Official press release
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A. Clayton Spencer elected eighth president of Bates
The Bates College Board of Trustees has elected A. Clayton Spencer, currently vice president for policy at Harvard University, to become the eighth president of Bates, effective July 1, 2012.
Spencer is widely regarded as an extraordinarily effective and collaborative higher education leader who has worked with four Harvard presidents to shape key initiatives over the past 15 years. A graduate of Williams College and Yale Law School, prior to Harvard Spencer served at the national level as chief education counsel in the U.S. Senate, working for the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Spencer will succeed Nancy J. Cable, who has served Bates as interim president since July 1, 2011. Elaine Hansen, the seventh president of Bates, stepped down from the position last June, after nine years, to accept appointment as executive director of the Center for Talented Youth at The Johns Hopkins University. Cable, who did not enter the presidential search, will continue to serve Bates in a senior leadership role.
Board Chair Michael W. Bonney announced the election and introduced Spencer to the Bates community this afternoon at a campus event attended by faculty, students and staff, as well as college trustees, alumni and others.
In making the announcement Bonney said, “The Bates Board of Trustees has unanimously and enthusiastically agreed that Clayton Spencer is the best possible choice to lead Bates at this key time in the college’s history. She is a true national leader in higher education, and she understands Bates in a very personal way, endorsing its innovative approach to the academic curriculum and its unpretentious ambition for excellence in all aspects of the liberal arts experience in the 21st century. We couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome her as our president-elect.”
Spencer said in her remarks, “I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve as the next President of Bates College. It is such a privilege to be invited to join this very special community — on campus and beyond — and to imagine our work together as we write the next chapter in the life of this remarkable institution.”
Spencer’s election follows an international search that began in June and drew what search committee members described as a very large, diverse and extremely competitive pool of candidates. Committee co-chairs Valerie Smith and Michael Chu said that the process attracted a deep and talented pool of about 300 applicants, “including sitting presidents, accomplished faculty deans and provosts, foundation presidents and others. Bates’ unique position and values resonated with the applicants in a profound and inspiring way.”
The 14-member search committee, which included Bates trustees, faculty members, administrators, alumni and a student, was assisted by the search firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates.
Statements about the election of Spencer as Bates president
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said, “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.”
Adam Falk, president of Williams College, where Spencer is a trustee, said, “It’s hard to imagine finding a better person to fill this role at Bates. Clayton 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 fellow president in the NESCAC [New England Small Colleges Athletic Association] — and a national colleague in the liberal arts.”
Diana Sorensen, dean of arts and humanities for the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said, “Clayton will be a transformative leader for Bates. Faculty and students alike will be drawn to her understanding of the academic life and to her delight in the joy and the power of ideas.
“She is a terrific listener and so good at getting people to work together. Her focus is on the desired outcome. Not only can she articulate the vision, but she knows how to get there.”
Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the Division of Government and Public Affairs of the American Council on Education, said of Spencer, “I’ve always seen Clayton as a potential college president. She is a superb choice for Bates. She’s 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, and she reconciles divergent views and articulates a way forward.”
“And Clayton has a unique sense for the public face of higher education. She is aware of the issues faced by highly selective colleges, fundamentally understands how the country is changing and knows how to respond to those changes in terms of policy.”
Financial aid focus
In Washington and at Harvard, Spencer has been known for her passionate commitment to access, affordability, and excellence in higher education.
William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial at Harvard College, said, “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.”
Spencer’s service as a key U.S. Senate staffer on education, 1993–97
Spencer began to exert important influence on national higher education policy in 1993 in her role as chief education counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, then chaired by the Senator Kennedy. She managed the committee’s education staff and directed the legislative process, focusing on federal student aid, science and research policy, education budget issues, and technology in education. During this period she gained a reputation for her ability to help move legislation through Congress.
Nick Littlefield, former chief of staff for Sen. Kennedy and now a partner and chair of the government strategies group for the Boston law firm Foley Hoag said, “If Senator 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 Senator Kennedy, which meant for the Senate and for the country. 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.”
Role at Harvard, 1997 to present
Since joining the Harvard administration in February 1997, Spencer has served a succession of presidents there (Neil L. Rudenstine, Lawrence H. Summers, Derek Bok, and now Faust), moving from the position of consultant into an associate vice presidency and then becoming the vice president in 2005 with a wide-ranging set of responsibilities.
In her current role, she develops and implements strategic priorities for the university on behalf of the president; directs policy analysis and oversees Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research; oversees administration, budget and staffing for the offices of the president and the provost; manages searches for deans and senior administrators; and serves as a liaison for the president with Harvard’s Council of Deans.
A 2008 profile by The Harvard Crimson described Spencer as “one of the most influential officials at Harvard.” She played a key role in a variety of university milestones over the past decade, including:
- The 1999 merger of Harvard and Radcliffe College (formerly a women’s college) and the subsequent transformation of Radcliffe to an institute for advanced study;
- The redesign and dramatic expansion of Harvard’s financial aid program and enhanced recruitment of low- and middle-income students;
- The organization and staffing of University-wide task forces on women faculty, the arts, common spaces, and international engagement;
- The design and implementation of a university-wide academic planning process; and
- The establishment and oversight of presidential initiatives, including the Crimson Summer Academy (a multi-year summer program for academically talented high school students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds), Presidential Public Service Grants, and the President’s January Innovation Grants.
Other biographical background
Ava Clayton Spencer, 56, was born in North Carolina and raised in an academic family.
Her father, Samuel Reid Spencer, Jr., a historian educated at Harvard, served as president of Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., from 1957 to 1968 and Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., from 1968 to 1983.
She attended North Mecklenburg High School in North Carolina and Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H.
Spencer received a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in history and German, from Williams College, then earned a B.A. in theology from Oxford. She received a master’s degree in the study of religion from Harvard, then completed her J.D. degree from Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal, winner of the moot court competition, and chair of the Public Interest Council.
After clerking for Judge Rya W. Zobel of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, she practiced law at the Boston firm of Ropes & Gray from 1986 to 1989, then served from 1989 to 1993 as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston, prosecuting criminal cases, before joining the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources and subsequently joining the Harvard administration.
Spencer is currently a trustee of Williams College, and she previously served as a trustee of Phillips Exeter Academy. In 1997 she received the Williams College Bicentennial Medal for achievement in the field of education policy.
Spencer has written various articles and publications in the field of higher education policy and taught courses in federal higher education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has served on an array of boards and panels, including the national board of the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education; the advisory board of the American Council on Education’s Center for Policy Analysis; and the Forum for the Future of Higher Education.
Spencer has two children — a son, Will, a 2010 graduate of New York University who works as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and a daughter, Ava, who is a junior at Harvard, majoring in stem cell and regenerative biology.
About Bates College
Bates is a leading private, highly selective, residential college devoted to undergraduate study in the traditional disciplines of the liberal arts and sciences as well as in emerging interdisciplinary programs. Bates’ campus is in Lewiston, Maine, and its academic activities reach worldwide.
Founded in 1855 by abolitionists who believed strongly in freedom, civil rights and the importance of a higher education for all who could benefit from it, the college has always admitted students without regard to race, religion, national origin or gender and was the first coeducational college in New England. Bates continues its commitment to access and inclusivity today with an average financial aid grant of $35,000.
Bates offers bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree to an enrollment of approximately 2,000 students from all over the United States and more than 60 other countries. With a student-faculty ratio of 10-to-1 and a commitment to supporting scholar-teachers of highest distinction, the college’s educational community challenges and supports students as they reach toward their full intellectual potential.