Bates College names its first Black president
Mar. 2—LEWISTON — Bates College announced Wednesday that its next president will be Garry W. Jenkins, a University of Minnesota Law School professor and dean.
Jenkins, who would be the first Black president at Bates, said he is "very excited" at the prospect of taking the helm at a college he has long respected.
The 52-year-old New Jersey native said he has always been impressed with the academic excellence at Bates and the "inclusive character of the place," as well as community engagement and the quality of its professors, staff and students.
Jenkins said he also loves the college's commitment to innovation, something that "goes back to the familiar spirit of the place" since its founding in 1855 as an institution that accepted women and Black students.
"It has shown a willingness to break the mold," he said, and has always remained open to opportunities to "bring something new" into existence.
Jenkins said the college offered "a perfect blend" that he wanted in a job, which is currently held by Clayton Spencer, president since 2012, who is stepping down in June.
Bates' Board of Trustees selected Jenkins unanimously this week to take the helm on July 1. The college called him "a nationally respected legal scholar, proven higher education leader and a longtime champion of the liberal arts."
It doesn't hurt that he's also a proven fundraiser with a charming personality.
As president, Jenkins said, he'll be accessible to the Bates community but recognizes he must also "get beyond Lewiston" at times to be a champion for the college in the outside world. There are some things, he said, that require a college president's presence, including raising money.
"It's a balancing act," he said.
Jenkins said he's lucky to be following someone as successful as Spencer, who doubled the college's endowment and encouraged new programs.
"My goal is to accept the baton and keep running," he said.
In a prepared statement, Jenkins called Bates "a remarkable institution that is exceptionally well-positioned for the future. Even among the nation's very best liberal arts colleges, Bates stands out for its illustrious history, academic excellence, vibrant and supportive community, innovative spirit, authentic relationship with its hometown, and the talent and dedication of its people."
"Simply put, everything about Bates and its culture resonates with me," Jenkins said.
John Gillespie, chair of the board, said in a prepared statement that "Garry is a brilliant and accomplished institutional leader who is steeped in the power and promise of the liberal arts."
"Throughout our time with him, he has spoken compellingly about what draws him to Bates: the highly personal and rigorous educational experience, continuing to expand access and remove barriers to this experience, close faculty and student engagement, and the culture of collaboration. He profoundly understands and embodies Bates' mission," Gillespie said.
Before he entered academia as a dean at Ohio State University in 2004, Jenkins served as chief operating officer and general counsel of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, a $200 million-plus international corporate foundation, according to his biography at the law school in Minnesota.
He earned his bachelor's degree from Haverford College in 1992, a master's degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, and a law degree at Harvard Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. He took the job at Minnesota's law school in 2016 after his predecessor there left to become president of Hamilton College in New York.
Jenkins, who is gay and married to a law professor, Jon J. Lee, currently sits on the governing boards of Haverford College, the Law School Admission Council, the National Women's Law Center, Equal Justice Works and the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota, according to the law school's website.
His research and teaching interests are in law and philanthropy, leadership studies, corporate governance and civil rights law.
Spencer announced last summer she would step down from the post she's held for 11 years this June. That set off a flurry of activity to try to pick a successor who could juggle the many demands of the job while adding luster to the elite liberal arts college's reputation.
A 19-member panel that included two students worked for months to take suggestions, round up applications and review prospects. It had said it planned to name Spencer's successor in the spring, but things moved more quickly than expected.
Jenkins will be the ninth president to lead the college since it opened as the Maine State Seminary in 1855. Putting aside two interim presidents who served only brief stints, the college's presidents have served an average of nearly 18 years apiece, though none so long as Bates' founder, Oren Cheney, who kept the helm for four decades and told a crowd on his final day that "there is not a tree or building or spot on this campus but seems a part of myself."
"My life and my all has been identified with this college," Cheney said when he stepped down. "But in the battle of life the time comes to all men to put off the armor."
College presidents hold a tough job, by all accounts.
Kathy Johnson Bowles, who studied them for a year as an American Council on Education Fellow, wrote about her findings for Inside Higher Ed. She said successful ones need to be "strong physically, emotionally and mentally."
Bowles said a president "is everything to everyone at all times" — able to deal effectively with inevitable crises — "while being a wholly genuine and authentic individual. A president should be chosen for his or her ability to connect and commit to an institution and people served in a physically, emotionally, and intellectually healthy manner."
Spencer took the job in 2012 after serving as a top administrator at Harvard University. In her role at Bates, she launched a nationally recognized Purposeful Work initiative to encourage liberal arts students to find meaningful jobs and careers. Spencer also shepherded in a new Digital and Computational Studies program, increased the college's endowment and focused on sometimes controversial diversity and inclusion issues. The college is also in the middle of a unionization drive that's been stalled for months at the National Labor Relations Board.
It is unclear how much the new president will earn. According to the college's 2020 Form 990 filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Spencer earned $509,000 in 2019 and another $124,000 in related compensation.
Bates, ranked among the nation's top liberal arts colleges, has about 2,000 students, nearly half of them receiving financial aid. A bit more than half its students attended public high schools. Women outnumber men by a 54-46 margin in the most recent class of 520.
1863-1894 Oren Cheney
1894-1919 George Colby Chase
1919-1920 William Henry Hartshorn (interim)
1920-1944 Clifton Daggett Gray
1944-1967 Charles Phillips
1967-1989 Thomas Reynolds
1989-2002 Donald Harward
2002-2011 Elaine Tuttle Hansen
2011-2012 Nancy Cable (interim)
2012-2023 Clayton Spencer