Morton Owen Schapiro was officially introduced to Williams as the College’s 16th president at a Friday ceremony in Chapin Hall.
Schapiro, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the economics of higher education, was appointed to the presidency by the College’s Board of Trustees last Tuesday.
Schapiro is a former Williams faculty member and is currently a professor of economics at the University of Southern California (USC). He is also dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and vice president for planning at USC. On July 1, he will succeed Carl Vogt ’58, who has served as president of Williams since Harry Payne resigned at the beginning of the academic year.
“In both heart and intellect, Morty Schapiro is a great match for Williams College,” said Raymond Henze III ’74 before the ceremony. Henze is chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and chair of the presidential search committee.
“[Schapiro] lives to teach – both in the classroom and in his scholarly work, which is of the highest order,” Henze said. “He has proven to be an effective leader, skilled both at listening and doing.
Henze continued: “He’s passionate about the importance of residential liberal arts education, a world where the College stands to enhance its leadership position under Morty’s direction. This will truly be an exciting time for Williams.”
After an introduction from Henze, Schapiro began his remarks saying, “I’m almost speechless, but I’m not.” Schapiro explained, “Sometimes it takes going away to realize what is so special about a community.”
Schapiro took the opportunity not only to introduce himself but also to comment on some principles that he feels are important in a liberal arts education.
Schapiro highlighted the need to increase the number of students who attend colleges of Williams’ caliber and explained that of the 15 million students currently enrolled in institutions of higher learning, fewer than 100,000 are enrolled in small colleges like Williams.
“Only about 92,000 are lucky enough to be getting education like we provide at Williams College – the best example of undergraduate education in the country,” said Schapiro, “A lot more students than 92,000 should be at the Williams Colleges of America.”
Schapiro commented that many other institutions look to Williams to define excellence and that Williams must seek to not only market itself better but to also “ensure that we are providing the best product.”
On the issue of affordability, Schapiro applauded the Williams administration for taking the initiative to freeze tuition rates for the coming academic year. Schapiro reiterated the College’s long-standing commitment to need-blind admissions and spoke of diversity as a key element of the student body.
Schapiro also discussed technology, noting that the College must embrace distance learning if it is to be a leader in that area.
Following the Williams tradition, Schapiro plans to continue teaching during his presidency. He also spoke of the need to more fully incorporate interdisciplinary teaching into the curriculum at Williams.
As a final note, Schapiro addressed the results of a recent survey given to first-year college students across the nation, in which responses about goals and values have been very worrisome, he said.
“The one thing that increases is [students’] desire to be wealthy,” Schapiro said. He added that the number of students who value community is on the decline.
“I would love to see the Williams Colleges of the world step forward” and institute “real-world” learning experiences for their students, Schapiro said. “Someone’s going to do it – it should be Williams College.”
In closing, Schapiro shared the response he has been giving to those at USC who have questioned his decision to go back to Williams, where he worked his way up the ranks from an assistant economics professor to assistant provost over 11 years.
“What I said to them was, ‘I’m not going back at all – I’m going home.”
Schapiro comes to Williams with many accolades from officials at USC and other institutions.“It’s very sad for us that he is leaving. He’s been wonderful as a dean,” said Sarah Pratt, dean of academic programs at USC. “But Williams is one of the leading liberal arts colleges that influences many other institutions. Morty has the energy and the vision to make that model all that it should be.”
Lloyd Armstrong Jr., the provost at USC who appointed Schapiro as dean in 1994, said, “Morty Schapiro has had a major impact on academic life at USC. His leadership in revamping general education requirements and developing the core curriculum paved the way for an enhanced major-minor program. He and his team deserve much of the credit for improved student satisfaction, better graduation rates and better student retention rates.
“Morty has been extremely effective in improving the academic quality of the College during a period when financial resources have been limited,” Armstrong continued. “He has been very successful in recruiting stellar new faculty into the college at both the junior and senior level.”
Schapiro also drew praise from William G. Bowen, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and former president of Princeton University. Bowen said, “Morty Schapiro’s election as the president of Williams is simply splendid news – for Williams, of course, but also for all of higher education.
“He is not only an excellent scholar, a fine teacher and an accomplished administrator, he is also a person with fine values who understands so well why education matters. All of us concerned with the large purposes that higher education serves in America have reason to be delighted by this appointment.”
“Morty is, above all, an outstanding teacher,” said Michael McPherson, president of Macalester College and a former colleague at Williams. “He believes deeply in liberal education, and he’ll be completely in his element back at Williams. Liberal arts colleges, including Williams, face huge challenges in the coming decade. Morty Schapiro will help Williams to preserve what’s central to its purpose while leading the kinds of change new circumstances require.”