Bates Community Letter: Fall 2013

Dear Members of the Bates Community,

President Clayton Spencer in living room of President's House.I write to share with you developments at the college as we welcome the Class of 2017 and begin a new academic year.

I have spent the past 12 months listening closely to students, faculty, and staff on campus and to alumni, trustees, and parents in the broader Bates community. This process has not only been great fun but has also allowed me to gain information and perspective about the college’s distinctive history, our most powerful assets in the present day, and how we can best position ourselves to deal with the forces that are transforming higher education and the world into which our students are graduating. I am pleased to report that the college is doing very well, and I am highly optimistic about our future.

Let me begin by describing some key developments that bring us into this year with strong momentum. First, under the leadership of our new dean of admission and financial aid, Leigh Weisenburger, we had one of the most competitive admissions years in Bates history. We received 5,243 total applications for admission, the most ever. Significantly, 425 of these students applied early decision round one, meaning that Bates was their first choice, representing a 35 percent increase in early decision applications in one year.

The incoming class of 502 students not only was chosen from one of the most competitive applicant pools in our history, but also brings the greatest diversity. Twenty-five percent are U.S. students of color, and 72 students are the first in their families to go to college. The class comes from 38 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and 32, or 7 percent, are international students, hailing from 25 different countries.

Last year also brought outstanding appointments to leadership positions throughout the college. In addition to Leigh Weisenburger, we have recruited Sarah Pearson ’75, Matthew Auer, and Crystal Ann Williams to key roles. Sarah joined us last year as vice president for college advancement, following a career that took her from Harvard, to Cornell, to the University of Chicago, to Northwestern University, where she served for eight years as vice president. She has begun the process of building strength in fundraising and alumni engagement, while maintaining strong results in annual giving. The Bates Fund reached 50 percent participation for the second year in a row, and 93 percent of the Class of 2013 contributed to the class gift. Total dollars exceed $12 million.

Matt Auer, our newly appointed vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, is a leading scholar and globally engaged expert in the arenas of environmental policy, energy policy, sustainable development, and foreign aid. A dynamic and effective academic leader, Matt received a doctorate in forestry and environmental studies from Yale, a master’s from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his undergraduate degree from Harvard. He spent the past 12 years at Indiana University, where he served first as dean of undergraduate education at the School of Environmental and Public Policy and later as dean of the Hutton Honors College — the liberal arts program within the larger university.

Crystal Williams of Reed College will join Bates as associate vice president and chief diversity officer in November. Currently dean for institutional diversity at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Crystal brings deep experience and passion to the task of reclaiming and refashioning for the present Bates’ historic commitment to inclusion. She will oversee the Office of Equity and Diversity and the Office of Intercultural Education. Crystal is also a nationally recognized poet and author of creative nonfiction who will join the English department as a professor, adding depth and range to her work in diversity, while enriching the intellectual community on campus.

Academics remain the core of what we do. We offer 35 different majors, and all seniors complete a thesis or capstone project. Bates is ranked as a top producer of Fulbright grants, and 11 members of the Class of 2013 received Fulbrights to teach and conduct research in 10 different countries. One 2013 graduate received a Watson Fellowship to travel to Morocco, Madagascar, and Cambodia to conduct research on cultural perceptions of stroke as a medical condition. Sixty-seven percent of our students graduate with academic credit for studying abroad, placing Bates 16th in the nation in this category.

While being intensely engaged with students in the classroom, in labs, in thesis advising, and in research, our faculty remain exceptional scholars in their own right. Over the past three years, Bates faculty members authored 21 scholarly books and textbooks, and 237 scholarly journals or book chapters.

Building on the legacy of our sixth president, Don Harward, Bates is a national leader in community engaged learning. The Harward Center for Community Partnerships remains a vibrant focus of activity, led with energy and vision by its director, Darby Ray, who joined Bates last year and is the Donald W. and Ann M. Harward Professor of Civic Engagement. A third of our students take courses that incorporate interaction with the community, and two-thirds of our students volunteer in the 125 community organizations with which we have partnerships.

Last year was a very strong one for athletics as well. Cumulatively, Bates athletics had its highest finish since 2004 in the National Division III Director’s Cup competition that measures overall athletic performance, placing 38th out of more than 450 institutions. The men’s track and field team placed fifth at the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships, the squad’s best performance ever, and won its first-ever New England Division III Outdoor Championship. The football team went 5–3, beating Colby and Bowdoin en route to winning the CBB championship. Men’s lacrosse went 5–1 on Garcelon Field and 7–7 overall, posting their best season since 2006. Baseball had its fourth consecutive winning season. And women’s rowing placed second at the NCAA Division III Championships for the fifth year in a row.

With new leaders in place, strong alumni support, and a talented and diverse student body, Bates begins this new academic year in a strong position. Looking ahead, we have identified three institutional priorities on which we are already making concrete progress.

