President Payne announces resignation; set for June 2000

President of the College Harry C. Payne announced yesterday that he is resigning as president with the intent to serve through June 2000.

In a letter addressed to the Williams Community and distributed to all students and faculty, Payne explained his decision. “To continue its admirable forward momentum, the College needs to begin again the cycle of determining major goals, putting in place the appropriate processes to achieve them, and raising the necessary funds. A thoughtful approach takes at least six or seven years, an amount of time to which I simply cannot commit,” he wrote in his letter.

Accompanying Payne’s letter was a letter from Raymond Henze II ’74, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. “The Board of Trustees and I accept with regret Hank Payne’s decision to conclude his term as President,” wrote Henze. He went on to praise Payne’s accomplishments as president, specifically “the funding and construction of the new and renovated science center,” “advances in the quality of student life,” and “the broad and intelligent use of new teaching and learning technology across the curriculum.”

Payne said this was a natural time for him to leave because the he has accomplished the major goals given him by the Board of Trustees. The College needs to start thinking again about long-term goals.

“Every once in a while you begin to think about your life cycles. I began to think about planning for the future, a future capital campaign, and that requires many years commitment,” said Payne.

Henze agreed that the College has reached the beginning of another cycle. “We’re now at the point where it’s time to be thinking about the beginning of that cycle again. There will not only be new objectives, but a capital campaign that will be part of it.”

Payne’s presidency began with the year-long Residential Life Study, and saw the completion of the Spencer Arts studio, the renovation of Sage and Williams Halls, Griffin Hall, Goodrich Hall, the unified science center and the proposed theatre and dance complex.

“The board did first point him in the direction of student life. And it’s an area that he threw himself into with an enormous amount of energy,” said Henze. Trustee Lucienne Sanchez ’79, chair of the Campus Life Committee, echoed Henze’s praise. “I think he’s accomplished every single goal that we’ve set out for him to do. Historically he is the first president of Williams College not to come from within the faculty. Obviously it took a lot of courage and determination to succeed in that that kind of environment.”

Trustees also expressed gratitude that Payne gave the Board so much advance notice of his resignation. “One of the nice things and one of the generous things about this kind of warning is that we have time to talk both conceptually about what we want in a president and then do a search to find that kind of president. If you have just a few months, you don’t have that ability,” said Trustee Paul Neely ’68.

Although many of the projects Payne began during his presidency are nearing their completion, there remain many projects that will need continuing attention.

“Whenever one leaves, you should be leaving in the middle of something,” said Payne. “It means you’re doing your job.”

“We’re in the midst of planning for the Theater and Dance center, and I think that since he is the person who raised the money for it, it would be good for him to see that through,” said Dean of the Faculty David L. Smith. “I think that there were other plans he had having to do with continuing to develop the administrative side of the college that he has not completed and it would have been good to see him complete some of the work on some of those projects.”

“Much of the more curricularly-oriented work that President Payne has gotten started will require real attention after he is gone. But these things have a longer time frame – anything that involves how we teach changes slowly,” said Dean of the College Peter Murphy.

Payne’s announcement came as a surprise to many members of the Williams community. “I think you’re always surprised, even though when you step back you can see his reasoning,” said Henze.

“I would say that I am sorry to see him leaving so soon. I think that there is more good work that he might do for the College, but I think that for him, personally, probably it is a good time. He’s a young man and he can go on for other positions. He has a lot of time left in his career for other projects,” said Smith.

Bruce Grinnell ’62, an attorney in Williamstown who has remained actively involved with the College wasn’t surprised by the announcement. “When you look at the presidents who have come before, you’ll see that seven years is about the average tenure on presidents these days,” he said. He suggested that fundraising plays an ever more important role in the job of president. “I think there’s tremendous pressure on presidents to keep the institutions financially sound. . . For most of these [presidents] academics are still an important part of their lives and their future.”

What that future will be for Payne is uncertain.

“One would be crazy to leave Williams College. On the other hand, at this point I have a gut sense that it may be time to get out of the Academy and do new things.” Payne declined to specify what those new things might be. “I have themes in my life to pursue, but no job to go to,” he said. “The themes in my life have been education, young people, philanthropy and culture.”

Many members of the Williams community expressed their appreciation for the job Payne has done as president. “President Payne’s been wonderful to work with and has been very responsive to all the issues we’ve raised,” said College Council Co-president Kate Ervin ’99.

“We’ve been delighted with him as a president. He’s been spectacular,” said Sanchez. “It’s obviously with great sadness that we accept his resignation.”

Although the announcement of his resignation seems a natural time for reflection, Payne is eager to concentrate on the next 18 months. “The danger in all of this is that it can seem valedictory,” he said. “I still have a lot of time.”