Remarks at Presidential Introduction: March 7, 2023

Garry Jenkins delivered the following remarks to the campus community on March 7, 2023, in Alumni Gymnasium. The occasion marked his first official visit to campus as president-elect.

Thank you, Andrea [Bueschel ’90] , thank you John [Gillespie ’80], for that lovely introduction. Thank you all for that warm introduction. I’m so appreciative.

What a remarkable day — for me, for my family, for Bates! I have to say, sometimes dreams come true!

By way of formal introduction, I’m Garry Jenkins and my pronouns are he/him. And, I just want to say I am absolutely overjoyed and truly honored to be named the ninth president of Bates College.

If you’ll indulge me, I want to start with some words of thanks.

First, I want to thank all of the staff behind the scenes who make an event like this possible and ensure that it runs smoothly. Thank you, you are so appreciated.

Second, I’m so deeply grateful to the Board of Trustees and the presidential search committee — especially the co-chairs, Andrea and Greg [Ehret ’91], and our board chair, John — for the confidence they have placed in me and for the opportunity to work with this remarkable community to take Bates into the future.

Thanks too to everyone who engaged in this process (whether you attended a listening session, or you wrote a comment about what you want most out of the next president, or submitted a nomination). I just have to tell you how impressive I found the search committee’s hard work, their enthusiasm, their devotion to the college, and their ability to reflect so many aspects of this community in such clear, and compelling, and ultimately inspiring ways.

Also, I want to thank President Clayton Spencer for her judgment, her wisdom, and her tireless leadership of the college. As you heard from Greg, I’ve been on the board of my alma mater, another liberal arts college, for 14 years, and because of that I’ve kept an eye on what was happening with the peer liberal arts colleges and I’ve watched with admiration Bates’ great strides under her leadership. It will be an honor and a privilege to follow her, to receive the baton, and to build upon the tremendous progress she — and all of you — have made. It’s an amazing legacy. Let’s give another round of applause! She may be looking forward to a well-earned retirement, but she may regret giving me her phone number.

And personally, I just want to say hello and thanks to my family, friends, mentors, and colleagues watching online. There are too many to name, but I want to give a special shoutout, however, to my parents, Garry and Leslie Jenkins, watching in New Jersey. And also to my brother, Chris, and his family in Buffalo, who will surely enjoy visiting Maine during the kids’ school breaks.

I’d also like to thank and introduce my husband, Professor Jon Lee. Jon, will you stand up? He is a remarkably talented and dedicated teacher-scholar. He teaches law with a focus on ethics and intellectual property. And to be honest, you all will soon come to realize that the best thing about my becoming president is that it means Jon will be part of the Bates community.

Jon and I both look forward to getting to know you all on a personal level and making Lewiston our home.

So, by way of background, I was born and raised in northern New Jersey. My parents were both the first in their families to graduate from college. My mom became a high school teacher, and my dad was a computer programmer and part-time community college instructor. And from them I developed a strong belief in higher education and ultimately a passion for the ways that it ignites human potential. As Andrea mentioned, I studied at Haverford, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Law School. After working in law, business, and philanthropy, I have been on the faculty of two prominent law schools — Ohio State and the University of Minnesota — for nearly 20 years. And the last seven I’ve been dean at Minnesota Law. I’ve sat on boards in higher education, social justice, and the arts. As a result, I bring lessons from institutions large and small, public and private, from the liberal arts and professional schools, and from the corporate and nonprofit sectors.

Yet, it’s my own residential, small liberal arts college education and experience that was transformative. That is still my touchstone. It shaped my life in ways that I’m not sure anything else would have had the capacity to do. The rigor; the versatility and exposure to a range of disciplines and modes of thinking; the joy of learning and discovery; the personalized attention from an astounding faculty; the emphasis on social responsibility; the relationships with staff who mentored me and helped me believe that I belonged and that my presence, my story, my leadership could make a difference; the lifelong friendships with classmates. The sense that with such a life-changing education and experience that anything is within reach. What happened to me at Haverford and what I know happens at Bates is magical; it’s special; it’s inspiring. So, to the students in this audience and online (and perhaps some prospective students who may be watching), this is the transformative experience that I wish for you. Thanks to what I learned, how I learned it, and the people I learned from and with, I’ve been an ardent advocate and supporter of liberal arts institutions. And I believe that the liberal arts matter now more than ever. So, for those reasons, I found this opportunity really compelling. 

