Since 1855, Bates College has been dedicated to the emancipating potential of the liberal arts. Bates educates the whole person through creative and rigorous scholarship in a collaborative residential community. With ardor and devotion — Amore ac Studio — we engage the transformative power of our differences, cultivating intellectual discovery and informed civic action. Preparing leaders sustained by a love of learning and a commitment to responsible stewardship of the wider world, Bates is a college for coming times.
The Foundations of the College
Bates was founded in 1855 by Freewill Baptists, first as the Maine State Seminary and later as Bates College. The founders believed that all human potential should be developed, and opened Bates' doors not only to white men — the traditional college population of the era — but also to African Americans and women. Seeking to repudiate social hierarchy, they banned fraternities and sororities. Bates was exceptional in taking these positions at the time. However, the college's efforts at true equity, inclusion, and access were imperfect and were shaped from the beginning by U.S. social norms that promoted hierarchies of race and gender.
The college's origin story is complex. The founder and first president of Bates, the Rev. Oren Burbank Cheney, was an ardent abolitionist: He established Storer College in West Virginia for freed slaves, he traveled to the South to recruit formerly enslaved persons to attend Bates, and he worked with the Underground Railroad. He wrote of slavery, "We hate it — we abhor it, we loathe it — we detest and despise it as a giant sin against God, and an awful crime upon man."
As he sought financial support for his growing institution, Cheney looked to the Boston-based entrepreneurs who had invested in Lewiston, including Benjamin Bates, for whom the new college was named in 1864. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Benjamin Bates had built his fortune in New England textile manufacturing. He established the Bates Manufacturing Company in Lewiston in 1852, accumulating wealth in the antebellum years from the labor of enslaved people who grew the cotton that was spun and woven in his mills.
Despite these and other contradictions, the pursuit of access and equality to and through education runs deep in the college's history and mission and animates current efforts to ensure that all members of the community are supported to thrive. The college is committed to inclusion and belonging, beginning with programs for prospective and admitted students and extending through initiatives to transform curricula in the sciences and humanities, teach in ways that support all students for success, and offer co-curricular programs that allow students to engage deeply with each other and with the compelling issues of our time.
Clayton Spencer became the eighth president of Bates College in 2012. Under President Spencer's leadership, Bates has strengthened its reputation as one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, making strategic improvements in the academic, residential, and co-curricular experiences of students; removing barriers to student success; improving academic and residential facilities on a broad scale; and better preparing students to construct fulfilling post-college lives of meaning and purpose. Bates has prioritized equity and inclusion in the recruitment and experiences of students, faculty, and staff, including establishing the position of vice president for equity and inclusion in 2018.
One of the college's signature initiatives under President Spencer is Purposeful Work, launched in 2014. It is rooted in the core principles of the liberal arts, has curricular and co-curricular aspects, and takes a four-year, developmental approach to working with students. The concept of purposeful work is based on the premise that meaningful work, however each individual defines it, is fundamental to shaping a life; the Bates program helps students determine how to navigate the evolving worlds of work based on developing their own sense of identity, agency, and purpose.
Bates is characterized by a culture of academic seriousness and an exceptional degree of faculty engagement with students. The faculty exemplifies the college's commitment to academic excellence and intellectual rigor. Faculty members' professional lives encompass scholarship and research, but they are at Bates because they are dedicated to teaching undergraduates. As of October 2021, 100 percent of tenured or tenure-track faculty members hold the Ph.D. or another terminal degree. Bates students work directly with the faculty; the student-to-faculty ratio is 10-to-1, and faculty members teach all courses, with exception of five to six practitioner-taught courses. Approximately 70 percent of class sections, excluding independent studies, have fewer than twenty students enrolled.
In fall 2021, Bates enrolled 1,821 students from 48 states, districts, and territories and 81 other countries. The college is recognized for its inclusive social character; organizations are open to all. Bates offers a compelling education for students while they are undergraduates, and prepares them well for further study and careers. Bates is consistently a top producer of Fulbright awardees. Bates students have great success in graduate and professional school; more than 72 percent pursue advanced study.
The Curriculum and Student Scholarship
In their academic work, Bates students are encouraged to explore broadly and deeply, to cross disciplines, and to grow as independent thinkers. Bates requires a senior thesis, a senior project, or a capstone seminar to graduate. The senior thesis provides an opportunity for extended, closely guided research and writing, performance, or studio work. Many students launch their scholarly careers by collaborating with faculty in their research during the academic year and through the summer. Bates recognizes the special role that international study plays in providing students with the perspective and the opportunities that lead to international careers or service as well as a sense of world citizenship. Typically, 60 percent of students study abroad for a semester or longer during their time at Bates, one of the highest rates in the nation.
Bates is a national leader in community-engaged learning and research. A Bates education seeks to connect learning to action, a connection expressed by high levels of student participation in academic and volunteer work in the community as well as by graduates' careers and community leadership. Many faculty members routinely incorporate community-based learning and research into their courses, and about half of Bates students are involved in a wide variety of community-based projects. Bates is committed to its home communities of Lewiston and Auburn, together constituting Maine's second-largest urban area, which provide a valued setting that enriches Bates' educational mission and social life. The college intends its many forms of engagement beyond campus to be true partnerships, drawing on the strengths of all partners for mutual benefit.
Bates is located on a 133-acre traditional New England campus, anchored with a beautiful historic Quad. On the east side of the Quad is the academic heart of campus, the George and Helen Ladd Library. To the west is the chapel, named in memory of the late Peter J. Gomes ’65, an influential and beloved preacher, minister, professor and author. To the north, overlooking Lake Andrews, the Olin Arts Center is home to a concert hall and the Bates College Museum of Art. Schaeffer Theatre is among several performance venues that support theater and dance. On the south side of campus, Bates has created a dynamic new hub of campus life, featuring a mix of residential spaces and student services, including a major renovation of historic Chase Hall (1919). A $75 million facilities investment in STEM teaching and research includes the Bonney Science Center (2021) and a renovation of Dana Chemistry Hall (1965) as state-of-the-art teaching centers. Extensive athletics facilities comprise the eastern edge of campus. Along the Maine coast, Bates manages the 574-acre Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, for research and teaching. The adjacent Shortridge Coastal Center includes an 80-acre woodland and freshwater habitat.
Alumni and Parent Engagement
The educational mission of the college is supported generously by a significant percentage of alumni who have made a lifetime commitment to their alma mater. The college's alumni, living in all fifty states and around the world, remain actively connected to Bates in various ways. Parents of current Bates students also are engaged with the college in programs and activities on campus and off. Alumni and parent volunteers serve as admission representatives, class agent and reunion volunteers, regional and affinity leaders, young alumni volunteers, parent fundraising volunteers, and career networking volunteers. On Jun 2022, the college successfully concluded its largest-ever fundraising campaign, raising $336 million against a goal of $300 million.The college's endowment provides resources for financial aid, academic programs, faculty and student research, Purposeful Work Program, and general support of the educational mission. At the close of the 2021 fiscal year, the college's endowment was valued at $466 million.