President Harry C. Payne announced he will leave his office effective October 9, coinciding with a meeting of the College’s Board of Trustees. Payne had previously stated his intention to leave his position at the end of the academic year.
Payne’s office will be filled by trustee and Presidential Search Committee member Carl W. Vogt ’58. Vogt will serve as interim president for the 1999-2000 academic year.
In a private interview Payne said, “I tried to be careful in my wording by saying it is my intention to stay through June 2000, but in conversation and in interviews I freely said that since I was looking out in the world beyond the academy, a world that doesn’t work on a September to June schedule, that I could not absolutely promise that I was going to be there.
“I was frank about that from the beginning because I did see this as a moment in my life where I wanted at least the possibility to seek things outside of the academy.”
Concerning specific future plans, Payne said, “I have no full-time leadership position as yet. That could be anywhere from one month to two or three years from now…It became clear that by January there will be some bundle of opportunities. Then you just have to think about what is fair and what works for the College correctly.”
Payne mentioned the Internet and high-end knowledge retrieval on the software side as fields that he might be interested in exploring as well as the issue of environmental education in the liberal arts college.
“The reality is that this year would have been a transitional year for Williams whether I stayed the full year or not,” Payne said. “My presidency this year would be an interim presidency even if it didn’t bear the title.”
Payne expressed delight that Vogt will take on the role of interim president. In a letter to the community Payne stated, “Carl is a good friend of Williams and this President, and a person of great intelligence, integrity and sympathy for the goals of the College.”
Vogt is a senior partner resident in the Washington office of Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., an international firm with over 600 lawyers. He is also a three-time presidential appointee and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. His experience in higher education includes representing Duke University for 25 years and serving on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the National Association of College and University Attorneys.
In his letter to the community Payne stated that his decision was made after discussions with the College’s Board of Trustees. Payne chose the date of October 9 “after the start of the year, but at the beginning of many of our planning and appointment processes.”
In a separate letter to the community, Raymond F. Henze III ’74, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Presidential Search Committee, said “On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to thank Hank Payne for his role in planning the smoothest possible transition in leadership for the College, including this move to an interim presidency at the October board meeting. Hank has the Board’s appreciation and very best wishes as he pursues the next stage in his career.”
Controversy has surrounded Payne’s announcement as students, faculty and members of the community furiously tried to understand what had gone on. The announcement that Payne was moving his resignation date forward accompanied by the announcement that Williams will have only its second interim president in its 206 year history has raised many eyebrows.
Some of the discontent of the faculty towards Payne was expressed in an article by Linda Carman which appeared in the Advocate on September 8. In her article “Considering the fate of the Payne presidency at Williams,” Carman considered the thoughts of faculty and former faculty members who anonymously questioned the fit of Payne and the Williams presidency. Such thoughts have led to speculation on campus that there is something more behind Payne’s announcement. Carman brings up the performing arts center in her news analysis as a possible issue that caused a divide between Payne and the faculty.
In response to his relationship with the Williams community Payne said, “I actually think that I do understand; I just have not always agreed or have wanted to give comfort to some of the things that are ingrained in the local culture. That’s part of being a leader and taking some risks. I have no regrets on that score.”
As far as his legacy, Payne said that a “legacy tends to make me think of monuments. To me it’s much more of a story. The story of the last six years will be pockmarked by controversy. People remember controversy; that’s the nature of human mind to remember conflict and trouble…I do think it has been a very good six years in terms of the fundamental health of the institution.”
Payne also highlighted the work he has done in the arenas of student life and public affairs.
“When I was hired the one agenda that was on everybody’s mind was student life…I think over six years, largely through the work of Peter Murphy, I think we have changed over the philosophy in many ways, the people, the programs, the spaces involved in student life,” he said.
Payne also said, “Public affairs I think is the theme that is identified with me. There, in some ways, might be where presidential ‘bully-pulpit’ type leadership has been most evident. It was not on people’s mind when I arrived. I enunciated it and have been delighted at the resonances with students faculty and alumni.”
Payne also thought that he will always be remembered as an outsider who came into town. “This is a place that has not had a president from outside the family in 172 years. That does not happen by accident. It is not harmful to the community to have a little of perspective from outside the assumptions. Carl [Vogt] will bring that, I hope.”
Payne advised students “above all to remember that you are free. Freedom is scary, but you are so privileged, every one of you, and I am privileged. In some ways nobody deserves what we have. Just look around. And yet so often we hunker down into habits or hedge our bets and steer away from it.”
Payne also wants students to “realize that I am going to be a lot like you. I will be, in a sense, graduating from a liberal arts college. I will know a lot about a lot of things, but nothing in particular. If there is any consolation in the weeks ahead I am going to be in the same position as you are, albeit at a different level. It has elements of anxiety, but also it’s exhilarating.”