Oct 14, 2005


Bates College. The alternative school in NESCAC. Recently rated 21st liberal arts college in the country. Out of 217 colleges. In the state with the most fat people in the nation, after Arkansas. In a city as poor as it is gray. According to Playboy, Bates has the second ugliest coeds in the nation after Bowdoin. But academically, among the "hidden ivies", 11th in overall academic excellence; 8th in customer satisfaction; 9th in "food". 1700 students. One of the 60 "coolest" colleges in America. Tops in the study of economics. Twenty-second among colleges whose graduates enroll in the Peace Corps.

It is both relief and ridiculous.

And very serious. "Let's talk about probability theory in Star Wars," says one nerd to the other late one night in the library. "Sure, yea, good idea. I've been thinking about that all day," says the other. And for the next 45 minutes, until the lights go out to mark closing, they go on, roll playing, using calculators to examine statistical probabilities if this army beat that army....

"I'm really fascinated by household income trends between 1945 and 1949," says one girl to another. "It's so neat."

The library is full every night. Under the desk lamps students peer into their books. Nobody is looking up to see what others are doing.

Still, Ladd library is paradise. I look at how full and rich it is. And you wonder, how can they have such a library for only 1700 students? And if this is the 21st best college, what is it like at the cream of the cream these days? Too, Bates is poor, the poorest among the NESCAC colleges, compared to Williams College, for example. Compared to Andover Academy, with a $750 million endowment. A prep school with that endowment. Bates has perhaps $200 million. Harvard has $40 billion. And that library, those Harvard libaries, are true palaces.

Al Ak holds 60,000 volumes in its library. Bates has that many in its offsite location. And ten times that many in its main library. The Ladd library, which opened in 1972, is full — 600,000 volumes. It cannot hold any more. And there are no Danielle Steele volumes in the stacks. No paperback writers or dime mysteries.

You see this library and you think now if Al Ak is the finest school in Morocco, which it may or may not be, with the finest university library in Africa, so the president once said, and if it has all these financial resources, from the government, from big Moroccan corporations, then how can it be so poorly staffed, how can it have such a petite biblioteque? Does the king know? How can this be the pride of Morocco?

But what else is Bates college? Birkenstocks. The children of rich liberals who want their children to have good food and feel good about themselves. Students are called Batsies. Girls are not like at Al Ak. Not sexy, nor provacative, not snobbish. Not social. Not cutsies. No talking is the motto to mind at Bates. "We are studying" is the message and Do not disturb.

I don't disparage it. It's what makes America great.

Bujt the king should be told: you need to shoot higher, demand more, reject such modest ambitions.