Welcome to the Start of Fall 2021

Williams faculty, students and staff,

Welcome back. Those words have rarely carried as much meaning for me as they do this fall.

Today is the start of Williams’ first fully in-person semester since Fall 2019. Two years ago, “in-person semester” seemed like a redundancy. Now, the word “semester” by itself seems ambiguous. As you move through your day, please relish the experience of learning and teaching and working together… in person.

I especially want to welcome our entering first-years and our graduate students, as well as the 100-plus faculty and staff who joined Williams during the pandemic. I look forward to meeting you all over the weeks and months ahead! I also want to acknowledge our sophomores, who in some ways are about to enjoy a “second first year,” after being unable to fully experience Williams in 2020-21.

Now, here is a sampling of the work that has been going on since last spring:

Academics and the curriculum

  • In addition to four new assistant professors hired this year, another eight faculty were promoted to associate professor with tenure, and four to full professorships. To see their names, affiliations and accomplishments, please visit this year’s Faculty Highlights page and also the New Faculty page, which includes visitors, as well. Congratulations to all!
  • The new Wachenheim Science Center opened in time for the new academic year, and the Psychology, Geosciences and Mathematics and Statistics departments are all settling into their new space there, which complements last year’s opening of The Hopper Science Center.
  • Three Williams faculty were honored with this year’s Nelson Bushnell ’20 Prize for excellence in teaching and writing: Mary A. and William Wirt Warren Professor of Computer Science, Emerita, Andrea Danyluk; Harold J. Henry Professor of German and Chair of the Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures Gail Newman; and Professor of Economics Sara LaLumia.
  • The college is meanwhile conducting an impressive twelve tenure-track searches this year.

Planning for Williams’ Future (aka Strategic Planning)

Last spring we completed the first stage of a strategic planning process that drew input from hundreds of staff, faculty and students. The Trustees endorsed the plan at their June meeting, and today I am happy to release the final version. You can read it on the web or download an accessible PDF.

In many ways we have already been progressing toward the goals set out in the plan. Here are just a few examples of the many efforts underway:

  • In Residence Life, three new area coordinators are working closely with student leaders, while 25 students are piloting our theme housing option in the Sustainability Lab.
  • We are developing a new framework approach to our built environment this year. There will be an informational kiosk in the Williams Bookstore starting October 4—stop by to learn more.
  • Today we also launched a new governance website, informed by community interest in how the college is run and decisions are made.

A great deal of work is also going on in the key areas of sustainability and diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. Here is a quick summary. Look for full reports later this month.


Having reported on the results of Williams’ work toward our 2020 goals, the college is now defining a new set of ambitious future goals. These will focus on climate action; buildings, landscaping and land use; education and research; responsible consumption; community, equity and inclusion; and accountability and transparency. Visit the Sustainability website to get a fuller picture of our ambitions.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility

Work on these values continues to expand, encompassing everything from our maturing relationship with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community to the Davis Center building project and our campus-wide Accessibility Committee. I especially want to highlight here last spring’s report by the Committee on Diversity and Community, which proposes ways of opening Williams up to varied perspectives on our institutional history. Senior Staff have begun discussions about the many initiatives recommended in that report, discussions we will expand this year to those whose work is implicated, from the Board to campus units. I am grateful to the Committee for their effort and ideas.

Again, please look for emails with more extensive information on both topics later this month.


This Saturday, seniors and faculty will convene in Chapin Hall for our fall 2021 Convocation and Bicentennial Medal Ceremony. Seniors, please check the email from College Marshal Lee Park for details on the academic procession. I look forward to seeing you all there!

Society of Alumni Bicentennial

This fall is the 200th anniversary of Williams’ Society for Alumni—the oldest continually operating such group in the world. Our loyal alumni are one of Williams’ greatest assets and worst-kept secrets. The bicentennial celebrations have been ongoing this year despite the pandemic. Many of this fall’s programs and events will be open to students, faculty and staff. To quote the alumni leaders who organized the celebration: There’s a Place for You!

Administrative news

Like most employers nationally, Williams is confronting major changes in the labor economy. Pent-up demand from our pandemic hiring freeze, combined with these external realities, has resulted in a fairly steady average of about 100 vacancies at a time since January, despite running 50-60 parallel searches at a time during that same period. If you compare this to our historical average of about 90 hires per year total, the intensity of the current pressure on Human Resources and the college is clear. To work through the demand, this fall our HR team, with support from Senior Staff, is introducing a new process for prioritizing searches, running as many simultaneously as possible. Thank you in advance for supporting their work.

I also want to remind you that the Working Group on Remote/Flexible Work will soon make its recommendations on how the college can incorporate lessons from the pandemic into our staff policies. I will follow up once they have reported their findings.

Finally, I wanted to note changes to my senior team. As you know, Mike Wagner joined us in August as our new Vice President for Finance and Operations and College Treasurer. Mike officially started last week: please join me in welcoming him to campus. Meanwhile, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom and Provost Dukes Loves are both starting the final year of their administrative terms before returning to the faculty. I will save the well-deserved tributes for later, but want you to know that we will begin the faculty-guided selection process for their successors later this year.

There is so much happening at Williams, and even more being planned. Amidst it all, I appreciate your cooperation with the Covid rules, which make it safer for us to reunite as a community at last.

Our opportunity to be together is precious and also precarious. Among our peer institutions, some started well but then had to make hard decisions in response to outbreaks. We were fortunate to get through arrival testing with only a few positives, but should never take that good fortune for granted.

I am glad to be with you in a special community where we can be together. I look forward to seeing you all in the days and weeks ahead.