Fitzsimmons and others say that this ability to build bridges and get along with a wide range of people is one of Spencer’s most notable strengths.
“There was a relatively small staff so we worked very, very closely together,” Rudenstine says. “She is a person, at least in my view, who is very open, very outgoing, very communicative and a person with whom it is very easy to form a candid relationship.”
Though Spencer insists she is not shy, she acknowledges that she has kept a low profile to allow her colleagues to take the spotlight. Despite several requests, the interview for this article marks only the second time she has granted an interview to The Crimson.
“She is probably the least selfish person I have seen in the academic world or any other world in terms of getting credit for her ideas or her hard work,” Fitzsimmons says. “In fact, she’s always been very publicity shy.”
Even as Spencer prepares to leave Mass Hall, she remains reluctant to take credit for her accomplishments. For example, while Faust and Summers credit Spencer for playing a major role in the creation of the Crimson Summer Academy, Spencer says that she is proud of the project but insists that “none of the credit belongs to me.”
Despite her modesty, Spencer says that she looks forward to having a position in the spotlight when she takes over at Bates.
“I will get a huge kick out of speaking to the press once I’m the leader in my own right,” she says.
A NEW CHALLENGE
For Spencer, the transition from Harvard’s vice president for policy to Bates’ president will be dramatic. In a month’s time, Spencer will be thrust from the back rooms of academia and into the limelight as the leader of one of America’s most prominent liberal arts colleges.
As the president of Bates, she will be responsible for overseeing a faculty of more than 200. While leading an academic institution will be a new task for Spencer, those who have worked closely with Spencer say she is up to the task.
“The key things in many colleges is that the person be able to work well with the different groups that need attention and also [have an] academic vision, which I think she can provide,” Rudenstine says. “You can’t be at Harvard for the better part of a decade without being saturated with its intellectual activity.”
And her comfort with the world of academia is evident: she opines at length about learning and the future of knowledge.
“The biggest challenges are the explosion of knowledge and the changing shape of knowledge,” she says. “What I would I like to see Bates do, and I’ve got a sense that it would be very fun to do, is [embrace] those forces.”
Spencer also said she plans to use her position as president of Bates to continue her efforts to expand accessibility to higher education. But, at Bates, an institution with only 1,800 students and a $183 million endowment, the task is far different than at Harvard.
“There’s a very strong progressive tradition at Bates that is kind of a model of inclusivity and the notion that everybody deserves an education. It completely resonates with my basic values about access and affordability,” she says. “It will be an absolute priority to bring financial aid dollars at Bates.... We’ll be fundraising against it the whole time and in that sense we’re never going to take the pressure off that issue.”
Even as Spencer departs for Bates, her friends and colleagues at Harvard say they will continue to seek her wisdom.
“You cannot replace a person like her, but I intend to draw on her,” says Fitzsimmons, noting that Lewiston, Maine, where Bates is located, is only a short distance away. “She’s a person who becomes a lifelong friend and will never go away.”
—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.