Bates Matters: President for a Day

By Elaine Hansen

In offering a Bates student the chance to be president for a day, my primary goal was educational. I wanted students to learn that their insights about the College can be enriched by a deeper understanding of the issues, offices, and constituencies comprising the modern administration of a place like Bates.

But there was also a self-centered motive, as I wanted a good reason to get out of the office (and the meetings, conference calls, and airports) for some first-hand experience myself.

True, I’ve been a professor most of my adult life, but I needed to update and localize — at Bates — my sense of student life. And so, a Bates student and I traded places.

On and off campus, I love to extol this College’s intellectual vitality, yet the reality of my classroom experience was even better than my rhetoric.

Attending three very different classes, in sociology, philosophy, and psychology, I witnessed uniformly excellent academic work. I saw students strenuously exercising the muscles of the mind and grappling with the kind of big questions that define a liberal arts education: How do power and privilege work, at Bates and beyond? Should actions be guided by reason or faith? What are the forces that shape human identity?

In the classes I attended, professors effectively used different pedagogical strategies befitting their audience and the material, deftly guiding their students’ encounters with difficult texts and issues.

Sociologist Emily Kane drew on small-group work completed before class to develop and field questions about the reading as it applied to real, local contexts.

Philosopher James Swan-Tuite lectured on a dense treatise but with a level of accessibility that made it feel like a conversation.

In Krista Scottham’s psychology class, small groups of students, working as both teammates and sparring partners, presented their findings based on recent research. Scottham listened, prodded, and then brilliantly summed up.

I realized just how many parts of our community had drawn me toward them during the day.

Walking across campus, picking up my lunch in the Den, or working at the Pettengill reception desk, I felt connected to people who stopped and talked to me in a different way.

At Slovenski Track, track coach Jay Hartshorn built an inclusive team identity by starting practice with some show and tell, in which first-years shared a favorite possession and explained its meaning. Sitting in this circle of friendly young folk, I realized just how many parts of our community had drawn me toward them during the day.

At Bates, the classroom experience, so rich and central, is embedded within a durable fabric of human interaction, woven by a variety of remarkably talented people.