Starting Our Spring Semester

Williams faculty, staff and students,

Welcome to the start of the Spring 2021 semester.

When I wrote last February’s message, people were coming and going in the usual bustle of campus life. Few could have predicted what the ensuing twelve months would bring.

Now here we are on the cusp of another spring (even if you can’t tell yet by the weather). Vaccination efforts are mounting, protests have left a lasting imprint on our consciousness, and campus is convening for a new semester. Like many of you, I’m a bit tired but hopeful—an apt seasonal metaphor.

Happily, spring is a time of renewal at Williams, as well as nationally. Here are but a few from among the many examples of good work bearing fruit across our community.

Faculty Accomplishments and Recognition

At their January meeting the Trustees confirmed tenure for eight faculty members, as mentioned in my report from the meeting. You’ll find names and bios in our news release.

Despite the challenges of pursuing scholarship in a pandemic, faculty colleagues have won numerous honors and funding for their exceptional work. Just to cite a few examples, book or film awards went recently to Assistant Professor of History Alex Bevilacqua, Marylin and Arthur Levitt Professor of Music W. Anthony Sheppard, and Assistant Professor of Art Cecilia Aldarondo); and research grants to Assistant Professor of Biology David Loehlin, Associate Professor of Economics Sarah Jacobson, Assistant Professor of Physics Kate Jensen.

Please join me in congratulating them and their many colleagues across all divisions, disciplines and seniority levels who’ve done outstanding work during this challenging year!

Nor were faculty the only ones to receive major honors. We’ve just learned that Jason Mazique ’21 was awarded a highly competitive Luce Scholarship. You can also find stories about Julius Dodson ’21’s prestigious Schwarzman Scholarship and many other student honorees on the Fellowships Office website. Congratulations to all!

It’s an equal point of pride that Williams employees excel in their fields. Consider, among other things, the praise Williams employees earned from the national media for organizing and implementing our Covid testing and response program. (The link is accessible to anyone with a address by using the Library’s login instructions.) Whether you were involved in this or other efforts, staff have shown extraordinary commitment and leadership in a tough year—thank you.

More Good Academic and Co-curricular News

Here are just a few among many other signs of progress and renewal:

I’m delighted to report that the Wachenheim (North) Building of the Science Center is coming on line, fulfilling our new vision for the Science Center complex. The Geosciences department is moving in and classes are starting. Other departments will move in later this spring.

On the co-curricular side, the working group on Residential Life, chaired by Dean Sandstrom, has been gathering input from students, faculty and staff to help envision how we can best support student residential life leaders and move forward with student-driven thematic housing. The group will continue their outreach this semester, so please watch for announcements and get involved.

I’ve also begun to immerse myself in strategic planning again, with the goal of completing the plan this summer. The process will involve seeking community input on a draft before the end of spring term. If you want to refresh your memory about where we left off, or weren’t here last year, you’ll find the full set of reports on the Strategic Planning website. Looking back on that work, I’ve found myself thinking in terms of investing in a “Williams arc”: our continuum of commitments, from access and affordability to academics and the co-curriculum, investment in faculty and staff development, and lifelong alumni learning and engagement. I’ll look forward to your own thoughts once we circulate the draft.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Tomorrow is of course Claiming Williams, and I’m grateful to the committee for organizing a program around the theme, “From Racial Injustice to Restoration.” They’ve given us an important opportunity to ask how we can confront and be accountable to our past, work to restore wrongs and sow the seeds for a better future. Please participate.

I summarized other, related initiatives in my September letter to campus. And we’ve continued making progress since then.

I especially want to direct your attention to the work of the Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC), which was charged by the college this year with “imagining and crafting practices of communally accountable institutional memory that reflect the complexity and diversity of the College’s histories.” Please watch for ways to contribute throughout their ongoing process.

Other progress includes a new grant to look at maritime history as a basis for studying the relationship between European colonization, the dispossession of Native American land and racial slavery in New England, and the college’s decision to join the new Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance. There’s much more, and we’ll continue to communicate about progress and challenges throughout the spring.

Society of Alumni Bicentennial and our 2020-21 Bicentennial Medalists 

This year marks the bicentennial of the Williams Society of Alumni, the oldest continuously operating organization of its kind in the world. The Society is taking its anniversary as a time to look forward as well as back, hosting discussions about what it means to define a great alumni association for the 21st century.

Relatedly, the 2020-21 Bicentennial Medals program will recognize alumni who’ve made contributions to society this year, particularly related to the pandemic and our national reckoning on racial justice. We began in September by celebrating Wole Coaxum ’92, founder of Mobility Capital Finance (MoCaFi), a Black-owned startup that provides access to financial services in underbanked communities. The next event, on February 25, will be a conversation with medalist Chaédria LaBouvier ’07, the first Black curator, first Black woman, first curator of Cuban descent and first Black author of a catalogue in the Guggenheim Museum’s 80-year history. Please tune in.

Vice Presidential Search

Last month I announced Vice President for Finance & Administration and Treasurer Fred Puddester’s planned retirement next August. Initial details on the search for Fred’s successor are now available on the search page. We’ll share a job description and further details soon.

Going back to my introduction, it takes a community of people, each doing our part, to bring the spirit of renewal and possibility to Williams every year. Please know that you have our heartfelt gratitude, no matter your job or role, and whether you’re on campus or remote.

As we move into the new term I hope we can embody the spirit of spring, making the most together of the opportunities Williams affords for learning and growth.