Dear Williams community,
A faculty colleague recently noted that she now understands why 19th century letters so often began with an account of everyone’s health. The current pandemic has reminded us that, no matter what other challenges we face, the health and well-being of our family, friends, colleagues, and community members matters more than anything. We do, however, face some serious challenges to our operations, educational mission, and financial sustainability. I’m writing today to provide more details on the college’s approach to those challenges.
As Fred Puddester and I discussed in our message to the Williams community on March 27, the COVID-19 pandemic will have a substantial impact on our endowment, expectations for philanthropy, and the financial need of our students and their families. To continue spending at our current rate, we would have to draw an unsustainable fraction of our endowment over time. Stabilizing our finances will require slowing the rate of spending and finding savings without compromising our core educational mission.
This will be an uncomfortable process. All of us have ways of working that we’ll have to change. Often, there were reasons why those ways of working evolved, based on the circumstances at the time. Our task now is to understand what has changed, and to come up with ways of working that match the world we’re in now, and the one we see ahead of us.
Doing this work well requires informed and broad engagement from many parts of the college, including faculty, staff, and students. We have organized an ad hoc advisory committee on financial planning to advise senior staff on how to achieve financial stability while preserving, and as much as possible advancing, the educational mission of the college. Of course, no group is large enough to truly represent all of the different areas of the college, so instead of asking them to act as a representative committee we have explicitly charged them with serving as a hub to draw input from committees, areas, and people across campus.
The group will be chaired by me and include the following people:
Crystel Frusciente, Maintenance Technician
John Gerry, Associate Dean of the Faculty
Danielle Gonzalez, Director of Human Resources
Leticia Haynes ’99, Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
C.J. Hazell, Cook’s Assistant
Todd Hoffmann, Budget Director
Sara LaLumia, Professor of Economics and chair of the Committee on Priorities and Resources
Dukes Love (chair), Provost and Class of 1969 Professor of Economics
Tiku Majumder, Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy, Interim President (2018), Director of Science Center, and member of the Faculty Steering Committee
Maud Mandel, President and Professor of History
Aria Mason ’21, Student
Lisa Melendy, Athletic Director
Christopher Nugent, Professor of Chinese, Chair of Comparative Literature Program, and Chair of the Curricular Planning Committee
Essence Perry ’22, Student
Fred Puddester, Vice President of Finance and Administration
Marlene Sandstrom, Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology
Eiko Siniawer ’97, Professor of History, and incoming chair of the Committee on Priorities and Resources
Chris Winters ’95, Associate Provost
In addition to providing guidance on priorities, the committee will also help organize opportunities for open forums with different constituencies, to explain our financial situation and discuss our options. Those forums will be virtual for now, and we will find ways to make sure the technology is flexible enough that people can participate according to their situation.
As we do this work, please reach out to me or any other members of the committee with your concerns or suggestions. You can write to us directly, or share your ideas through the committee website (you may submit anonymously if you wish).
I’m grateful to all of the committee members for their willingness to serve and to all of you and the entire Williams community for your creativity, resilience and support as we work to fulfill our mission during this challenging time.
In the spirit of those 19th century letter-writers, I wish you all good health.
Provost and Class of 1969 Professor of Economics