Williams students, faculty and staff,
As we settle into the rhythms of a new academic year, I’d like to offer you a preview of some of the many programs, initiatives and offerings planned for the fall semester.
Within this community, many faculty have recently secured research grants for your work, sometimes in partnership with students and academic staff. Our students are earning major scholarships and fellowships and completing an impressive array of alumni-sponsored internships. We’re also welcoming stellar new cohorts in GradArt and the Center for Development Economics. And while there’s not yet a list we can link to (something we hope to address in the future), our staff colleagues are earning advanced credentials, earning awards for excellence and serving on the boards of their professional associations. Congratulations to all on these accomplishments!
And now on to a few programming highlights…
- This fall is the inaugural semester of the new Global Scholars program, through which cohorts of students, taught by an interdisciplinary group of faculty, take an interdisciplinary approach to global trends and issues. The idea for Global Scholars emerged from Strategic Planning: it’s great to see it come to life.
- Last weekend we marked the start of the academic year with Convocation and the conferral of Bicentennial Medals. I was gratified by the turnout, and our community’s willingness to engage the urgent issues of our times with your full intellect and passion.
- Students were involved in an impressive range and depth of research projects this summer, too, including through the Mellon Mays Undergraduate and Allison Davis Research Fellows, the Summer Science and Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Programs; as well as individual and group projects across all three divisions.
- There are also exciting new tutorials this year, including George Orwell: Capitalism, Socialism and Totalitarianism; American National Identity and State Power; Outdoor Pools: Where Eros Meets Thanatos; Beyond the Tiger Mom: Depictions of East Asian Mothers in Contemporary American Literature; and Telling Tales in Ancient Greece. You may want to check out the new video highlighting this distinctive aspect of our curriculum.
College programs and priorities
- The Supreme Court’s June decision on race-conscious college admissions has focused significant attention on issues of access and equity in higher education. While we regularly review our admission practices to make certain they support Williams’ mission and goals, this summer we redoubled those efforts to ensure that our admission program continues to bolster our commitments to access and diversity in legally-compliant ways. To that end I’ve formed, with the Board of Trustees, a working group of Trustees, administrative leaders and faculty to review, during the 2023-24 year, our admissions policies and practices. You can find their charge, roster and input form on their page of the Committees website. The group’s work will help guide the Board’s consideration of how well those policies and practices support our mission and aspirations, described in the strategic plan. We’ll announce further opportunities for campus and alumni input soon.
We got off to an excellent start in discussing the big issues of educational access and civil rights at last Friday’s panel discussion with our Bicentennial Medalists. Thank you to all who attended! This year’s Davis Lecture and Claiming Williams programs will also address relevant topics.
In closing, let me note that I’ve been troubled to see how the Court’s decision has caused college students across the country to question their place in higher education. So I want to emphasize: Everyone at Williams earned your place. The sense of belonging is a gift we can—and should—give to each other, especially in this moment.
- Moving on to the area of campus building projects, we’re making exciting progress toward a future home for the visual arts at the new Williams College Museum of Art. I encourage you to learn about the project and help imagine the new WCMA as a nexus of arts education, curation, creation and community… all expanding on Williams’ distinguished history in the arts. We’re also looking forward to opening the new, Living Building Challenge Petal-Certified Davis Center to staff occupancy in January, and for programming use next spring. A community celebration is planned for April 2024. Finally, we’ve made good progress on plans for a new Multi-Purpose Recreation Facility to accommodate activities from Towne Field House while we work on a permanent replacement. The facility, to be built north of the tennis courts, is already attracting alumni support. The WEM Foundation and Jim Hield ’77 gave $15M to support a comprehensive program and site planning study, the construction of the new multi-purpose recreation facility and the eventual construction of an Athletics and Wellness Complex.
- All this work on our facilities creates opportunities to build more efficient buildings and upgrade the sustainability of existing structures. Such efforts will continue to be guided by our Energy and Carbon Master Plan, a long-term project to move us toward decarbonization. More than $100M has already been planned for that use. Provost Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97 will provide a detailed report on this and other sustainability efforts in late September.
- Behind the scenes, the Dining Services team is in the process of forming a Dining Advisory Committee, and has partnered with a consultant from the Baker Group to evaluate our dining operations throughout the academic year. This includes outreach to gather insights from students, aimed at developing improvements for enhancing the overall dining experience. Managers and staff across campus are meanwhile putting tremendous effort into developing our new Workday administrative system, too.
- Finally, many faculty searches are in process: their variety says a lot about the range, depth and vitality of our curriculum. And we’re also recruiting for leadership positions in Campus Safety Services and Facilities, among other staff roles. Thank you to the people stepping into interim positions or otherwise helping with continuity.
This is just a fraction of the news on campus—there’s plenty more to come.
I want to end as I started, by celebrating the quality of the education offered at Williams, and recognizing that each of you is a source of that excellence. Williams is distinguished by a richness of diversity and community, of opportunity and of choice. Whoever you are, and whatever your interests, I hope you’ll enjoy the variety of experiences on offer this fall. I look forward to joining you in doing so!