How is Bates’ approach in creating the Computational and Digital Studies Department different when compared to other schools’ program?
So let me explain how it’s the same and how it’s different. How it’s the same is that it will be a strong computer science major for someone looking for a strong computer science major. There will be a set of core course that you would find in any computer science major, algorithmic thinking, coding, etc. And we want to make sure that we’ve got a computer science degree you can hang your hat on. 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 who are trained in computer science—you know it’s been a very fast moving field—so we’re starting fresh. We’re in the process of, this year, recruiting the first faculty leader of computer science. That’ll be a senior tenured position. A search committee is formed. And that person will come in and then recruit the other two faculty positions that’ll make up the program. So how it is different is we’re very conscious that this computer science program is located in a liberal arts college, a liberal arts curriculum. One of the things you want to make sure is that even as you teach hardcore computer science, you’re also teaching an interpretive critical look at the role of technology in society. And that will be built into the core set of courses. We also will have two tracks as it’s now envisioned, and my guess is it will continue to evolve as the new leader comes in who knows more about computer science than any of the rest of us. But we envision two tracks. One, let’s call it just straight down the line computer science problems. The other is, how do you use the foundational courses in other kinds of analysis. In neuroscience? There are many computational problems and I know Jason Castro works a lot with that. In genetics, in epigenetics, in physics. 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 because we have no drag on the system. We got three brand new lines. We’ve had fantastic advice putting this together. We looked at a bunch of other programs. So I think it’ll be very exciting.
How has Purposeful Work evolved and grown in the past few years?
So I’m much more interested in students’ assessments. I can tell you we have, if you look at the kind of combination of purposeful work internships, the internships through the career development office, faculty research—people are either working with faculty on campus or off campus—and Harvard Center fellowships. We’ve got over 300 students doing funded summer work, which is fantastic progress. If you think about it, if you have 500 students doing funded summer work—funded either by the employer or by Bates—then that would mean you’re effectively giving every Bates student a crack at a funded opportunity. So we’re making significant progress in that direction. The core employer program in purposeful work has worked very well, where we’re now up to close to 70 core employers who are employers we have relationships with. Maybe we have a Bates grad on the inside who says, “I can’t guarantee that I can offer a Bates student an internship, but I will guarantee that I will work hard with you to get a Bates student into the competitive process, etc.” The other thing about the internship piece is it’s a summer cohort experience. So there are a lot of purposeful work interns. This last summer it was 119. But they’re online as an online community. Then the other piece is practitioner taught courses in Short Term. They’ve gotten rave reviews from students. I don’t want to vouch for them. I’ll just tell you the reviews have been great. Then there are purposeful work infusion into regular courses where circular ties to potential career options, purposeful work unplugged, which is where we bring in people. It feels like, to me, the program was extremely well thought through when set up by the faculty originally. There’s a working group, probably before you guys got here, the first year I was here, they sort of said what are the principles that we want to work with. I would say that almost all colleges have realized that to get their students launched on graduation, it’s really critical that they develop an experience. I don’t think many colleges have thought it through as fundamentally as we have and tied it to mission. The last thing I would say on the overall mission of purposeful work—I see it as the third leg of the equity promise. So 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’re 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. So, I also see it as deeply embedded in the equity mission of Bates.
Can you talk a little about Athletic Director Kevin McHugh retiring and what the hiring process might look like?
First of all, 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. Obviously we had a national championship in rowing. We’ve had increasing success in a variety of sports, including post-season play. We have our highest standing ever in the Directors Cup, which is the Division III lineup overall. But much more important are Kevin’s personal qualities and the way his commit[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. And he is very well liked and respected by the faculty for his determination to try to situate athletics within the educational mission of Bates. So I think his contributions have been enormous and he gives us a strong platform upon which to build with the next athletic director. So about that: we’re currently in the process of putting together a search, which I expect we will hire an outside… We’ll have a committee that includes faculty, coaches, and, I hope, students and will 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. The first thing any search firm does is come up on campus and get a sense of the place. 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. And it’ll be important to interview not only athletes, and staff and others in the athletic department, coaches, but also how other people see athletics, how the faculty see athletics, how’s the interface there. How does athletics interface with admissions, etc. So we will do that and 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?
