As President of the College Harry C. Payne moves on, newly appointed Interim President Carl Vogt ’58 moves in, at least for the time being. Vogt’s credentials are impressive, to say the least, and his dedication to the College and to the presidency appear unimpeachable.
That said, Vogt’s appointment must not be treated without a certain amount of scrutiny and skepticism. At the very least, there are several potentially troubling questions – matters of procedure, timing and ramification – that must be answered publicly and candidly by the Williams trustees and, ultimately, by Interim President Vogt.
Vogt is only the second interim president in Williams’s history, and while this is by no means a damning indictment in and of itself, it does underscore the unique circumstances of Vogt’s appointment. The announcement that Payne was leaving campus eight months sooner than previously expected arrived only in a sudden, and very surprising, all-campus mailing. This announcement was problematic not because of what it contained, but rather because of what it didn’t contain: any evidence that the decision was a reasonable, unbiased one that followed standard and unhurried procedure.
Perhaps we say this simply because the move took place over the summer, because we arrived on campus to a decision we didn’t even know was being considered. Nevertheless, now that we are aware of the decision, we have every right to examine it carefully and critically.
At first glance, Vogt is not an obvious choice to serve as interim president. The Advocate wrote on September 8, that Dean of Faculty D.L. Smith would normally serve as acting president in the event of a presidential sabbatical or leave of absence. Smith has said he is delighted that Vogt will serve as interim president and that he will not have to interrupt his tenure as Dean of the Faculty.
In many ways, however, it is equally disruptive for a trustee to serve as president. The separation of administration and trustees – whose immediate interests are often in considerable friction – is an integral, if not essential, structural aspect of Williams’ own government. By breaking down this functional wall, the trustees pose a threat of disruption that must be handled with great prudence and caution.
This brings us to the chief question: how will Vogt administrate? It seems there are two paths he could take. He could, in essence, perform maintenance, following through and perhaps elaborating slightly on Payne’s initiatives but generally supporting the status quo until a full-time replacement is found. Or he could initiate substantive changes of his own, altering the Williams landscape even in his abbreviated tenure. Vogt spoke generally about the future in an interview with the Record. Still, questions remain. What will he do? What should he do, as an interim? These questions demand meaningful and immediate public discourse.
For proof of this, one need look no further than one of Vogt’s most important new roles as president: his position on the Committee on Appointments and Promotions. Vogt is now one of six people in charge of tenure hearings for eligible professors. What are the implications of having a non-academic on the CAP? A trustee? A tenure hearing is among the largest shapers of the College’s academic environment; as such, it is imperative that the faculty and the student body have complete faith in the sanctity of the process and the men involved.
We have no reason whatsoever to distrust Vogt himself, but we would be remiss if we did not at least question the manner in which he was appointed and its implications on his term.