'Fantastic' Short Term arrives


A kayak paddle perches on a mound of new wetsuits in geologist Dyk Eusden’s office in Carnegie Science Hall. The paddle, just recently returned by a geology colleague who had borrowed it, is the least of Eusden’s concerns this late April morning.

Just a few days remain until Eusden and 11 students head out for a popular Short Term course exploring the rugged Maine coast by sea kayak, and there’s a problem. The Maine Guide hired for the trip, who’s Welsh, can’t get his green card for U.S. employment. So Eusden, a 1980 Bates graduate and member of the Bates faculty since 1988, must quickly interview and hire a new guide by phone. Despite the snafu, he’s nearly giddy: Short Term is his favorite time of year. “Short Term is fantastic, especially for geologists,” he says.

For the entire five-week Short Term, students enroll in just one of 83 available courses offered by 31 departments and programs. Students must complete only two Short Terms during their four years, so fewer students are on campus than during the fall or winter semesters. Around 1,250 students are in residence this May (including varsity athletes, who can stay on campus for what they call “Sport Term”), a number that’s about three-quarters the usual 1,700 students enrolled during the fall or winter.

“It’s a whole new campus,” says Associate Director of Admissions Virginia Harrison ’63. “Students see different people, and they make new friends.”

And they have fun. Since some courses meet just nine hours a week, visitors see lots of Frisbees being flung around the Quad and dorm furniture migrating outside. Terrace parties outside the Den become more frequent, and faculty, students, and staff enjoy weekly late-afternoon picnics on the Quad. Visits to nearby Range Pond are also traditional during Short Term.

Some Short Term courses, on the other hand, are so rigorous their nicknames are embedded in Bates lingo. “Molecular and Cellular Biology,” required of all bio majors, meets every morning with labs two afternoons a week; it’s better-known as “Cell Hell.” The math department’s all-day, every-day course “Introduction to Abstraction” is nicknamed “Math Camp.”

Though Short Term has spawned some of the most adventurous Bates courses, when inaugurated 35 years ago it was hardly a teaching-driven innovation and hardly the gift to cabin-fevered Batesies it’s considered today. In 1965, with Baby Boomers hitting U.S. colleges, Bates floated the idea of a three-year course of study. Adding a shorter semester in May and June would move more students more quickly through the College. (The College course catalog suggested that taking a course in May and June was wiser than the alternative, a traditional May-September vacation, which was deemed “a considerable waste of time.”)

The three-year option was a bust. But students and faculty loved Short Term. What began as an extension of the Bates ethos of hard work became an unexpected, and at that time rare, opportunity for faculty to try out new courses and teaching strategies. During three five-day kayaking and camping excursions to Maine’s isolated coastal islands, Eusden and his students will map the varying bedrock geology around Casco Bay, Penobscot Bay, and Mount Desert Island. “I really enjoy being outdoors, getting out of this cubicle,” Eusden says in his office.

“It’s great to have your students for five weeks, all to yourself,” he adds. “In the kayaking course, they tend to form a cohesive group, learning more than just geology. They learn how to live with each other, how to cook each other’s food, how to set up campgrounds, and how to kayak and deal with adverse weather and ocean conditions.”

Indeed, the call of the kayak drew Jesse Minor ’02 of Wilmington, N.C., to Bates four years ago. Now completing a geology major, he says courses like Eusden’s sea kayaking Short Term “were very helpful in terms of readiness for thesis research.” He adds, “I grew up sea kayaking, and courses like this differentiated Bates” from its peers. “It’s also great to see different parts of Maine, to camp out, and be outdoors for a week at a time.”

“They get to see the Maine coast at a time when there’s nobody around,” Eusden says. “It’s beautiful, and birds are migrating and seals are being born. It’s way more than geology. It’s a lesson in life.”

Six Short Term courses offer significant domestic or overseas travel, and many others, like Curtis Bohlen’s environmental studies course addressing the restoration plan for a marsh in Scarborough, Maine, involve day trips. Students pay up to $3,500 for travel-abroad courses, and Bates financial grant and loan aid is available.

In the history department, for example, assistant professor Lillian Guerra spent much of the break week between winter semester and Short Term on the phone untangling red tape for her Short Term course, the “Development and Legacies of Slavery in Cuba.” Days before she and 10 students were to fly from Portland to Montreal and then to Cuba, Guerra visited a local bank to wire the group’s travel money to Cuba. There, the bank gave Guerra bad news: the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act makes it much riskier to wire funds to Cuba because the federal government will not guarantee the funds’ availability.

Typical, thought Guerra: never mind that Bates has a travel license, issued by the U.S. Treasury Department, for educational travel to Cuba and that more than 55,000 students travel to the island nation every year. “The Bates students have a great sense of humor about it, in part because it so accurately reflects the illogic of the U.S. approach to Cuba — as a pariah — when the rest of the world treats it like a normal state,” Guerra says. Rather than having their travel money safely waiting in Cuba, Guerra had to find a way to ship cash to Cuba.

“We’re studying the way the Cuban economy, culture, and systems of belief about race and gender developed around the system of slavery in the 19th century,” she adds. Yet current events can’t help but inform the past. A simple incident like not being able to wire money, she says, “becomes a lesson in itself why you should study any economic system, because it becomes the basis for every aspect of life.”

Even the many campus-based courses reach out beyond Campus Avenue and College Street. For example, Elizabeth Eames, associate professor of anthropology, reworked her service-learning Short Term course so her students could help Lewiston-Auburn social service agencies prepare for the predicted arrival of 1,000 Somali refugees from Atlanta.

The fans of Short Term aren’t limited to the faculty and students. For the Bates admissions office, whose job it is to differentiate Bates from dozens of other top-ranked liberal arts colleges, Short Term is a broad canvas on which to paint the most tantalizing possibilities of college life. Says Virginia Harrison with a sly smile: “Our standard line in admissions is, ‘When spring comes to Maine, it’s wonderful to have just one course.'”