Richard Kelley, the new Activities Coordinator for the College, is a busy man. In addition to handling the financial accounts for 160 student groups, he works as the Dean’s Office representative to the housing committee, assists the chair of the lecture committee, and handles the budgets for the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) and the calendar office.
And that’s not even taking into account the daily work he puts in as a major player in the effort to keep the Goodrich Student Center running smoothly, a task that has occupied more of his time than he originally expected. Kelley says that his role with Goodrich, initially conceived as a resource for students, has expanded considerably.
“My role now is more day-to-day,” he said. “I handle a lot of the legwork. It could be a third to half of the day, depending on the problems you’re talking about.”
Kelley’s responsibilities have ballooned in other areas as well. “I just think that the position has turned out to be different than people initially expected,” he said. “I think initially it was, we need to provide support for the students, but after I got here it was, what are all the areas on campus that other office are handling that should be under student activities, that would be a better fit?”
Kelley has also been charged with overseeing a budget of $25,000, most of which is devoted to augmenting student group funds. Although requests for aid have slowed since last semester, Kelley says that the budget is simply not big enough to keep everyone happy.
Even so, whereas last year’s budget was almost completely tapped by October, Kelley has managed to ration his fund, so that roughly $4000 remains. Kelley’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. Dean Steven Sneed, Kelley’s supervisor, has been impressed by Kelley’s work since his first day on the job last July.
“The honeymoon continues, as far as I’m concerned,” Sneed said. “Rich’s devotion to students is just the type that we hope to have at Williams.”
College Council Treasurer Nelson Hioe, who works closely with Kelley, added, “Rich is great, always on the ball. He’s been asked to do a lot, and it seems to me he’s done it all very cheerfully.”
While he is still getting used to his new environs, Kelley likes what he has seen so far. “I definitely have more of a life here than I did when I was in Michigan. I like to go out and drive around, explore, just see the sights.”
Kelley attended Slippery Rock University, which is a dry campus, so adjusting to the relative freedom with alcohol granted to students here has been one of Kelley’s biggest challenges. “Alcohol concern was something I had to get used to,” he admits. “[Here] you can have alcohol pretty much anywhere. Alcohol, I
think, is the biggest [potential] liability that this school has.”
One of Kelley’s chief goals has thus been encouraging students to embrace entertainment options that do not involve alcohol. Part of the reason for his hiring, he said, was that “the school wanted the students to see—and I think the students wanted this, too—that there can be more than just social programming that [involves] alcohol. Student activities include concerts and theater productions and dance, educational programs, diversity events, movies. I just don’t think that people really know that’s there’s more than just social parties with alcohol.”
Another aspect of Williams life that Kelley finds unique—as well as impressive—is the dedication of students to extracurricular activities. “There’s definitely a higher level of motivation on the [part] of the students here,” he said. “I even find that I have to stop and tell people, think about how much you have to do right now, can you really afford to do anything more?
“Students here are so responsible and have so much say in the day to day operations of the College that it really took me a while to get used to it. The conclusion I’ve come to is, if students want my help they’ll ask for it, and if not I just need to back off.” At most other schools, student groups are required to have faculty or staff advisers. Not so at Williams. “The thing that makes me most afraid,” Kelley said, “is the liability, the legal issues, the risk. Most other campuses require [advisers] for liability reasons.”
Consequently, Kelley is currently trying to implement a system in which each student group would be paired with a faculty or staff adviser. He does so with the understanding that such a system would run contrary to the more laissez-faire philosophy honored by most students. “There’s a fear that advisers will come in and tell kids what to do,” he says, but then adds, “That’s definitely not my intention.”
Kelley recently presented his plan, in which he emphasizes the fact that give students would be able to choose their own advisers, to the CUL. The committee recognized the potential benefits of the system, but raised questions concerning both reception and implementation.
“I think all types of student groups have valued their autonomy and would be concerned, I think incorrectly, at the appearance of adult supervision,” chairman of the CUL and Jackson Professor of Religion William Darrow said. “We all recognized that this is a change in the way we’ve done things at Williams, though not as monumental a change as it appears on first hearing.” Still, he seemed hopeful that an adviser system could be effectively implemented: “It does have the potential for encouraging a new and fruitful venue for students, staff and faculty to interact.”
Kelley remains cautiously optimistic. While he is confident that the change is a vital one, he realizes that it may take time. He plans to be around to see the proposal through.
A native of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Kelley attended Slippery Rock University, where he received a B.A. in modern foreign languages. In 1991 he received a Master’s in higher education administration, also from Slippery Rock. Before coming to Williams, Kelley spent eight years as the Director of Campus Programs at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan. Although he had never heard of Williams before applying for the job, he already had an affinity for this area. “I knew that when I left the Midwest I wanted to come to New England,” he said.
“There are three things that make me happy,” he said. “One, do I like the area that I’m in, and I knew I liked New England, so I got that. I have to like the job—I’ve got that. And the third is just family and friends. Well, I can build that here.”