Veterans’ Recognition at Bates


Dear Members of the Bates Community,

I am pleased to share with you our plan to create a public space on campus to recognize the service and sacrifice of members of the Bates community who are military veterans and to invite reflection on the broader implications of war.

This decision comes in response to the longstanding interest of many in our community in establishing a physical installation on campus to honor veterans, and we will carry out the plan based on the recommendation and guiding principles set forth by the Public Art Committee during a process of consultation and deliberation that took place over the winter semester.

The Public Art Committee – Process, Principles, and Recommendation

The Public Art Committee is composed of faculty, staff, and students. The committee oversees the installation of art in public spaces on campus, and works to educate the college community about the value of art in public spaces. It also advises individuals and departments responsible for works of public art on campus. The committee is specifically charged with making recommendations to the senior staff concerning: “1) petitions from members of the College community to install works of art; 2) donations of works of public art to the College; and 3) the inclusion of works of public art on campus.”

At a meeting of the Bates faculty in December 2017, I expressed my desire to have the college create a space on campus that would recognize the contributions and sacrifice of veterans in the Bates community. I explained that I would like to develop a process and plan that would be overseen by the Public Art Committee, include consultation with the Bates community, and balance a range of strongly held, and not necessarily reconcilable, views on questions of war and military service.

The Public Art Committee worked thoughtfully over the winter semester, in internal discussions and in open sessions, to learn about interest in a veterans’ recognition project, hear from faculty and others within the college community, and develop a recommendation and set of principles on whether and how the college should proceed with creating a public space on campus to honor veterans. The feedback received included perspectives from those who deemed it important for the college to publicly recognize the service and sacrifice of veterans and from others who were concerned that any such recognition by the college might be seen to glorify war and the military without acknowledging the full impact of war.

After discussion and deliberation, the Public Art Committee wrote to me and the senior staff “to recommend that Bates create an installation on campus that recognizes the contributions and sacrifice of veterans and invites reflection on the broader context of war and its impact on the lives and experiences of everyone affected by war.”

The committee presented the following principles to guide our work to develop a site on campus for a veterans’ recognition and reflection:

  • The installation should honor military service as a form of public service but not be seen as honoring militarism or nationalism per se.
  • It should be thoughtfully located and designed as a place for reflection.
  • In keeping with Bates’ commitment to egalitarianism and inclusion, any installation should recognize the contributions and sacrifices of all veterans in the Bates community, rather than any one individual.
  • The installation should be designed to inspire contemplation and welcome the varied interpretations that individuals may bring to the subject of war and military service. This would argue for an installation that is abstract rather than figurative.
  • Any such recognition should be subject to the guidance contained in the policy of the Public Art Committee regarding: “appropriateness; integrity of design and condition; proposed installation site; installation and maintenance costs; signage/recognition identifying the title of the work, the artist, the artist’s nationality and dates, and the donor(s); activities acknowledging the gift of the work; the office responsible for the installation, insurance, and maintenance of the work.”

Decision on the Recommendation of the Committee on Public Art

I am pleased to accept the recommendation of the Public Art Committee that Bates create an installation on campus honoring veterans and inviting reflection, and I agree that we should develop the project according to the process outlined by the committee. Specifically, the Public Art Committee recommended that we form a small project committee to oversee the design and installation of an appropriate site, including as members a subset of the Public Art Committee, which includes students, faculty, and staff, and others as appropriate. I further accept the recommendation that the project committee carry out its work through an inclusive and consultative process.

Over the summer, we will form the project committee and draft a request for proposals regarding the design and location of the installation. In the fall, the subcommittee will review proposals and hold outreach sessions with faculty, staff, and students. Our aim would be to celebrate the completion of the veterans’ recognition at an appropriate date in the fall of 2019.

Honoring a Single Veteran

During the time we were considering how best to honor the community of Bates veterans across many generations, we were approached by an individual asking if we wished to accept and display a bust of George Alexi Whitney, an alumnus from the Class of 2000 who joined the Marines immediately after graduation, served until 2006 and achieved the rank of captain, and subsequently died in Afghanistan in 2016.

The Public Art Committee considered this question at two separate sessions, and concluded that, based on the principles outlined above, Bates should create an installation to “recognize the contributions and sacrifices of all veterans in the Bates community, rather than any one individual.” The committee made clear that its judgment was not “meant to question Whitney’s worthiness to be honored.” Rather, his service should be honored as part of the broader recognition of Bates veterans.

I accept the committee’s judgment that the collective recognition of all Bates’ veterans is the most appropriate way to honor the contributions of individual alumni.

Many thanks to the Public Art Committee for its thoughtful work over the past several months and to those of you who have expressed your views over time on the importance of a public recognition of veterans by the college.

Sincerely yours,

Clayton Spencer