’s never been a congressional staffer I enjoyed dealing with more.

Adam Falk, President, Williams College

It’s hard to imagine finding a better person to fill this role at Bates! Clayton Spencer has an extraordinary record of thinking deeply about important problems and issues in higher education. Her insightful service on the Williams board has made a lasting, valuable impact across the entire spectrum of our work — she understands the liberal arts college, and a presidency is an absolutely natural sequel to her remarkable career. I am so excited now to have the chance to work with her as a NESCAC colleague — and a national colleague in the liberal arts.

Diana Sorensen, Dean of the Arts and Humanities, Harvard University

Clayton Spencer will be a transformative leader for Bates; faculty and student alike will be drawn to her understanding of the academic life and to her delight in the power and the joy of ideas.

She is effective, hardworking and charismatic — and she is fun. She is eloquent, her leadership is energizing and she knows how to create a spirit of community.

She is a terrific listener and so good at getting people to work together. She want to focus on the desired outcome; not only can she articulate the vision, but she knows how to get there.

William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Harvard College

Clayton is one of the nation’s and the world’s foremost policy experts on higher education. Among her many areas of expertise is college access and affordability, and she played a crucial role in developing and implementing our revolutionary financial aid program. Her efforts have insured that students of excellence from all economic and ethnic backgrounds can aspire to a Harvard education.

She has also worked on a wide array of public policy issues in Washington, D.C., and in Cambridge with four Harvard presidents. I have been blessed to work closely with her on every aspect of admission and financial aid during her time at Harvard.

Her contributions have transformed Harvard in countless ways and future generations of Harvard students will benefit from her tenure. She is a person of stunning intellect and character. We will miss her rare combination of heart and head, and we know that like Harvard, Bates will benefit enormously from her leadership.