Bates Community Letter: Fall 2021

Dear Members of the Bates Community,

As we settle into the rhythms of the academic year, I wanted to be in touch to share some thoughts and plans about our work together. 

First, I want to thank all of you—students, faculty, and staff—for everything you have done to keep the educational experience at Bates moving forward through the enormous challenges of the past 18 months. Students, for those of you who are current sophomores, juniors, and seniors, you adapted last year with remarkable generosity and flexibility to a version of campus life that few of us could have predicted and none of us would have chosen. Those of you in the Class of 2025 experienced similar challenges and dislocations in your last year of high school, and many of you arrived at Bates having never seen the campus before. We appreciate the leap of faith you took, and I hope that you are finding your choices reinforced by your experiences so far.

Faculty and staff, you have worked extraordinarily hard to adapt everything we do here, from the semester structure, to modes of teaching and learning, to how meals are delivered and buildings and grounds are maintained, to how we sustain our connections with each other, with professional colleagues elsewhere, and with the parents, alumni, and friends who make up the Bates community writ large. Many of you have also spent the past 18 months in a complicated and exhausting juggling act of work, schooling for children, and care for family members. Others of you have stretched far beyond your assigned duties to run, or volunteer in, a testing and contact-tracing operation for the entire campus, not to mention facilitating the many other public health measures to keep our campus safe. Again, thank you for rising to the challenge of bringing yourselves, our students, and the college through this experience safe and strong.

I think we all entered this academic year hoping that COVID would be behind us by now and we could return single-mindedly to doing what we do. But we are not there yet, and, given global realities with the virus itself and with access to vaccines, we may well be living with the pandemic and related challenges for quite some time. With this in mind, I have begun to think less about “when will this all be over”—as though we can hold our breath until the storm passes—and more about how we, as individuals and as a college community, can find a way to navigate this new reality with energy and optimism, while adapting to whatever ongoing contingencies the pandemic may serve up. 

Our goals for the year are to bring as much of the in-person residential liberal arts experience as fully back to life for our students as possible and to re-establish the bonds of connection and community that make all of this worthwhile. One thing COVID has taught us is that we are all connected to one another, for better and worse. The virus knows no borders or boundaries, and it has made us all vulnerable—and responsible—to everyone we encounter. I hope this experience will inspire us to approach our work together this year with an extra measure of grace, aware of the ways in which we are all going through a challenging period, and sensitive to the fact that everyone has their own individual burdens and struggles as well.

In more concrete and practical terms, I want to share some areas of emphasis for 2021–22, including our plans to:

  • Offer a robust and enriching in-person, on-campus experience. Our central goal this year is to restore the residential campus experience for our students in the fullest and least restrictive way possible while maintaining the health and safety of our campus community. This includes classes being held in person, communal meals being offered at Commons, full seasons in varsity athletics and access to club and intramural sports and fitness facilities, and a full array of student programming.

    This approach is possible because of our vaccination requirement for all students and a vaccination certification program for all faculty and staff, supplemented by a testing program for students and employees, as long as public health conditions make this prudent. We currently have a vaccination rate of 98 percent for the entire campus community—a rate that our public health advisors at the Mayo Clinic consider highly protective of campus health and safety.
  • Continue to make progress on equity, inclusion, and antiracism. As I shared with you on September 23, our goal for equity, inclusion, and antiracism work for this academic year is twofold: first, to press forward with work in areas where efforts are underway and staff or faculty leadership is in place; and second, to undertake a structured process of outreach and consultation with the campus community and outside experts to identify an overall approach to leadership and staffing on issues of equity, inclusion, and antiracism that will achieve greater continuity and effectiveness for the college as a whole. A more complete description of this work can be found here. 
  • Engage and support faculty and staff. Last spring, we welcomed to campus our new Assistant Vice President for Human Resources and Environmental Health and Safety, Hope Burnell. Hope has joined us at a dynamic time for employees and workplace practices—in the economy at large, and on the Bates campus. In addition to her immediate duties, Hope has spent the past five months getting to know our campus community and our areas of greatest need, and she is particularly focused on developing strategies for enhancing employee engagement across the college.

