Winter 2020 Board Meeting Summary

The Bates Board of Trustees held its winter meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts from January 30 through February 1, 2020. The meeting was an offsite retreat designed to help the Board: (1) develop a shared understanding of the external landscape facing the college in the near-to-mid term; (2) explore the strengths and differentiators of a Bates College education as they relate to this landscape; and (3) agree on areas of substantive focus to inform the work of the Board over the next several years.

Trustees and senior staff met in plenary sessions and breakout groups, and we were assisted throughout by an outside facilitator.

We discussed external trends that are shaping the landscape of higher education: changing demographics that will transform our student body going forward; issues of pricing and affordability; public perceptions about the value of the liberal arts; and the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion in shaping our community—students, faculty, and staff—as well as campus climate and culture and how they are formed and experienced.

We talked extensively about how to enhance Bates’ financial sustainability so that we can continue to attract and provide generous financial aid for our students, while also investing in our faculty and the excellence of our academic program. We also discussed Bates’ strengths and sources of differentiation in the higher education marketplace.

We heard two presentations from outside speakers. Dean of Admission Leigh Weisenburger moderated a panel of college counselors from four very different high schools who spoke about how prospective students experience the college search process and what both students and parents are looking for in a college experience. We also heard from Harvard Kennedy School lecturer in public policy Dr. Robert Livingston, who is an expert on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how organizations make progress in these areas.

Finally, the Board addressed its winter fiduciary actions and reports, including setting the potential range of the 2020–21 academic year single fee, which will be finalized this spring; setting the endowment distribution for the 2020–21 academic year; reappointing Mayer Hoffman McCann as the college’s auditor; and receiving updates on the budget, endowment, Bates Campaign, capital projects, and the Class of 2024 applicant pool.

It was an intense and productive three days, and the Board came to agreement about several areas, as described above, to which it will continue to direct its attention over the next several years.

The next meeting of the Board of Trustees will take place on the Bates campus from April 30 through May 2, 2020. In the meantime, we will use the Bates Forum as a means to engage faculty and staff in the topics discussed at the Board retreat. The Bates Forum, which will begin later this month, is a series of presentations and discussions focused on issues central to Bates’ current operations and trends and challenges in higher education. The first three Bates Forum sessions will begin later this month and continue through May.

Clayton Spencer

John Gillespie ’80, P’13, P’18
Chair of the Board of Trustees