Payne’s agenda for college’s future emphasizes technology, public

The next decade at Williams College should see a strengthening of the

curriculum, an increased emphasis on civic involvements and further

integration of technology in teaching and research. So suggests the

first draft of a statement on Williams College’s “Standing Commitments

and Fututre Agenda,” a document developed and released by President of

the College Harry C. Payne in the midst of the College’s decennial

reaccreditation process. The document outlines his reflections on the

foremost challenges facing Williams in the next 10 years, and the ways

to meet those challenges best. Payne distributed the 16-page statement

last month to numerous members of the Williams community, including

members of the faculty, Board of Trustees and College Council. In a

recent interview, Payne described the release as “a discussion document”

designed to initiate a three-month process of review and revision that

will culminate in a final draft toward the end of June. The document,

while separate from the formal self-evaluation required for

reaccreditation, will complement reaccreditation assessments.Payne

explained that the self-study to be presented to the New England

Association of Schools and Colleges (NEAS&C), a regional accrediting

body, consists of evaluation within specific categories, and focuses on

both the College’s progress over the past 10 years and its current

condition. He characterized his overview as “a commentary on what we’re

learning as we take stock … a covering set of conclusions and visions

for the next 10 years.”I’m taking it as my responsibility as President

to offer some reflections on the whole, based on my experiences and

observations here over the past three years.” Though he admitted it is

an expression of his personal view, he said he hopes that the

Reaccreditation Committee “will see it as a fair and just assessment.”

Payne also indicated that all members of the Williams community should

have an opportunity to offer input and voice concerns regarding the

agenda before its final drafting in early summer.Payne said he already

has received some feedback on his statement’s three goals of

strengthening the curriculum, emphasizing the importance of civic

involvement and exploring how technology can play a role in teaching and

research.Payne said most of the response has been to the third goal of

implementing more technology at the College.Specifically, he noted that

many members of the college community have expressed fear that modern

technology might grow into too great a role at Williams. “If I’ve

learned any lessons from conversations to date, I would say there’s a

just concern that, insofar as technology is an important concern for the

future, we deal with it on our terms [as a liberal arts institution] …

,” Payne said. “Some people are fearful that this will somehow warp who

we are.” Payne responded that the College should not be engulfed in

these modern developments, but instead needs to “tame the beast” and

make technology work for the community. The statement reflected this

experimental tone by suggesting initiatives to expand the role of

technology gradually in certain aspects of teaching and communication.

Professor of Humanities Mark Taylor, as director a new center which will

explore the role of new media in traditional studies , is committed to

ushering technological integration into campus life. “In general,” he

said, “all of us know that, both within society at large and higher

education in particular, technology will have an increasing impact on

the way we do business … Graduates will be involved in technology in a

variety of ways, regardless of the field they go into.” Taylor cited,

among other developments, the rapid popularization of email on the

Williams campus and beyond as visible proof of technological growth in

the past five years. “The danger for places like Williams is to believe

that these changes do not affect them,” he said. Fears of a

technological liberal arts takeover need to be tempered with a realistic

appreciation of the need to develop what he termed “digital literacy.”

“What you come to a place like Williams for is to learn to read and

write,” he explained. “One must learn how to do that within the

technologies of the time.” Failure to adjust to a transformed job

market, he warned, will reduce higher education to an “expensive

luxury,” and leave us with a “huge [technological] pipeline and nothing

to put in it.” He added, “It’s not just crass vocationalism or

professionalism. There has to be a way of meeting the demands out there

… Students will demand it.” The major shift required, he conceded,

involves a large investment of time, effort, and money. Yet potential

dividends are boundless. He mentioned that several Western states have

created a virtual university, and global programs The proposal’s

discussion of public affairs included campus governance, residential

life and civic life off-campus. The document posited that Williams might

organize more large-group campus events, improve our public spaces,

expand curricular offerings in international and area studies and focus

as a community on achieving all shared goals. Generally, Payne’s

statement called for “careful thought and determined commitment … [to

make Williams] an outstanding place to engage the public life of the

nation and world.”In the section on the curriculum, the statement

enumerated a wide range of concerns regarding the creation of “more

common underpinnings in our approach to education.” These included the

development of more courses that bridge the gap between introductory and

advanced offerings, continuous dialogue about teaching, a heightened

emphasis on interdisciplinary learning and a system whereby students can

design patterns of courses outside of majors and programs. Additionally,

the document alluded to possible faculty/student research collaborations

in the social sciences and the humanities. “Bridging divides is an

overarching [liberal arts] theme,” Payne said. “The model [of

teaching-research integration] is in the natural sciences. Should we be

funding that in other areas? … A poet can’t use a research assistant,

but a historian can.”Beyond the three long-term goals, the statement

lists campus space, Williamstown, and alumni development as other

specific areas of concern. Payne said he hopes and expects to add other

initiatives during the review of the document.The document also

addressed the issue of the relationship between the College and its

alumni. “Various assaults on higher education in general have had their

specific effects with our alumni, who are more questioning, more

concerned about cost, more worried about `political correctness,’ and

more directive in their giving,” the document said. Payne said, “There

is a new trend in communications. The outside environment is far more

questioning of higher education [than it once was] … no academic

institution is immune from being accountable. We have to learn to

communicate far more.” Payne said the increasing diffusion of young

alumni as they move away from the College heightens this need. But, he

added, “Alumni, more than ever, are eager to give of themselves other

than financially. They want an intellectual and programmatic attachment

[to Williams].” He said he believes that in a fast-changing world,

“we’re more important than ever to them as a symbol of something

deeper.”More generally, Payne cited the importance of fortifying the

ties of the college community “We are such a diffuse community; we do so

much stuff, that whether we’re talking about faculty interaction or

events for students, there is an underlying motif of concern that … we

really be focused on community-building in the next 10 years,” he said.

He emphasized that the document built upon an already-established basis.