Clayton Spencer talks about changes made at Bates

Spencer discusses new and old programs and events

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Spencer discusses new introductions to Bates. MAX HUANG/THE BATES STUDENT

Spencer discusses new introductions to Bates.
MAX HUANG/THE BATES STUDENT

How is Bates’ approach in creating the Computational and Digital Studies Department different compared to other schools’ program?

How it’s different is that unlike a lot of our peers who’ve had computer science longer, this isn’t a program bolted onto a math department, and we don’t have legacy professors. … So we are starting fresh. We are in the process this year of recruiting the first faculty leader of computer science, and that will be a senior tenured position. … We are very conscious that this computer science program is located in a liberal arts curriculum, so one of the things you want to make sure is that even as you teach hard core computer science you are also teaching an interpretive, critical look at society, and that will be built into the core set of courses… We feel like given the scale of Bates, given the fact that faculty are so interconnected, that we’ve got the perfect situation to situate computer science both in societal issues and in intellectual issues in a way that puts us at the front of the pack.”

How has Purposeful Work evolved and grown in the past few years?

“We’ve got over 300 students doing funded summer work, which is fantastic progress… The core employer program in Purposeful Work has worked very well, where we’re now up to close to 70 core employers…Then the other piece is Practitioner Taught Courses in Short Term. They’ve gotten rave reviews from students… There [is] Purposeful Work infusion into regular courses, where [we have] curricular ties to potential career options. Purposeful Work Unplugged, where we bring in people. … I think the program was extremely well thought through and set up by the faculty originally. … I don’t think many colleges have thought it through as fundamentally as we have and tied it to mission. [Purposeful Work] is the third leg of the equity promise: We bring in students from a wide range of backgrounds, we do our best to support students for success and we’re making a series of strides there to improve that, and now we’re saying, but it’s not enough to say here’s your degree, now good luck with the rest of your life. We are now doing that bridge to life and work after college, and for students particularly from families who don’t have strong professional networks, that is critically important.”

Can you talk a little about Athletic Director Kevin McHugh retiring and what the hiring process might look like?

“I have enormous respect for Kevin and what he’s accomplished. He will be finishing his tenth year this year. I think he strengthened our athletic program competitively… But much more important are Kevin’s personal qualities s to the educational mission of sports…Personally he is beloved by coaches. He knows student athletes. He’s at every game. If half of life is showing up, Kevin is that guy. He is very well liked and respected by the faculty for his determination to situate athletics within the educational mission of Bates. … We’ll have a committee that includes faculty, coaches, and, I hope, students, and we’ll figure out a careful selection process for people with the right kinds of representation and experience. Then I think we will hire a search firm…, and that’ll happen, I would say, within the next period of probably six weeks, where it will constitute the committee, hire a search firm, have them come and begin interviewing people. … I never put an end date on a search because you never stop the search until you find the right person. But the goal is to have the next athletics director identified before Kevin leaves so that it is a smooth transition.”

What did we want to accomplish with the new dorm buildings at 55 and 65 Campus Ave? And how do we evaluate their success?

“In my experience, students vote with their feet. We will have housing lotteries. If nobody’s choosing those dorms, they’re not working. If people are choosing those dorms, they are working… We hired architects who spent a lot of time interviewing people all over Bates… The brick was made in Auburn in a particular size that matches, I think, the Chase brick. There’s lots of touches that are a new Bates for a new era, respectfully knitted into existing Bates with its history, values, and sense of community. There’s been a lot of suggestion that when Smith was chalk full, overloaded, a lot of sense that there weren’t informal spaces for students to gather, just hang out, play games, watch TV, study, talk, work on a project. So, you’ll see that those buildings have a lot of that space built in. The theory there was to enliven the street life there and create a much more attractive space, but also, the whole campus goes to Post & Print, and the whole campus goes to the bookstore. So it’s also a way of drawing more students into feeling comfortable using those spaces.”

What will the fate of Chase Hall be?

“It is up for grabs…The institutional planning report says we at least ought to consider enlivening Chase as a real campus center. And that could be done in the same way the Den and the OIE have been done, which is to go into the space, make it cool, but you’re not doing some hugely expensive renovation… If we move towards a comprehensive fundraising campaign, there’ll be a lot of competition for resources – we have to make sure there’s plenty of money for financial aid, plenty of money raised for endowment, some money raised for facilities. So there’s been some talk, so do we want to renovate Chase and make a fancy student center? Well that might compete with a science building. So this is all really to be sorted out, very much in dialogue with students… I think it’s going to be a fun and very collective, collaborative process to figure that all out.”

Do you have a timeline for that process?

“I’m not aware of a firm timeline yet. I think we’d rather do it right than fast, but it probably needs to be right and fairly expeditiously so that we’re not leaving space [unused].”

How does Bates address parents’ pressure to avoid or question the liberal arts with regard to its ability to prepare students for a competitive job market upon graduation?

“Personally, I think the liberal arts have never been better aligned with the needs of the world. The jobs that require what the liberal arts quintessentially teaches are the jobs that are the most secure, and people are seeing that. … We have to do a very good job delivering on what we say we do. We really do need to offer a rigorous education that understands how to work across differences and ideas and human beings. That’s something that a residential liberal arts college does best. … Purposeful Work is one example… How do you actually embrace the notion that we are preparing our students for the world of work, as well as life, as well as social contribution? Now there’s broad, almost universal access to content… We’ve lost the disadvantage we had relative to larger universities. But we still have the advantage we’ve always had, which is you’re working with tenured faculty members on your thesis… So I consider this the golden age of the liberal arts.”

A recent announcement letter from the University of Chicago explicitly eliminated safe spaces. How do we at Bates balance intellectual discourse and open exchange of ideas with some sort of sensitivity towards topics such as racial micro aggressions, cultural appropriation, sexual assault triggers, etc.?

“I think it’s a false dichotomy, and I think the discourse is freer, more open and richer, if you’re also in a sensitive way taking account of the diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, etc., and some of that needs to happen in places where you have the freedom to explore. I like to think of it not as free speech versus limits on free speech, but free speech and utter respect for the humanity of every one of our students and every member of our community. If you keep both of those principles in mind, I think you can navigate through in a way that serves both parts more fully.”

 

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