Presidential search commitee holds student forum

In a letter to the Williams community, Ray Henze, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, announced that the committee is moving forward with its first goal of “defining the college’s priorities and objectives and developing the criteria for the next president.” In an effort to reach out for student opinion in the process, the committee held an open forum last Thursday.

Six members of the Presidential Search Committee; four students, one professor, and one trustee held the open meeting in Goodrich Lounge. As student member Rob Wiygul ’00 expressed, “This is just a forum for students to talk about attributes they’d like to see in new president.” Several students attended. They shared their visions for the new president, and committee members solicited their insights.

Morgan Barth ’02 said he wanted a president who would promote a more intellectual atmosphere at Williams. “My biggest complaint with Williams is that most people here like that Williams prepares them to earn a lot of money when they graduate,” Barth said, citing the emphasis on investment banking. Barth said Williams should move beyond its image as a pre-professional school and demand more thinking from its students.

The attendees discussed Barth’s analysis. Other students agreed that the college seems to push careers in investment banking. Trustee Paul Neely defended President Payne for encouraging civic involvement.

Hilary Ley ’01 voiced her desire for a charismatic leader. She said that a President who was visible on campus and attended student functions could help bring students together. “If the school has someone they can galvanize around, I really think it could unify the school,” Ley said.

Bert Leatherman ’00 later added that the president should be able to relate to all types of groups on campus. He echoed Ley’s emphasis on visibility, suggesting that the President should want to sit in the snack bar and meet students. Another student added that one criterion for the president should be: “Is this person really, really comfortable with college kids?”

Professor Sawicki, a member of the search committee, guided the conversation towards an articulation of the goals of the college for the next ten years, since they are looking for someone who embodies those goals.

One student said that the college needed a vision and an identity to differentiate it from other liberal arts colleges. He said that the new president should draw on Williams’s current philosophy and refine it to create that vision. He suggested that a person from the Williams community would best suit the job.

Neely wondered if Williams has a clear philosophy now, beyond creating well-rounded students, and if it should try to narrow its niche.

Barth answered no, arguing that the value of a liberal arts education is its generality. “It can be in purely ideological terms that we define our vision,” added Ley. Students mentioned athletics and the role of Williams in the broader community as other areas of concern for the new president.

With all of the possibilities for change cited by the students, Professor Sawicki wondered if there were some things students would not like changed. Ley mentioned student-faculty relations, and Barth referred to our reputation as an outstanding liberal arts institution. Another student highlighted the real emphasis on the students.

Sawicki and the trustee recorded the students’ observations, suggestions, and recommendations. They said that the search committee is in the process of gathering ideas for a job description.

As the first phase of the search draws to a close, Henze’s letter laid out a prelimenary timetable for the rest of the process. “Development of the candidate pool will begin in the summer and continue through the fall, with the search being announced publicly in early September. From mid-November through the winter, we will undertake the screening process, with the goal of a appointing a president to begin July 2000.”