Hansen inaugurated as Bates' seventh president

The value of a college education in terms of increased lifetime income is well understood, but less well understood is its social and civic value, Elaine Tuttle Hansen told more than 1,400 guests Saturday during her inauguration as Bates College’s seventh president and its first woman president.

Reviewing the words of earlier Bates presidents, she found an appeal to a “higher motive for individual achievement than is now commonly understood.” Hansen said that George Colby Chase, who served Bates from 1894 to 1919, acknowledged that the privilege of higher education was not an equal possibility for all human beings. But, she said, Chase was also aware that Bates existed “not so that each alum would accumulate more life-time earnings, more status and private power.” Hansen reiterated Chase’s remarks at his own inauguration, that Bates existed “not to gratify the selfish instincts of the more fortunate, not to nourish the haughtiness and arrogance of a false aristocracy, but to develop men who shall be fit exponents of that spirit of philanthropy to which the world will always owe its increasing ‘sweetness and light.’”

Today, she said, higher education must fight “two uphill battles at once: We need to reformulate the public value of the kind of education we offer at the same time that we figure out how it can be offered more broadly.”

Hansen said that Bates has always been a place where one develops self-knowledge and self-confidence, and it always has been a place that couples individual potential with social purpose. “We invite those who have grown up expecting and preparing to enroll in a highly selective undergraduate college,” she said, “and we invite those who have not been able to feel so confident about their destiny, who seek greater possibility for themselves than others in their family or group or community may yet have had.”

In closing remarks, Hansen asked the Bates community to reconsider the merits of reflection in an over-scheduled world.

“We need time alone and time with others that is undisciplined time – time to listen, speak, think, imagine. What I am talking about is endangered because it looks like unproductive time, the rarest of commodities in a world that measures everything by outcome.” She quoted Chase, who said at his inauguration: “Few can appreciate and none can observe the slow process by which the crude boy develops into the scholar. Valuable things require fine scales, and the most valuable things cannot be weighed at all.”

In his welcoming remarks, Bates Trustee Chair Burton M. Harris observed that Bates College, coeducational since its 1855 founding, evolved on a radical idea: “that a learning institution could democratically invite, without prejudice, all those who wish to seek enrichment from the education offered within its community. In sharing community greetings with our new president, we affirm again the power of the simple human gesture of welcome.”

Bates student government president Graham Veysey, Class of 2003, offered brief observations on the student reaction to the Hansen presidency. “The students are talking, the students are ranting and raving, saying ‘She’s wicked smart!’ We are excited about what we have seen and what the future holds. President Hansen, welcome. Your fit is right, and our community is uplifted by your intellect, your wit, and your commitment to the Bates way.”

Presidential inaugurations at Bates College are rare, occurring on average once every 21 years: Only six other presidents have served at Bates during its 147-year history. Delegates from 105 colleges, universities and learned societies around the nation attended Hansen’s investiture, joining students, faculty, staff, family, friends, community members, and alumni.

Bates’ oldest alumna, Ida Taylor Sperber, 104, attended the inauguration, and has now met six of Bates’ seven presidents. “I think she is fine, and I’m glad we have her,” Sperber said. Sperber, a resident of Portland, Maine, is a member of the Class of 1920.

Hansen was elected president by college trustees Jan. 26 and began her duties as Bates president on July 1. The inaugural ceremony is her formal investiture in which she receives the symbols of her office: a record book, keys and the presidential collar, whose silverwork includes images symbolizing academia, Bates and Maine.

Before her selection as president of Bates, Hansen served as provost for seven years at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, a liberal arts college of 1,100 students located in suburban Philadelphia. Hansen earned her bachelor’s degree at Mount Holyoke College, her M.A. at the University of Minnesota and her doctorate at the University of Washington.

Before coming to Haverford in 1980, she was an associate editor of the Middle English Dictionary at the University of Michigan and taught at Hamilton College. She has taught a wide variety of courses in Middle English literature and in contemporary women’s writing and feminist theory, as well as introductory linguistics and first-year writing seminars. Before being named provost at Haverford, she served as chair of the Department of English and as coordinator of the Haverford/Bryn Mawr Concentration in Feminist and Gender Studies. She was also awarded the Lindbach Teaching Prize.

Hansen has published numerous literary criticism articles and reviews and three books: Reading Wisdom in Old English Poetry (University of Toronto Press, 1988); Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender (University of California Press, 1992); and Mother Without Child: Contemporary Fiction and the Crisis of Motherhood (University of California Press, 1997). She is a member and past president of the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship and a member of the Modern Language Association, where she has served on the Executive Committee of the Chaucer division, the Delegate Assembly, and the Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities.

Hansen, 54, is married to Stanley Hansen, a speech pathologist. They have two children: Emma, 20, a student at Macalester College in Minnesota, and Isla, 15, a student in Lewiston.

Founded in 1855, Bates has never had fraternities or sororities, and was the first coeducational college in New England. It infused its egalitarian traditions with leading-edge academic initiatives to be recognized as one of the top colleges in the country. The last decade has seen record admissions applications, 10 new academic majors, 13 major building projects, and institutional leadership of a community-development partnership with the twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn called by Maine Gov. Angus King “the most extensive in the history of the state.”

In annual publications Bates is consistently ranked among the top national liberal arts colleges. Bates also is one of the top colleges in the country for students interested in the world: In the most recent graduating class, 68 percent of the graduates applied toward their degree credit earned abroad.

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