September is always a hectic month at Bates College. New and returning students are settling into their dorms, classes, sports, and clubs. Faculty and staff are prepping for courses and campus events. Ultimately, everybody is transitioning from the relaxing summer months to a bustling start to the fall semester.
At this year’s Convocation, President Clayton Spencer, Student Government President Walter Washington ‘19, and Associate Professor of History Joseph Hall discussed the importance of empathy when cultivating a community of engaged students, faculty, and staff. As a senior, I wanted to pause and begin this 2018-19 year with a clear understanding of what’s on the rise for the Bates community.
When thinking about “empathy,” I also realized that this will be my fourth year on campus and I know little about its roots. President Spencer was kind enough to address my questions and engage in a conversation about the academic, administrative, and social goals in store for Bates.
The Bates Student (TBS): What were your first impressions of Bates?
Clayton Spencer (CS): First, that Bates was a really academically serious place with a noticeable engagement between faculty and
students. The seriousness of that engagement culminates in the thesis or capstone experience. I also noticed the vibrancy of the student culture.
Finally, I was struck by how Bates was founded as an institution actively engaged with the issues of its time in a progressive way. We had the notion that all human potential needs to be developed.
TBS: In what ways has Bates changed since your arrival to campus?
CS: It felt to me that it would be a long-term threat to Bates if we didn’t engage with Digital and Computational Studies. We have a number of courses already off to the races this year. I thought we could also do a much better job of making a case for the liberal arts as the most adaptable preparation for a life in a time of work and career. I think we needed a much more grounded and explicit philosophy about what we are doing so there came Purposeful Work.
TBS: What are some valuable lessons you have learned from your time as a student, and President, that students can carry with them this year?
CS: I didn’t take enough risks early enough – intellectual risks. I always tell students at the time of drop-off to pull back the frame, broaden interests and explore early enough so you can really find out what sparks your creativity. I didn’t develop my own agency in running my life. I kept asking what was expected of me and ‘will I perform?’ ‘Will they choose me?’ What you really want to say is ‘I am driving this bus and how am I going to get the skills I need?’ and ‘How am I going to push through things?’ I have also learned that the best ideas in any organization come from the people who care the most and are affected the most. Finally, college is a culture of persuasion. It is not a culture of positional hierarchy.
TBS: What is your vision for this academic year and beyond?
CS: Number one, I am super excited about Malcolm Hill as the new dean of faculty. He is addressing faculty concerns and paying attention to the coherence of the academic experience for students. Second, we need to continue our upward trajectory in admissions and fundraising and work on the quality and vibrancy of student social life.
TBS: How have you been involved with The Bates Student in the past?
CS: I am completely accessible. I think it is an important communication device so I am happy to work with you on whatever basis you want and make it a priority. Writing for the newspaper does three things: it hones your thinking, your writing and your modes of expression which are only going to serve you well throughout life. It helps you learn what is going on at this institution.
TBS: Any words of wisdom for seniors to make the most of their last year as students of the college?
CS: I think it is worth pausing. It may be excessively dorky, but I actually think it could be fun to create a bucket list of things at Bates and in Lewiston/Auburn you haven’t done and would like to do. I am psyched for this year!