On Transition and Change

To the Williams Community,

A college—even one as steeped in history and tradition as Williams—can’t exist without changing. Indeed, we’re constantly evolving and growing, and of course that’s true of us as individuals as well as of this great community.  So it is that we find ourselves already at the end of another academic year, reflecting on the changes we’ve seen just since September and looking ahead to a number of significant transitions ahead.

We’re about to send out into the world the members of the wonderful Class of 2016, whose growth has led them to great individual accomplishments—and undoubtedly now will lead them on to remarkable careers and lives—and shaped Williams in significant and lasting ways.

We’ll soon graduate in another sense two members of the senior administration, as Dean of the College Sarah Bolton and Provost Will Dudley leave Williams to assume college presidencies—Sarah to the College of Wooster in July, and Will to Washington and Lee University in January. I feel a mix of pride and gratitude—for what they’re about to go and do and for what they’ve done here—that’s similar to what I feel for graduating seniors every year, along with a not-small amount of sadness in losing the privilege of working with them and learning from them every day. I’m delighted that Marlene Sandstrom and Dukes Love will join the administration, picking up where Sarah and Will leave off and continuing our important tradition of faculty serving in integral leadership roles at the college.

This summer we’ll see more changes to the physical campus, with the final development of the new library quad and the adjacent areas around Chapin, Paresky, and the Freshman Quad, work that will begin in mid-June and create by the end of the summer a terrific pedestrian-friendly space in the heart of campus.

The Science Center project gets under way this summer, as well, as we start construction on the new laboratory building south of Morley. That comprehensive project will occur in phases over the next several years, and you’ll be hearing much more about it as it progresses.

And later this summer we’ll start construction on the new bookstore on Spring Street, which will open by the fall of 2017.

At the start of the academic year I wrote to you about two critically important initiatives that are both urgent and consequential: the set of actions we’re taking as a college community to address climate change, and the comprehensive fundraising campaign we launched in October. We’ve made great progress on both. On our climate change initiatives, I’m pleased by our work toward reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions and investing in sustainable-energy and carbon-reduction projects. We’ll be working this summer to put some critical pieces in place, and so I expect to be able to report on our progress in detail this fall. Equally, I’m grateful for the efforts of those planning the coming year of intellectual inquiry, called Confronting Climate Change. The group, led by Center for Environmental Studies Chair Ralph Bradburd, has already lined up an impressive slate of speakers for the fall and beyond, including Maxine Burkett ’98, who teaches on climate change law and policy at the University of Hawaii; Nature Conservancy President and CEO Mark Tercek ’79; and environmentalist, author, and educator Bill McKibben. We’ll be reading Betsy Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sixth Extinction for the year’s Williams Reads book, and I know it’ll be the basis for a great many thoughtful conversations throughout the year.

As for the Teach It Forward campaign, I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the Williams community has responded to our call to action—not only to provide support for the Williams of today, but also to help us build the Williams of tomorrow. A campaign is about much more than raising money, though, to be sure, we are doing that, and you can keep up with our progress on our campaign website. Even more importantly, Teach is Forward is about uniting our community around a shared understanding of what makes Williams special and a shared vision for our future.

As I look back on the extraordinary success of the campaign in this first year of its public phase, I must share some bittersweet news, which is that our campaign’s chief architect has accepted an exciting new professional opportunity. Vice President for College Relations John Malcolm ’86 will take on the role of chief development officer at the Boston-based Partners in Health (PIH). John will lead fundraising efforts in support of substantial growth planned by PIH, which was co-founded by Paul Farmer to help improve the health of the poor and marginalized around the world.

John will serve at Williams through the end of June, and we’ll soon begin a search for his successor. In the meantime, the excellent team in College Relations will work to ensure a smooth transition and to continue in the interim period to build on the momentum and excitement of the campaign. Please join me in congratulating John on this truly wonderful opportunity and thanking him for his exceptional service to the college and its devoted community of alumni, parents, and friends over the past six years.

Finally, I look forward to the recommendations of the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History on the Log mural we’ve discussed publicly this year, and to that committee’s work into the fall in considering more broadly our college’s symbols of and narratives about its history.

May the end-of-year transitions be smooth for you all, and may summer—whether spent here on campus or anywhere else in the world—provide opportunities for relaxation and reflection.


Adam Falk