Of course, I knew Bates was one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, one of the brightest jewels in the crown that is undergraduate education in the U.S. I had childhood friends who became Batesies. (In fact, my friend, Rebecca, last week on LinkedIn or Facebook — I can’t remember which one — declared me an honorary member of her class, the Class of ’93!). But, I have also had the privilege to teach Bates graduates throughout my career. So from these experiences and encounters I see in the Bates people that I have known and taught, not just noted for their intelligence, but intelligence coupled with a capacity to think expansively, to creatively imagine new ways of solving old problems, to engage in the world with passion, humility, and empathy, and with a genuine commitment to leadership and service to better the world.

But throughout the process, I was drawn to Bates’ distinctive history. Open from the beginning to all people, not just the white men who were the traditional college students at the time of Bates’ founding in 1855. Accordingly, not a place just waking up to newly discover diversity, equity, and inclusion like some. Yet at the same time, of course, also not a perfect place — nor a place resting on its laurels. Rather, Bates seems to me a place that’s fully aware that there’s still more work to be done. In fact, plenty of work. But without struggle, without work there is no progress. And I see that work happening. It’s happening here, and I want to be a part of pushing it forward — by all of us working together.

All of this is to say that I was lured in by the passion and creativity of the students, the faculty, the staff of today, and hooked by the college’s articulation of and commitment to the emancipatory power of the liberal arts for a rapidly unfolding future.

More specifically, I was captivated by:

A community of dedicated faculty, staff, and students with a culture grounded that’s in care for one another; in inclusion and belonging; in civic responsibility; in sustainability; and egalitarianism.

By the vibrancy of the education. Led by a distinguished faculty fully committed to an undergraduate education that embraces teaching, learning, research and scholarship, and service.

I was attracted to a spirit of innovation that I see reflected in signature work in community-engaged learning, in the development of pathbreaking inclusive pedagogies, notably in the sciences but also across the humanities and social sciences as well, the innovation in setting up students for lives of meaning and contribution through the Center for Purposeful Work, and in many other places.

I was compelled by the way the college’s scale, its campus, and its location offer up unique opportunities to learn and reflect and also to develop and foster deep and powerful relationships: students with one another, students with faculty, coaches, staff, and local residents, and also among and between Bates’ loyal and dedicated alumni forging important connections.

And, finally I was captivated by the college’s capacity to contribute to the greater good both for itself (meaning our internal community) and for the broader world; and that’s characterized by illuminating issues, by the way we create common ground, the way we use data to clarify and enlighten, and how we center human dignity. 

I studied law and I became a lawyer because I believe in justice, the possibility of making a difference to people, organizations, and communities, and I became an educator out of a passion for preparing students to think critically and holistically, to engage productively with diverse viewpoints, to problem solve, and to lead across sectors and professions. And those principles, they still animate my life and my work. And I think that they animate Bates, too.

When it comes to the future…. I’m looking forward with great excitement to getting started this summer (and not just because it will be our first summer in Maine or that I love lobster and blueberries), but because it will be a new beginning.

I’m looking forward to: immersing myself in the community and attending all kinds of events. To be honest, after going down a Bates rabbit hole on Instagram for the past several months, Jon and I are ready for the lectures, the concerts, the performances, the art shows, the Mount David Summit, where we celebrate the academic accomplishments of our students.

I’m looking forward to: cheering on the Bobcats at games — including right here in historic Alumni Gym. Now I won’t play with you all, you wouldn’t want that, but I do hope to play tennis, squash, or pickleball with some of you. I saw that on Instagram.

I’m looking forward to: speaking with students, faculty, staff, board members, alumni, friends, to develop a sense of your aspirations. And any vision for moving forward will be a shared vision.

I’m looking forward to: discovering all sorts of extraordinary people and projects that are making a meaningful impact on the Bates community and beyond.

And I’m looking forward to: telling the Bates story — far and wide— to help us advance and to help us advance higher education.

I’m looking forward to the work that lies ahead — listening with intention and care, learning from others, and learning with you.

I’m looking forward to: calling Lewiston home, and embracing the important engagement between the college and the city, with the potential to further strengthen our ties and relationship.

 I’m looking forward to: having fun, together, as we scale new heights, and I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun with all of you.

That’s what makes the prospect of leading Bates so exciting. But, leadership isn’t about me, it’s about all of us. And there’s no challenge that we can’t embrace together.

Thank you so much for giving me this extraordinary opportunity to join the Bates community. And thank you for welcoming Jon and me so warmly today. We cannot wait to join you all this summer. Onward and upward! It’s a great day to be a Bobcat!