So let’s start with the end question. 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. But we have a lot of other kinds of information. We have the whole res life staff and program. The different housing options on campus… I like to think of it as a system of housing options—you can live in a small house. You can live in a traditional dorm. You can now block into Smith. Different people have different tastes. In some houses, the living room is never used. In some dorms the common room is never used. In other places, it’s just naturally, organically used and there’s a great social space and great feeling gets going. Sometime it varies year to year. So we’ll see. I think of it as very existential and organic, how a building comes to life. And I wouldn’t want to presume. So my fervent hope is that this year beauty and respectfulness of those buildings… let me tell you a little bit about how it came to pass. We hired architects who spent a lot of time interviewing people all over Bates, I think students, faculty, staff, then there was a big committee. They took a million pictures. They looked at rooflines. They looked at brick. They looked at the color of the windows. And they wanted to design buildings that were contemporary but that reflect the vernacular of the campus. So you’ll see the roofs are hipped. 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. The particular approach we took rather than just look at these as two buildings, we did an analysis of all the rooms on campus and said do we need more doubles? Nobody likes triples. Do we need more doubles? Do we need more singles? And I think the word came back that we actually need more singles, so that the upperclass students could get single rooms. And I distinguish the architecture of dorms from the sociology of dorms. So you can put four singles together and let isolated people lottery into them. Or you can put four singles side by side in one of the new dorms and let people block into them as a group of four. And I think they’re experimenting with both the sociology and the architecture all over campus. And finally I would say on social spaces, theres 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. And also, the post-and-print and bookstore. 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-and-print, and the whole campus goes to the bookstore. So it’s also a way of drawing more students in to feeling comfortable using those spaces. We’ll see if that happens, or if it feels very proprietary to the dorms. But that was the theory.
What will he fate of Chase Hall be?
It is up for grabs. So we have a couple of questions. What is the best use of the now vacated space? What is the long-term future of Chase? And then, how do you think about casual social space in the campus as a system, right? So 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. So you could go into that vacated bookstore space and say okay what’s the next thing that goes in here? Should it be student facing, to keep loading more life and more student facing functions into Chase? I think that’s the impulse. If we move towards a comprehensive fundraising campaign, there’ll be a lot of competition for resources, so 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. And I think it’s to be sorted out very much in a dialogue with students, as has been the case with the campus culture working group. So to me it’s like a fun… I mean, people go in and they’re like, “Oh, I know what I’d do with that space.” I think it’s going to be a fun and very collective, collaborative process to figure that all out.
Asked about timeline for Chase Hall
I’m not aware of a firm timeline yet. I think we just sort of got through the move. 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 …
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?
I think, so, personally, that the liberal arts have never been better aligned with the needs of the world. Technology is replacing repetitive jobs, jobs that don’t require creativity, flexibility, commonsense, rigorous analysis, etc. And so, the skills we’re teaching… Technology is moving up the job ladder. And the jobs that require what the liberal arts quintessentially teaches are the jobs that are the most secure. And I think people are seeing that. And you’re starting to see more and more the press write about that. So I think we have to do a very good job of delivering output what we say we do. We really do need to offer rigorous education that understands how to work across differences in ideas and human beings. And that’s something that a residential liberal arts college does best. So I would say, the liberal arts has never had higher value than it does now. We can’t rest on that. I think we then have to say, well how do we make sure the world understands that? You can’t just keep explaining it. I think purposeful work is one example. How do you actually embrace the notion that we’re preparing our students for the world of work, as well as life, as well as social contribution. Well we do that by kind of putting a pin in it and doing it really well. So the other thing I would say is it used to be that if you were at Bates versus a big research university, let’s say, Harvard, Harvard had Widener Library to do your thesis, we had our little library. Maybe you could do interlibrary loan, wait three weeks and get the materials that you need. But now there’s broad, almost universal access to content. So we are in the best position the liberal arts have ever been in. 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, and the R1 people are in huge classes, probably not getting to do a thesis or working with a graduate student. So I consider this the golden age of the liberal arts.
A recent announcement letter from UChiago 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.?
So I’m very familiar with the Chicago letter which I thought was tone-deaf. There were two very interesting things that followed on. There was an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by the President of University of Chicago, which was better nuanced but then there was a letter by a group of faculty from Chicago who wrote back … they wrote their version of what the letter should have said. And there’s also a recent grad from the University of Chicago who wrote a blog and he said this. He said, yes the University of Chicago is about free speech, any college or university should be. But guess what? I couldn’t have gotten through University of Chicago if I hadn’t had the benefit of the multicultural center, where I could go, unwind, talk honestly with my friends, etc. But he said, it wasn’t as though ideas weren’t debated. All ideas were debated. Ideas are challenged, but my humanity is not. So 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. So I think it’s a false dichotomy. 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, both parts more fully.