    Meanwhile, employees came together in the spring through programs to support employee health and well-being, including Employee Enrichment Week and the annual BWell 5K. New employees who joined us remotely in 2020 attended an in-person orientation and, for those interested, a campus tour provided by our colleagues in Admission. As we move into the fall, Mindfulness Mondays have resumed at Gomes Chapel, and the annual review of our benefits offerings is underway. Additionally, we are supporting an Employee Resource Group to provide opportunities for self-identified BIPOC faculty and staff across the college to establish connections and community. Understanding and enhancing the employee experience is the top priority for Hope and the HR team, and I encourage the community to get to know Hope.

    We will also continue to look at how new ways of working, prompted by the pandemic, can best serve the college and its people. Vice President for Information and Library Services and College Librarian Pat Schoknecht led a working group over the past year and a half that created a remote work framework to assist employees and supervisors in developing flexible work arrangements, where possible. This framework is being piloted this fall, allowing staff to experiment with remote work and flexible schedules and make adjustments as necessary. Pat, Hope, and others will assess the effectiveness of the pilot program and make recommendations for an ongoing policy.
  • Strengthen structural support for the academic program. This fall, we welcomed 31 new faculty members to campus across every academic division. Their arrival gives Bates among the largest number of faculty in the college’s history, helping us meet the interests and needs of our current high numbers of new and returning students. We are also pleased to be able to welcome more fully into the in-person, on-campus experience those faculty who joined us in 2020, under challenging circumstances, when making connections was vastly more difficult.

    Looking ahead, as Malcolm Hill enters his fourth year as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, he has worked with faculty to lay the groundwork for several structural changes that are important for strengthening the academic program. These include: rationalizing the faculty line allocation process to better meet curricular needs and align with multi-year departmental planning; developing an implementation plan for a distinctive Center for Teaching and Learning, focused on high impact and inclusive pedagogies; revamping the system of pre-major student advising; and supporting the Registrar in her work to improve the systems, functionality, and performance of the Registrar’s Office. These initiatives will be the focus of deliberation, faculty legislation, and/or decision-making in the coming year.
  • Continue to build on strength in admission and financial aid. We have seen important growth in application numbers in recent years, and we will aim to continue this momentum in 2021–22. In 2018, we had an increase of over 44 percent—from 5,316 in 2017 to 7,685 in 2018. In 2019, applications peaked at 8,222, and in the COVID year of 2021, applications held strong at 7,319. This year, our goal is to maintain at least this level of applications. We will also strive to further diversify our student body, building on the strength of the Class of 2025, which is the most geographically and racially diverse class in the history of the college. Meanwhile, assisted by the financial support and visibility generated by the recently announced Schuler Access Initiative, we will seek to expand our enrollments of Pell-eligible, low-income, DACA, and undocumented students.
  • Complete the final year of the Bates Campaign. Having paused the Bates Campaign during COVID, we now turn to the final year of this $300 million fundraising effort, which began in 2015 in its quiet phase and was publicly launched in May of 2017. Thanks to the broad engagement of the Bates community, consistent annual contributions to the Bates Fund by so many alumni and friends, the exceptional generosity of donors who have contributed at a level never before seen at Bates, and the Schuler Access Initiative, we are in a strong position to meet and exceed our campaign goal over the course of the coming academic year.
  • Support students in their exploration of purposeful work. Purposeful Work continues to be a distinctive and visible program in the liberal arts space, in large part because it is integrated into curricular, co-curricular, and work-related experiences, and involves broad participation by students, faculty, and practitioners. The Purposeful Work team did an excellent job during COVID of converting Purposeful Work internships, job shadows, and spotlights on specific industries into virtual experiences, and students reported in a spring survey that they valued the flexibility afforded by a mix of in-person and electronic programming. The Center for Purposeful Work will continue to use a hybrid approach this year. 