First, we want Bates to set the standard for the “engaged liberal arts.” We are working every day to deliver the strongest possible residential liberal arts experience even as we engage the forces that are changing the way we live our lives and experience the world. With half of our faculty eligible to retire over the next 10 years, our central task as a college is to shape a forward-looking curriculum and hire the faculty to teach it. We are aided in this effort by a million-dollar grant from the Mellon Foundation supporting this work in our humanities departments. Likewise, we are approaching new developments in knowledge and pedagogy with zest and openness, as well as with a critical eye. Associate Professor of Classical and Medieval Studies Margaret Imber is leading a “project for innovation and collaboration in teaching, technology and research” that brings together faculty interested in exploring new developments in pedagogy and the science of learning and experimenting in their own classrooms.

Second, we have initiated a college-wide project focused on preparing our students for “purposeful work.” This project grows out of the intellectual conviction that helping students understand and explore their relationship to work — in college and beyond — lies at the heart of the liberal arts mission. And it grows out of the practical recognition that our students are graduating into a highly competitive world, where it is increasingly challenging to find work of any kind, much less work that aligns with one’s interests and skills. Accordingly, we will be developing programming over the arc of our students’ four years here aimed at helping them to develop and discern their interests. And we will couple this process of self-discovery with an array of internships and other experiences aimed at building relevant skills. A working group composed of faculty, staff, and students, and led by Director of the Harward Center Darby Ray and Associate Professor of Psychology Michael Sargent, is driving forward with this project. The entire Bates community, on and off campus, will be invited to join the thinking of this group and consider proposals for action throughout this year.

As part of this effort, we are considering the addition of some practitioner-taught courses during Short Term. We will invite alumni and others to design and teach Short Term courses in their areas of professional expertise. Professor of Sociology Emily Kane is leading this effort, working closely with her faculty colleagues.

Third, our commitment to “opportunity and excellence” means attracting and enrolling the very best students from a broad range of backgrounds and marshaling the resources to provide generous financial aid to support their education. Our current financial aid program reflects our commitment to these values. Forty-seven percent of our students receive financial aid, and the average grant is over $35,000. Counter to national trends in student debt, our financial aid is largely composed of outright grants, and students with loans graduate with an average debt load of under $17,000, compared to the national average of over $27,000.

Supporting the college’s generous program of financial aid will always top the list of fundraising priorities, and the Board of Trustees is firmly behind these efforts.

As we work to advance these priorities, we will need the engagement and support of the entire Bates community. I hope this letter gives you a taste of some of the exciting things we are up to, and I welcome any thoughts or suggestions you may have.

With all best wishes,

A. Clayton Spencer

18 Responses to “Bates Community Letter: Fall 2013”

  1. Vanessa Williamson says:

    I am a proud alum and happy to see the direction Bates is going towards! Thank you!

  2. Bill Hiss says:

    This is a very helpful, clear and positive summary, with enough detail to bring the general points to life.

  3. Edward J. Smith says:

    Dear Clayton,

    Bless you for thinking outside the box and taking any sort of stand which delivers results down the road and not just in the next quarter.

    The world in which we live must evolve. While many of the fears and tribulations of my youth have disappeared, the needs of our planet are as yet many…overpopulation, global understanding, the sharing of resources, and the revitalization and care of our natural world.

    The solution to all our problems is in educating the next generation, and those which follow, to be better stewards of our planet, our neighbors, and ourselves.The plan laid out for the next gen of Bates academicians, both staff and student alike, as well as the core facility, speak to my hopes for whatever may come. I wish you well in your journey.


  4. Jaren Ducker says:

    I am a parent of a graduate, John Ducker.
    Congratulations on such an admirable list of priorities–diversity, purposeful work, and protecting the students from leaving with crippling debt.

  5. Jean Neely '53 says:

    Impressive! Thanks.
    Jean C. Neely ’53

  6. Sharon Fowler Kenrick '62 says:

    Thank you for finally having so many “things” that connect the students to the community. I read about it in the mag. Also, scholarships are very important, and I am pleased at the low level of debt when the students graduate. Finally, the diversity of the students is very important so keep up the good work. Thank you so much for listening for a year. We have two ears but do not often let them lead the way. The blessing in my life was to be able to attend Bates and have Cultural Heritage, which I do understand would not fit now but was a blessing for us (even tho’ we did not think so at the time!). Happy fall, Sharon Fowler Kenrick ’62

  7. Margaret Brosnahan '87 says:

    Creating an opportunity for alumni to teach at Bates is a fantastic idea! I would definitely be interested in participating if this came to fruition. Looking forward to updates on this.

    Peggy Brosnahan ’87, DVM, MS, DACVIM

  8. Alan Wineburgh says:

    Dear Clayton (if I may be familiar),

    I am very pleased with the goals set and achieved in this first year of your presidency. I am most impressed with the huge gains in diversity and financial aid that you have accomplished in such a short time. My wife, Jill Wellenbach, and our daughter Nina are also very proud of your leadership, and we are altogether enthusiastic for the tone and direction that you have set for Bates. Many thanks for your fine work.

    All the best,

    Alan (also familiar)

  9. BIll Walsh '86 says:

    Dear President Spencer,

    Thank you for the update and congratulations on what sounds like a creative and ambitious series of initiatives to improve the Bates experience. It seems you are off to a running start and I have nothing but high hopes for you and for Bates.

