Welcome to the start of Fall 2019!

Dear Williams students, faculty and staff,

Welcome back! Whether you stayed at Williams or left town, I hope you had a rejuvenating few months. And to our new students, faculty and staff members: welcome to your first fall at Williams! I’m so pleased that you’re joining our community, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you all.

While many people rightly think of summer as a break—it’s important to step away from routines and savor life—great work continues at Williams year-round. Here are some examples from a much longer list:

Twelve students and alumni received Fulbrights this year, keeping Williams among the top Fulbright producers among liberal arts schools. An impressive number of faculty also received awards and honors, from Greg Mitchell’s (WGSS) ACLS Burkhardt Fellowship to Pamela Harris’s (Math/Statistics) Alder Award for outstanding teaching from the Mathematical Association of America, to Phebe Cramer’s (psychology) Henry A. Murray Award from the Association for Research in Personality, recognizing “outstanding scientific and humanistic scholarship in the psychological study of individual human lives.” Congratulations to them and everyone else who makes Williams a home for outstanding scholars and teachers.

Our staff, too, continue to excel. To cite just a few examples, Muslim Chaplain Sharif Rosen was recognized among this year’s “40 under Forty” by the Berkshire Community College Foundation, while Associate Dean April Ruiz was invited to join the executive committee of the national FGLI (First-Generation, Lower-Income) Consortium. Meanwhile, we honored 54 staff members for reaching 20 years of service at Williams, including groundskeeper Bob Neville, who has now tallied a remarkable 45 years at the college. I’m grateful for the exceptional devotion of Bob and all our staff colleagues.

While classes ended in May, academic work continued for many: more than 40 students participated in our Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Program and Summer Science Program, organized by faculty and staff from across divisions. Many more students conducted research in faculty labs or via mentored projects. Off campus, they took advantage of 52 summer fellowships for travel or research, including 42 involving international travel. Another 170 or so of their peers were busy preparing to study abroad in 34 countries at some point this year.

When we talk about “the Williams community,” we also want to think beyond campus. Through the Center for Learning in Action, our summer community outreach fellows created videos and updated a website for local non-profits, among other great work, while the Sentinels public policy fellows researched everything from the impact of local after-school enrichment programs to affordable housing needs in North Adams. And the Zilkha summer interns worked to encourage sustainability in transportation, food practices, administrative offices, the arts, and more.

There’s so much else, from WCMA’s behind the scenes renovation (visit the multiple award-winning Axis Mundo exhibition in the re-opened space this fall, curated by Professor Ondine Chavoya and David Evans Frantz), to faculty research and scholarship, to the huge effort that staff, faculty and administrators alike put into planning and preparing for the new academic year. While the world often thinks of college in terms of fall and winter terms (and, at Williams, Winter Study!), teaching and learning is in reality a year-round enterprise.

Even so, there’s something special about the start of fall term. So, on this first day of classes, here’s a little news from Hopkins Hall to help us get off to a great start:

  • Strategic Planning is kicking into high gear with opportunities for everyone to contribute ideas toward a shared vision of Williams’ future excellence, defined by our commitments to great teaching and learning, equity and inclusion, sustainability, and transparency. Join us at the Log next Tuesday, September 10, from 2 to 4 p.m., as we kick off the first in a semester-long series of Tuesdays at the Log events, where everyone is invited to gather, enjoy a snack, and discuss questions around specific themes. The first session will be co-hosted by the working groups on faculty and staff development and on student learning. All of the open strategic planning events can be found on the college events calendar (log in to see campus-only events) and the Strategic Planning website. We’ll also provide opportunities for input from staff who work outside a 9-to-5 schedule.
  • On June 30, the Teach It Forward campaign ended with alumni, parents, and friends, exceeding the $650 million goal, committing more than $707 million in support of faculty, financial aid, student learning inside and outside the classroom, a new science center and more. Equally impressive is that more than 87 percent of Williams alumni engaged with college at some point during the campaign through activities including volunteering, mentoring students and attending events. Their deep devotion makes the college’s excellence possible while also keeping Williams affordable. My gratitude goes out to everyone involved, from alumni and parents to our outstanding College Relations team.
  • As you’ll recall, last spring I announced that the Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion had submitted their report, and I accepted their recommendations in full. Per the Committee’s proposal, the Faculty Steering Committee and I have drafted a statement affirming Williams’ principled commitments to freedom of inquiry, expression and inclusion. Steering will circulate a draft to the faculty and it will also be shared with student leaders and staff this fall. In the spirit of free expression, I look forward to discussion and even vigorous debate about the core issues. While some national figures claim that one has to choose between free expression and inclusion, I believe Williams can show the world that a dual commitment to both will foster the most robust and vital learning community. The varied events and programs planned on the subject this fall will provide great opportunities to show how this idea works in practice.

Fall is promising to be a great semester: JAs are working with their entries, faculty, staff and student committees and groups are planning the year’s agenda, student athletes are returning to practice… And the academic calendar is full of exciting events, from lectures on topics like the roots of birthright citizenship and scientific critiques of free will to this weekend’s Convocation and Bicentennial Awards ceremony, where we’ll honor a group of exceptionally accomplished Williams alumni.

This is a long message, but it’s just a sampling of what’s happening at Williams. So let’s jump in: I look forward to this semester with all of you!


Maud S. Mandel
Professor of History; Program in Jewish Studies