An open letter to an incoming president

Not every Record editorial board gets the chance to welcome a new president to Williams College, so we feel we would be remiss if we were to squander the opportunity. Therefore, the rest of this editorial is addressed specifically to President Vogt, although the rest of you are more than welcome, as far as we’re concerned, to read over his shoulder.

President Vogt: Welcome back to Williams College. You are very familiar with the place as an alumnus and a trustee, but you will doubtless learn far more about today’s Williams during your presidency than most of us will ever know. Enjoy that. Of course, as current Williams students, we feel we know a thing or two as well, and would like to offer you our advice. We hope you will pardon our presumption in so doing.

After a day of work, you’re off to a good start, appearing yesterday at the announcement of the College’s pledge of support for the Williamstown Elementary School in the morning and a reception for the new Morley Science Laboratories in the evening. Both of these events were important because they included members of both the College and the greater Williamstown community. With the Theatre and Dance complex and the Spring Street renovations slated to break ground sometime soon, the College’s relationship with the community will continue to be crucial. Keep it up.

Our next bit of advice seems so obvious to us we’re almost embarrassed to mention it, but do your best to get to know the students. Answer your emails, go to football games, go to the snack bar. Be visible. And with visibility comes straightforwardness: be as candid and open as possible with the student body.

Use these first few days. As you already know, and as you’ll learn better than we could imagine, the job of president is a very difficult one. A lot of people expect a lot of things of you, and aren’t shy about letting you know. Still, we all understand that you’re getting used to the place and the job and as a result, we might be a little less strident about some of our demands. For a while. Enjoy it; it won’t last.

Finally, to quote another famous Williams president, “avoid insularity.” In our brief time here, we at the Record are able to discern a marked trend at Williams towards ignoring the work of others and trying always to start again from the beginnings. Everyone wants to start an organization, no one wants to join one. Here at Williams we take our uniqueness very seriously, and in many areas – the JA system springs immediately to mind – we are unlike almost any other school. But we are not so unlike those schools that we cannot learn from them. Just because something works well at another College might not be a reason to try it at Williams, but then again, it might. In any case, it certainly isn’t a reason to rule it out.

In other words, keep your eyes and ears open: not just to developments at other schools, but to the needs of college and community, student body, faculty and administration. Most importantly, be acutely aware and respectful of the delicate balances between them.

Before long, bigger issues – the Theatre and Dance complex and tenure hearings, to cite two – will see to it that the honeymoon is over. But, even by then, the foundation of your administration will in many ways have been laid. These first few weeks, President Vogt, will resonate throughout the rest of your term. We hope they are marked by integrity and responsiveness. Thanks for listening. Good luck.

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