    I also appreciated your willingness to address the elephant in the room — the high cost of American college education — although I’m concerned you only talked about a small portion of that lumbering beast and provided precious little insight on your plans to corral him.

    To be sure, Bates deserves credit for providing large financial grants and for graduating students with less-than-average (although still substantial) debt loads. As a class agent, loyal donor and co-president of the Class of 1986, I’m aware what an important role we all play in easing that financial burden. But to boast about the level of financial aid without ever mentioning the cost of tuition, room and board sidesteps the central issue. In fact, in 2013-14, according to the Bates website, the cost of attending Bates — tuition, room, board, and fees — is 58,950. I’ve heard people say that college tuition is akin to a “sticker price” on a car, but I fear we are truly aligning ourselves with the car salesmen when we talk about the financing opportunities without mentioning the cost of the vehicle. Let’s at least acknowledge $58,950 as our starting point.

    Now let’s go further. Let’s talk about what is being done to corral those costs — and even reduce them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Bates tuition and fees rose 11.2% from 2009-2012. Keep in mind this was a period of almost stagnant inflation and retrograde real wages. I have absolutely no doubt that Bates isn’t unique in this regard. Indeed, such large annual increases at colleges and universities across the country are one reason President Obama has placed the cost of higher education squarely on the national agenda. It seems to me that Bates has an obligation — at least to its students, parents and alumni — to explain what it is doing to keep those costs in check. Is it asking too much that we see reductions? That your letter only addressed financial aid (arguably the tail of the elephant) was a missed opportunity, in my opinion.

    I sincerely hope in the future when we trumpet our accomplishments in extending financial assistance that we also address the reasons for the growth in fees that make that financial aid so necessary in the first place. That would be a good start. But I also see this historical moment as an opportunity for us and I’d like to offer you a challenge: How can Bates College seize this moment of heightened national scrutiny to distinguish itself from its peers by showcasing for the world that its remarkable creativity, humanity and ingenuity can deliver superior value in higher education for dramatically less cost — that in a new age, my beloved Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, can take the lead in re-imagining the American college experience in a way that upends the traditional models, including how it is paid for? Are you in? I am if you are.

    Best Regards and Go Bobcats!

    Bill Walsh ’86

  10. Dean Skelley '60 says:

    Well done! Although not mentioned, I hope the college is helping foster students who will become Renaissance scholars and carry with them throughout their lives the college motto Amore ac Studio. It would be of interest to publicize how many students graduate with a double major and possibly majors of diverse fields of study.
    Best wishes!

  11. John R. Holt '64 says:

    I am impressed both by what you have to say and how you say it. The college has been blessed with excellent leadership over the years, and it seems to be getting better and better. Three of my children attended Bates, and all profited from their experience, as I did. It is an institution worth supporting.

  12. Bob Drayton '56 says:

    Sounds good. What is a “best” student? You have worked with not so good students but able senators in the long run.

  13. Christopher van der Lugt '05 says:

    This is what makes Bates great – a desire, and follow-through, to continually iterate upon perfection.

    Thank you Madam President and all of Bates College for continuing to make my alma mater a relevant, engaged and thoughtful place.

  14. Herbert T. Knight '46 says:

    As a Bates grad (Class of ’46, magna cum laude; Ph.D. Harvard, 1951), I applaud the concept of “Engaged Liberal Arts.” But I deplore the apparent de-emphasis of the Sciences, an area where Bates has excelled over the previous seven decades. Surely chemistry, physics, physiology and math should be full partners in the pursuit of academic excellence. Is the de-emphasis intentional?

    • Jay Burns, Editor, Bates Magazine says:

      Hi Bert; thanks for the comment. Math and the natural sciences certainly get, and will continue to receive, their academic due at Bates, along with our striving for excellence in the arts/humanities, social sciences and interdisciplinary programs. I think this quote from the president’s Inaugural address gets at the broad yet student-centered scope of the Engaged Liberal Arts:

      “Here, faculty, through their own passion and erudition, inspire students to take ideas seriously, and sometimes even to love them. They help students when the work gets hard — when texts resist interpretation, or require more context than an eighteen-year-old could possibly bring; when experiments fail in the lab; or when weeks of analysis must be scrubbed because of an error in a data set. Working closely with adults and with each other, students learn that although information may be a click away, mastery and meaning are not. Some kinds of knowledge require patience, and perseverance, and close attention.”

  15. Chris Delpeche says:

    We have our sons who are freshmen at Bates. We are encouraged and excited by the vision and potential of the leadership of Clayton and the Bates administration.

  16. Michael Horton '94 says:

    Thank you for the thorough community letter! I believe the greatest aspect of the Bates experience has always been the people: the students and staff… and the relationships developed between them. It sounds like that belief continues to ring true as demonstrated by the team that is working together to shape the future of Bates.

    Good luck and I look forward to future updates.

  17. Pam Johnson says:

    I love to see “first in their family to go to college” included in the report of the diversity of the students. Different family backgrounds and cultural experiences make the tapestry of Bates richer.