And We're Off

To the Williams Community,

Few things are more exciting, at least to nerds like me, than the beginning of an academic year, pregnant with learning, growing, new ideas, and fresh ways to express them.

That’s not to say that our summers are devoid of these. For most of the last few months, hundreds of students have been on campus, working in a variety of programs, mostly collaborating with faculty on their scholarship. One lively focus of this activity has been the series of science lunches. In what became a highlight of my week, science students and faculty met weekly for pizza, banter, and a faculty member talk. The spirit of collaborative learning there was palpable, as it was at the inspiring performances of the Summer Theatre Lab and elsewhere on campus.

Those of us in town also got to experience first hand the launch of a new intellectual series called “Williams Thinking.” Over two evenings, six faculty gave to full houses talks that were captured on video. Modeled on the famous TED series, these can be viewed at One of the many pleasures of this program, which will continue over the year, comes in knowing that it enables people outside the college to experience the truly exceptional quality of our faculty.

For many staff members, of course, their regular work carries through, or even intensifies in, the summer. Progress is now well underway on the new Sawyer Library, which will provide flexible new spaces that integrate print material and new technologies in ways that will transform individual and collaborative learning. Late summer brought the surprise visit of Irene. While it’ll be a while before we can make some of our athletic fields useable, the campus is as ready as it is for the start of the year because of the dedicated work of many across campus leading up to the storm, during it, and since.

There was also this summer that other storm…the one that has roiled the financial markets. We’re pleased with the return on our investments over the last fiscal year, the final figure of which is still being pinpointed, and which, in combination with the college’s sound planning and spending discipline, has put us in good financial shape. Those of you who lived through this process at Williams longer than I have, know how much hard work has gone into the priority-setting and budgeting processes and how much thanks rightly go to the many people who took part. While the college is now in a stronger position than at any time since the economic crisis, recent events indicate that the prospect of continued market volatility will need to remain a factor in our planning. The keys to the success of that planning will remain flexibility, which college members have shown repeatedly in recent years, and a focus on the college’s core—our people and our educational programs.

The college meanwhile is poised to offer greater support to our marvelous staff by implementing the new performance development program, an initiative that’s grown out of long conversations with diverse cross-sections of those who carry out the many essential operations that take place outside the classroom. Staff members will hear in coming weeks from their supervisors about this attempt to more fully integrate staff into the direction of the college.

I eagerly look forward also to engaging with faculty governance to advance important conversations that gained momentum last spring. Much of that attention will continue to focus on the curriculum, as we explore ways to not only protect our newest programs but to expand judiciously into even newer areas at a time when the faculty size cannot be expected to grow at the rate that it did before the economic downturn. We will continue to examine residential life, and in particular the first-year experience, as we seek ways to maximize the education that our wonderfully talented and diverse students provide each other. Another vital effort will continue to focus on the best ways for us all to support first-generation students and others for whom Williams remains challenging in ways that sometimes interfere with, rather than advance, their education. All of these conversations are essential to making Williams the best it can be, and we’re fortunate to have involved with them such a vigorous structure of faculty, staff, and student involvement.

And so, begins another cycle of learning, meaning, and fun. Special welcome goes to the students, faculty, and staff joining our community for the first time.

As we head off soon to class, office, lab, studio, practice room, stage, athletic field, dorm room, or dining hall, let’s pause for a just moment to acknowledge the great opportunities that this year and this place hold for us, individually and together, and then commit ourselves to making the most of them.

Adam Falk