Why Is This Called Dead Week?

To the Williams Community,

One of the few remaining mysteries for me at Williams is why this is called Dead Week. Everyone I know is bustling to get ready to start the Spring Semester, the name of which, as I look out the window, is also mysterious.

The most focused activity of all is in final preparation for the centerpiece of Claiming Williams—the schedule of activities that have been creatively put together and that are listed here. Thursday’s events address a wide variety of visions for our changing community, and I urge each of you–students, faculty and staff–to come listen and add your own important voice. We know from last fall’s horrible act in Prospect, and perhaps even more from the discussions about other incidents of bias and discrimination on campus that arose in subsequent public dialogues, that such work has never been more urgent or important. This year’s Claiming Williams Day has the added advantage of dovetailing with the efforts of Students Against Silence, whose participants have organized themselves over Winter Study, and of the faculty-student-staff task force developing a protocol for college responses to bias-related incidents, which has begun to meet.

Our thanks go to those who planned this year’s Williams Reads program. Alison Bechdel’s graphic autobiography Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic was both challenging and endearing, and it inspired engaging conversations across campus. This annual event has grown into a wonderful new Williams tradition.

It’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge some exciting milestones the college has reached in recent months. These include the completion of Chapin Hall’s renovation and the progress made on building our new library. Chapin is ready for use. It’s now much more accessible throughout; is protected by a sprinkler system; and its sound, light, and temperature can be better controlled. And all of this was accomplished while protecting the aesthetics of that beautiful room. It’s great to be able to gather the community there once again.

Over at the new library site, that deafening sound you hear is the silence of no more hammering at ledge. There’ll be a little more now and then, but nothing like the Excedrin-selling experience of the fall. Thank you to all for your patience with that considerable disruption. I love seeing the walls now starting to go up.

I continue to be convinced, however, that the most exciting things that happen at Williams occur behind the doors of our classrooms. As one emblem of that magic, I’d point out that yet another faculty member recently received the highest national award in her field when the Mathematical Association of America declared Susan Loepp a winner of its Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching. In becoming the fifth Williams mathematician to win this award since 1993 (the others being Frank Morgan, Colin Adams, Ed Burger, and Tom Garrity), Susan represents phenomenal teaching not only in her own department but across the college.

So do the faculty who participated last semester in the second installment of Williams Thinking. Short, TED-like talks by Magnus Bernhardsson, Sandra Burton, and Tom Garrity have been added to the site. Three more faculty will be taped March 12, if you want to mark your calendar. I’m pleased to be able to point people outside of Williamstown, especially alumni and prospective students, to where they can experience some of the remarkable teaching that takes place here.

In addition to the intellectual, arts, and athletic events already on the calendar, there’s a special opportunity that we’ll all have in early March. That’s when the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State will culminate the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of its Foreign Relations Series by co-sponsoring with our Political Science Department a conference here to explore major themes in national security policy from 1969 to 1972, and in particular the SALT I Treaty. Keep an eye out for details.

At this time of year, the college also moves through its budget-setting process. As we do so, the world’s financial markets remain turbulent. The closest thing to a consensus among market analysts is that this volatility will continue for the foreseeable future. The college remains financially strong by national standards, but this uncertainty means we’ll need to continue to budget very carefully. Growth in our resources is likely to be slow, so we’ll do well to continue focusing them on our highest priorities, which remain the education, health, and safety of our students.

Meanwhile, I hope that we all are ready to embrace, separately and together, the many opportunities that the new semester holds.

Adam Falk