September in Williamstown is always a time of beginnings. A newer, ever better first-year class arrives, fresh and exciting, and both revitalizes and frightens the rest of us who recall years past. This September, however, arrived with more changes than usual, and this fall marks one particularly significant ending. We at the Record, therefore, would like to take the opportunity here to thank Hank Payne for his distinguished service to the College.
“We come to Williams in order to leave,” he said at this year’s fall Convocation, and although he announced his resignation last year, we all thought President Payne would stay with us for one final year. Seniors would graduate with him and first-years would get a chance to know him. Instead, Payne will only be on campus for a few more weeks before he is replaced by Carl Vogt on October 9.
Autumn always makes someone feel old, and we at the Record find ourselves in that disconcerting position when we realize that over half the campus has never heard our own favorite anecdote about President Payne.
One gorgeous spring Saturday in 1998 our editorial staff, unable to stomach the idea of spending the entire day downstairs in our windowless office cum bomb shelter, decided to go en masse to get ice cream. On our way out the doors, we passed President Payne, and, in a moment of abandon inspired perhaps by the thin air in the basement, invited him along. He accepted our invitation cheerfully and we discussed both campus issues and more frivolous matters over ice cream cones.
The purpose of this story, and we do like to tell it, is to illustrate one of the things we’ve come to appreciate most about President Payne: he takes students seriously. Jonathan Plowman ’00 reminded us at Convocation that the tradition of having student music and poetry at Convocation began under Payne’s administration. He came to the school charged with the task of improving student life, and although we were not here for the massive student life survey (coordinated by Dean of the College Peter Murphy) that marked the beginning of his tenure, we have seen in all our dealings with President Payne the concern and enthusiasm for students that drove that survey.
In our experience, and we do not believe ourselves to be unique among students, President Payne has always been open to new ideas and generous with his time. Any student who has ever emailed President Payne has probably received a prompt response. The President’s Office provided generous financial support for many new programs, including the Williams College Debate Union.
The announcement of Payne’s unexpectedly early departure has sparked controversy and uncertainty on campus and within the greater Williams community. Witness the article in the September 8 Advocate entitled “Considering the fate of the Payne presidency at Williams.” The article quoted several current and former faculty members, anonymously, who criticized Payne for being too forceful with the faculty, too shy and simply for never being part of the Williams Community.
However, we feel that Payne’s record for the last six years stands on its own. We can only judge the man from what we know and to the Record President Payne has always been a friend.
We hope that people evaluating Payne look positively upon his many accomplishments here at Williams. And we hope that the Williams community, students, faculty, administrators and alumni alike, can heed the advice Payne gave at last week’s faculty meeting: “beware of insularity.”
Most people do come to Williams in order to leave. It is important to keep that in mind as the College continues to move forward. For being open to new ideas, for avoiding that insularity in his own presidency, we at the Record thank President Payne and wish him well.