In a close vote, the faculty passed the Committee on Calendar and Scheduling’s (CCS) proposal to change Mountain Day from its current status to its old, more spontaneous format on a trial basis this fall. Instead of marking a specific day as Mountain Day, the President will call for a college holiday on a random fall Friday.
“The original rationale for the change was that life is intense at Williams—there is a lot of stress and no sense of release,” said professor of biology Heather Williams, chair of the CCS. “This will provide that and hopefully help to build the community through a spontaneous, lighthearted day.”
According to Scott Lewis, director of the Williams Outing Club (WOC), which runs Mountain Day, “One of the amazing things about this change is that I had very little to do with it. Heather Williams called me. I didn’t approach her.”
After abolishing Mountain Day in 1934, students began advocating its return in the 1960s. Since 1981 Mountain Day has been held on an assigned Sunday in October. According to Lewis, the bicentennial celebration in 1993 marked an increase in attendance from about 40 people to 400. This number has remained fairly steady, but the success of any given year depended on the weather.
Therefore, Lewis said, though the logistics will be more difficult, “nothing will be impossible. We may run out of donuts or cider, but the weather will be pretty much guaranteed, unlike in the past.” Hikes that were staggered in previous years will likely leave at the same time, and everyone should return to campus by 4 p.m.
While no specific details have been worked out, Mountain Day will be restricted to a Friday to avoid sections of classes falling behind schedule if conferences and labs scheduled Monday through Thursday were skipped.
The current plan is for the President to wake up one Friday morning and deem it Mountain Day by ringing, or causing the ringing of, the bells at about 7:30 a.m. Williams noted that they will have to find a way to ensure everyone hears the bells and we “expect that some will just sleep in but as long as a substantial part of the community participates, we will consider the day a success.”
“The purpose is a community gathering for which faculty and staff are willing to put aside a day of classes,” Lewis said. “Academics are why we are here, but community is also highly valued.”
By holding Mountain Day during the week, both Williams and Lewis expect more faculty participation. By ringing the bells, the goal is for the faculty to also leave their offices and join students up on Stony Ledge. In the past, “maybe six or seven faculty members have come but since it will be on a school day, there should be less interference with family or other obligations,” Lewis said.
According to Williams, the faculty engaged in a good-natured discussion about the proposal. There were some who felt that the change represented an anti-academic move by the college. “For fields like sciences and languages that depend on an accumulation of knowledge, the unforeseeability of the holiday would seriously disrupt syllabi and
regular quiz arrangements,” explained Chair of the Romance Language Department Gene Bell-Villada. “The term ‘playing hooky’ was used and there is already enough of that around Fall Reading Period and Thanksgiving. This will add another long weekend that disrupts the learning process.”
Williams and Lewis both give credit to College Council Co-President Bert Leatherman’s input at the faculty meeting in helping to swing the faculty’s vote. “I offered a few observations on community at Williams and how a spontaneous Mountain Day could help build community here,” Leatherman said.
“A spontaneous Mountain Day is an important first step toward clarifying the importance of community beyond the classroom, and I am grateful to the faculty for its endorsement not only of the proposal but also of what it symbolizes—a commitment to setting aside routines in order for us all to share quality time together.”