    Since the Center was launched in 2018, students have continued to vote with their feet, with nearly 97% of the Class of 2021 having engaged with Purposeful Work over the course of their four years. Purposeful Work has also elevated Bates’ profile as an innovator in higher education. The Purposeful Work program was included in the “Stanford 2025 Guide to Reimagining Higher Education” as one of 13 featured case studies, and for the past two years Bates has also been ranked high (6th last year and 12th this year) among “the most innovative” national liberal arts colleges, based on a U.S. News peer survey.
  • Return to athletic competition. We have returned to athletic competition this fall, with appropriate health and safety protocols in place, as specified by NESCAC. We have opened a renovated locker room and Davis Fitness Center, featuring all new equipment. In addition, we have welcomed four new head coaches as we return to NESCAC competition: Ed Argast, Interim Head Football Coach; Emily Hayes, Women’s Volleyball; Curtis Johnson, Men’s Track and Field; and Renee Olsen, Women’s Lacrosse. As they did last year, athletics department staff continue to play a crucial role in supporting the COVID-19 Testing Center on campus.
  • Move forward with several key infrastructure projects. We continue to invest in Bates’ physical plant, through new construction, renovations to existing buildings, and strengthening our information infrastructure. Among key projects recently completed, underway, or planned for the year ahead are:  

    Science Facilities. We entered this academic year with the excitement of having the Bonney Science Center fully in operation. STEM faculty and students began enjoying the building over the summer, carrying out their research in new, state-of-the-art laboratories. Classrooms in Bonney are now in use for courses in STEM, as well as in a wide range of other disciplines and programs.

    On August 23, before classes began for the fall semester, the Bonney family joined us for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration of Professor Paula Schlax as the inaugural holder of the Stella James Sims Professorship in Chemistry and Biochemistry, established through an endowment gift by the Bonney Family Foundation. A campus-wide celebration of the opening of the Bonney Science Center is scheduled for Thursday, October 14. Details will be forthcoming. 

    Meanwhile, the transformation of Bates’ overall platform for science continues with a full interior renovation of Dana Science Hall that will introduce chemistry and biology teaching labs on the first and third floors and flexible classrooms on the second floor for the use of all academic departments. The project began this summer and is scheduled to be completed by Fall 2022.

    The Carnegie Science Hall will continue to house some faculty in biology, chemistry, and environmental studies, with labs and classrooms, as well as the departments of earth and climate sciences and physics and astronomy. We will continue to invest in Carnegie, and will take advantage of the flexibility created within Carnegie by some of the recent moves to Bonney to improve the faculty and student experience.

    Chase Hall. We will also use the current academic year to complete planning and fundraising for the next round of renovations in Chase Hall, following the renovation of the Den in 2012 and the Office of Intercultural Education in 2014, and the addition of Student Affairs office space and meeting rooms in 2019. The new renovations, comprising approximately 30,000 square feet, will bring under one roof the Office of Intercultural Education, the Center for Purposeful Work, and a number of Student Affairs staff who work with a broad range of students, clubs, and activities. Construction is slated to begin in June 2022, with a completion date in July 2023.

    Information and Library Services. Finally, Bates continually monitors the soundness and security of the information infrastructure that is vital to supporting both the academic and research needs of the college and critical business functions. ILS is focused on continuous improvement in academic support, customer service, and business efficiency, with an increasing emphasis on information security and privacy. This year, ILS will be expanding its focus on working with faculty in areas of inclusive pedagogy and open educational resources, as well as developing the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) framework for our guiding principles in security.

We are off to a good start this year, and it is truly wonderful to see the campus alive with activity and with human beings whose faces and smiles we can see, at least outside. We will certainly encounter challenges, but I am confident that we will continue to meet them with the strength and generosity that have served Bates so well for so long.