Intimations of Spring

To the Williams Community,

Despite the temperature, academic shoots begin to rise this first day of the semester—an occasion always worth marking.

This particular spring term holds a great deal of promise, with the anticipation of many key conversations and activities in addition to the rich, ongoing experiences that will occur in our classrooms, labs, studios, and gyms.

The first special occasion is one of the most important days of the year: Claiming Williams. The organizing group has again produced a creative mix of activities designed this year to explore the question “Why Should I Care?” Much in the national and international news, and much that has occurred on our own campus, gives us powerful reason to care about issues of diversity and equity. I encourage us all to take advantage of the opportunity tomorrow to deepen our grasp of those reasons, so to be better prepared to engage with these issues on campus and off.

You can get a jump on those activities by coming to the Henze Lounge in Paresky today between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to greet our new Muslim chaplain, Sharif Rosen.

This spring will bring further evolution of our programs on sexual assault prevention and response, building on the considerable work of so many of you in the fall. RASAN, the Feminist Collective, Men for Consent, the JAs, and the Athlete Driven Initiative to Prevent Sexual Assault all led important conversations raising awareness of assault, its effects, and ways to get help.  Led by Meg Bossong, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness group created Williams’ first campus climate survey, to help us understand both the patterns of sexual assault and intimate partner violence on campus and the ways in which our prevention and response resources can become more effective in serving students. Our thanks go to the students, staff, and faculty who are leading these efforts, which require the involvement of us all to bring the incidence of assault on our campus to the only tolerable number—zero.

The coming weeks will also bring further campus-wide discussion of how best to provide the kind of book store that our campus and our community need. Be on the lookout for opportunities to contribute to this important planning process.

Books in their many forms are, of course, the center of the year-long series The Book Unbound, which has many enticing courses and events still to come, and nothing is more central to what Williams is about than the continuing series Why Liberal Arts? We can all benefit from pondering this fundamental question and how we can best answer it in today’s world.

And this semester will see the opening of the Class of 1966 Environmental Center as not only the home of the Center for Environmental Studies and the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives but as the first historic renovation in the world designed to meet the Living Building Challenge. This dramatic advance in the college’s fight against climate change comes as the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee works toward recommending our next, stretch goal for reducing our carbon emissions as we near the reaching of our current goal. At the same time, the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility will be exploring with the campus the possible role that divestment from energy companies might play in the college’s environmental efforts.

Meanwhile, the college is in the middle of perhaps its most intensive faculty hiring season ever, which began with 17 tenure-track openings. Four of those searches have already been completed with great results, and we’ve been generally very pleased with the strength and diversity of the pools, which result from the hard work of many across campus.

The search for our vice president for institutional diversity and equity is well on its way, too. The search committee, informed by its 17 outreach meetings with campus community members last semester and by individual input solicited from a great many alumni, is reviewing applications, with the goal of bringing finalists to campus this spring.

I can also report that the chair of the search committee, Vice President for Public Affairs Jim Kolesar, has decided after 30 years of service at the college to move to part-time as the start of a phased retirement. Jim’s contributions to Williams over his long career have been multifaceted and remarkable. There could be no more caring and loyal supporter of our college, and for my part, no colleague more valued. Jim represents the very best of Williams, and I’m glad he won’t be going away just yet, or very far. Beginning July 1, he will focus his efforts on leading the college’s community and government relations—two areas that are important to Williams and close to his heart. With this move, the director of the office of communications, Angela Schaeffer, will report directly to me and assume Jim’s duties as chief communications officer of the college.

And finally, March brings with it the 300th birthday of Ephraim Williams, in addition to moments of reflection, critique, and inspiration, we’ll party like it’s 1715. I don’t know what that entails, perhaps a little nine pin or ring taw (Google it). So, as they say, stay tuned.


Adam Falk