As part of the Spring Family Weekend events, President of the College Harry C. Payne gave a talk entitled “Reflections and Conversations” on Saturday. “It’s the one time I publicly address parents during the weekend. It’s a chance to give people a feel for what’s going on,” he said.
Payne opened his speech with a discussion of the goals of the College. “It is our ambition to always be able to make the argument that we are the finest liberal arts institution in the country,” he said. He said this statement may sound arrogant, but the College must aim high. “We know we can’t stand still,” he said.
Payne then detailed the preparations the College has made for the future. “Buildings are for these occasions very expensive audio-visual aids,” he said. He focused on current and future building projects.
“The two most exciting things are the science project and Goodrich,” he said. He explained the progress on these projects. As the crane vividly indicates, the three-year, $47.5 billion science project is well underway. It is an integration and extension of the science facilities aimed at bringing them to the cutting edge. “It shows in some sense the success of our science program and our determination to do it at a new level,” Payne said.
“The Goodrich project is a little one by college standards, but it is something like a treasure in the attic,” Payne said. Goodrich was the College’s first free-standing chapel, and it has since undergone many incarnations. Payne said they are now removing the old rooms and restoring the building to its original three-story volume. “It will be our first really good commons building on campus,” Payne said, as it is tailored for student organizations and informal student-faculty interactions.
Payne also previewed four architectural projects to be tackled in the decade ahead. The College plans to investigate the scope and limits of the fine-arts space, including Chapin Hall, and to move in new and bold directions with that space.
Ways to improve “the wonderful labyrinth of Stetson Hall,” as Payne called it, are also being considered. Payne said the current space is sufficient to house the humanities and social sciences, but it is not conducive to the sense of an intellectual community. “The question is whether to work in it, around it, or blow it up,” he said. The front of the building will be maintained.
Baxter Hall, “our goofiest building,” according to Payne, has also been identified as a space that needs improvement. Since the building was designed as fallout shelter in the 1950’s, Payne said it presents many architectural difficulties. The College is seeking creative solutions.
The College is also looking into ways to improve the landscape. “The College has grown in directions that the paths and the landscape were not designed for,” he said. To increase the design and flow of the campus, he said he would like to see small changes made.
Payne addressed two areas of concern unrelated to architecture. He said the College is very interested in information technology. It has grown tremendously over the past few years, and Payne said the College obviously wants to continue to foster its advance. However, he said the College needs to consider how information technology changes the nature of interpersonal relations.
Information technology is expensive, and “the key is to figure out the payback in terms of education,” he commented. “We would like to be the school that best integrates technology into the curriculum.”
The College is also concerned with civic life. Payne said Williams students, as indicated by student surveys, are losing interest in the political sphere. “Yet we think that everyone should envision themselves as community leaders.”
According to Payne, interest exists, but the key is to galvanize it. Payne mentioned plans for more large events, a program on leadership by Chair and Professor of Psychology George Goethals at a new center at Mount Hope Farm, and a new program to give students the qualifications to teach in public schools to increase student interest in civic life.
Payne’s speech was followed by a question-and-answer period. To a question regarding NESCAC and the future of NCAA post-season play, Payne briefly explained the situation. He said NESCAC presidents meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue. “The general drift [of the presidents’ opinions] has been favorable, but we’ll see,” he said. “I think we’ll figure out a way to stay in [the NCAA].”
One parent expressed a concern that students have difficulty meeting other students if they are not on a sports team. “There’s no doubt that one of the strongest groups on campus is the athletic teams,” Payne said. He commented that it is natural for sports to draw people together because they require large time commitments, but also noted there are other ways to meet people.
As a former Catholic, one parent lodged a complaint about the Springstreeters’ earlier performance of the Billy Joel song “Only the Good Die Young.” “We encourage students to test limits, in ways that may be uncomfortable to us,” Payne said and continued by saying the campus is committed to open discussion and the free exchange of ideas.
Other questions addressed unity, the Internet and Route 2. “I do a lot of questions and answers and these were similar to them,” Payne said.
Parents tended to enjoy the talk while student reaction was mixed. “I thought it was very informative. I found it all very interesting and very pertinent,” Linda Wood, parent of Don Wood ’00, said. “I like being brought up-to-date on what’s happening program-wise and building-wise,” she said. “I always enjoy [Payne’s] columns in the alumni magazine.”
“My parents liked it a lot. They thought that he was a great speaker and he explained things extremely well,” Erin Gately ’99 said on behalf of her parents. “They came out with the impression that everything was wonderful.”
In contrast, Gately said she had mixed reactions. “I definitely think he frames things in a more positive light than how they are occurring.”
She noted his explanation of the buildings was good, but he glossed over some important issues. “I feel that he should have addressed the party policy when addressing the role of sports in social life,” she said. “He’s never addressed that. Without the old party policy, people are less likely to meet new people.”
About the role of sports, she said, “I feel like the way he handled NESCAC and the NCAA with the parents was different than how he handled it with us. He’s been more ambiguous about it on campus than he was with the parents.”
Don Wood ’00 liked Payne’s professed stance on NESCAC and the NCAA. “I liked how he addressed the sports issue. I was curious about that. I was glad he said we would continue in national competition,” Don said. “It was a good talk.”