In the middle of his first speech to the entire Randolph College community, President Bradley W. Bateman found himself overcome with emotion and choking back tears.
Bradley W. Bateman addresses the College at Convocation 2013.
As he passionately talked at Convocation about the power of a liberal arts education, Bateman could not help remembering his mother, who sacrificed greatly so he would receive an excellent college education, and who died just days after he was named the 10th president of Randolph.
Bateman also reflected on another deeply personal topic: the role that liberal arts colleges have played in expanding freedom and equality in American society. He spoke from his heart and laid out a vision for Randolph College and its students to work for social justice, fight hunger and poverty, and promote scientific understanding.
“I want you to be successful at finding a career while you’re here,” he said. “But there’s a lot of work left to be done in the world, and what I really want to do today is call you to that work.
“I won’t question your party affiliation. I won’t question the ways that you want to get to social justice,” he added. “But the problems in the world that we face are clear, and you can’t turn your back on them.”
When he was finished, the audience erupted into cheers, and Bateman found himself on the receiving end of a deluge of positive feedback. “It was important for faculty, staff, and students to know that our new president is fully invested in the future of the institution and in a participatory approach to governing it,” said Jennifer Dugan, a political science professor.
The Road to Randolph
Bradley W. Bateman talks with John Abell, an economics professor. The two became friends during graduate school.
Bateman grew up in a blue-collar family in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. His father was a tool and die maker, and his mother was a secretary at a teaching hospital. Neither of them had even a full year of college.
Bateman’s mother was determined to give him opportunities she never had, and she used her entire inheritance from a great aunt to send him to a private school that would better prepare him for higher education. He later chose to attend Alma College, a liberal arts college in Michigan. His experiences there changed his life and caused him to fall in love with education.
“By the time I was 21, I had lived and taught high school in Africa. I traveled around the world. I read philosophy. I listened to music—both rock and classical,” he said. “I was given the tools to build a better life for myself.”
When he finished college, Bateman was committed to becoming a college professor so he could offer similar life-changing experiences to others.
He attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky alongside John Abell, who now teaches economics at Randolph. Although Bateman was younger, Abell said he stood out from the crowd. “He was one of the most interesting, thoughtful people that I had encountered in my life up to that point,” he said.
The friends kept in touch over the years and, in 2003, Abell invited Bateman, who often visited colleges to review academic programs, to help conduct a review of the economics department at the College. Bateman accepted, and that first visit left a good impression. “I was deeply struck by how dedicated to teaching the faculty members were,” Bateman recalled.
When the College’s ninth president, John E. Klein, announced his retirement, Abell asked for permission to nominate him for the position. Bateman felt ready for the opportunity.
He took the helm this summer well aware of the challenges ahead, but with much confidence in the future. “The last several years have been difficult for the College,” Bateman said. “But it is a new day at Randolph. I think it’s time that we look forward to what we can do together.”
Looking to the Future
Brad Bateman and Cyndi Lee take advantage of a quiet afternoon on campus to walk their dogs, Joey and Leroy Brown.
Just a few weeks into his tenure, it became clear that Bateman’s thoughtful and personal approach quickly made a positive first impression on many people.
He struck a chord with retired faculty members, many of whom he met in early August. “It just made me feel great hope for the future of the College,” said Elizabeth Lipscomb, who taught English at the College for 28 years. “He is a man who sees what sustained the institution for its first 100 years.”
When the Class of 2017 arrived, Bateman braved downpours to help the new students move into their residence halls. Later, he joined them for an Orientation service project at Lynchburg Grows, a nonprofit farm focused on sustainable agriculture.
“I was impressed with his passion for giving back to the community as well as his hard-working, hands-on nature,” said Donald Saltmarsh-Lubin ’16, a Davenport Leader who joined Bateman on move-in day and at Lynchburg Grows. “I respect him for getting to know these new students by working beside them.”
Volunteering at Lynchburg Grows aligned well with Bateman’s personal passion for sustainability, an area where he strives to set an example. Like many faculty and staff members, Bateman often commutes to work on his bicycle. He also uses a hybrid car (in College colors) and tries to use mostly locally grown food at official functions at the President’s House.
He and Cyndi Lee have already become active in several Lynchburg organizations, and the couple hopes to continue meeting as many friends of Randolph as possible.
The fall brought a national tour of alumnae and alumni chapter events, where Bateman enjoyed learning and hearing from the College’s graduates.
Looking ahead, Bateman wants to strengthen one of the College’s key attributes: its advising program, known as the Randolph Plan. “I’ve been on many college campuses, and what we do at Randolph is truly unique,” Bateman said. “It’s because of the care and the love that each faculty member puts into the students.”
Co-curricular activities—including research, internships, study abroad, and volunteer work—will figure largely into Bateman’s plans. He believes alumnae and alumni will play an even greater role in working with the College to create more internship opportunities around the country. Randolph’s students, Bateman said, need to be out in the Lynchburg community in greater numbers—sharing their skills and talents and learning through service and volunteer opportunities.
Since becoming Randolph’s president, Bateman has been surprised by some of his discussions with Lynchburg community leaders. Many of them lean across the table and tell him, “You need to know how badly people want you to succeed,” he said. “They want Randolph to be successful and be a part of Lynchburg in every way.”
With a dedicated faculty, growing ranks of supportive alumnae and alumni, and talented staff who support the institution’s educational mission, Bateman has no doubt that Randolph has an important role to play among national liberal arts schools.
“This College has always been an important part of American democracy, pushing the frontier and trying to guarantee more equality, more freedom, and more participation for everyone,” Bateman said. “It has always done the things that the great liberal arts colleges have done. It’s time to re-embrace that greatness.”