Six professors receive endowed chairs, increased opportunities for research

Not only will two deanships and a presidency change hands at Williams this July 1, but six professors will assume endowed chairs. The list includes John J. Gibson Professor of Environmental Studies Kai Lee, Provost Catharine Hill, visiting professor of classics David Porter, Dean of the Faculty and Francis Oakley Third Century Professor of English David L. Smith, Mark Hopkins Professor of Mathematics Colin Adams, and professor of philosophy Alan White of Philosophy.

The College administers well over 50 endowed professorships, each of which provides a professor with funds for research or education, often with use guidelines set by the original donors. The president and the dean of the faculty recommend appointments for approval by the Board of Trustees.

Kai Lee

New this year is the Rosenburg Professorship in Environmental Studies, to be inaugurated by Lee. The chair was established according to instructions by the late Robert F. Rosenburg ’37, son of Arthur E. Rosenburg, after whom the Rosenburg Center in Hopkins Forest is named.

Lee commented that the gift of a permanently endowed chair “validate[s] the role of environmental studies in the College.”

However, he was quick to point out that the Rosenburg family has also supported the Center for Environmental Studies (CES) in many other ways through the years, providing artifacts and “a wealth of information . . . and local knowledge” from Hopkins Forest.

Lee came to Williams as director of CES in 1991, following 18 teaching years at the University of Washington. Since 1980 he has served on nine committees for the National Academy of Sciences, focusing particularly on environmental policy studies. Most recently, he contributed to Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability, as a member of the Board on Sustainable Development, and plans to develop a new course called “Sustainable Earth” out of that work.

Catharine Hill

Lee will pass on the honor of the Gibson Professorship, a chair established in 1972 in memory of lawyer John J. Gibson ’31, to Hill. The Gibson Professorship has traditionally supported work in the economics department; previous holders include professors emeriti Richard Sabot and Henry Bruton.

Before becoming provost last summer, Hill had served as chair of the economics department and chair of the Center for Developmenal Economics before that. Her research has focused on economic development in Africa, and she recently spent three years advising Zambia’s Ministry of Finance. At Williams since 1985, Hill has seen the Gibson chair in action: “[Bruton] and I have worked closely over the years . . . . [and] I am honored to follow in his footsteps.”

David Porter

Besides the Rosenburg Professorship, this year will see the beginning of the Harry C. Payne Professorship in the Liberal Arts, to be inaugurated by visiting professor of classics David Porter. The Payne chair was created by the Board of Trustees last November, and “is designed to promote and support interdisciplinary teaching and research.”

Porter graduated from Swarthmore in 1958, and received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1962. He teaches Greek and Latin language, literature and culture. This year his courses include “Homer: The Odyssey,” and “Oratory and Rhetoric in Fifth-Century Athens.”

David L. Smith

As Smith steps down from his post of dean of the faculty this summer, he will assume the Class of 1961 John W. Chandler Professorship. This “unrestricted” chair was begun as a 25th Reunion Gift in 1986, to honor a man who, over the course of 30 years served as professor, provost, dean of the faculty, trustee, and 12th president of the College. It now passes from English professor John Reichert to Smith.

Smith has been with Williams since completing his graduate work at the University of Chicago in 1980. In that time he has served on all of the College’s major committees, chaired the Afro-American Studies program, published two books of poetry, won support for his work on race from the National Endowment for the Humanities and co-edited The Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History with Jack Salzman and Cornel West.

Currently he serves on the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and the Board of the Mark Twain House, and hosts a weekly program, “Let the Music Speak,” every Wednesday evening on the college radio station, WCFM.

Colin Adams

Smith’s appointment to the Chandler chair coincides with the end of his inaugural six-year term as Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor, a post now to be taken by mathematics professor Colin Adams.

The Oakley chair was established to honor the 13th College president in the year of his retirement, 1993, and like the Chandler chair, it is “unrestricted” in field of study.

Author of The Knot Book, an introduction to the mathematical theory of knots, and co-author of How to Ace Calculus: The Streetwise Guide, Adams has published more than 30 articles and given more than 140 lectures since coming to Williams 15 years ago. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported his work since 1988, and in 1998 the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) gave him their national distinguished Teaching Award.

Adams often gives lectures as his alter ego, real estate agent Mel Slugbate, and writes a regular humor column for the Mathematical Intelligencer. “I have been working on finding ways to make math fun,” he said. “Math is beautiful and pretty, but a lot of people are intimidated by it.”

Alan White

The venerable Mark Hopkins Professorship will go to White. The Mark Hopkins chair came about in 1884 through gifts from the class of 1824. Though not officially restricted to any particular field, it has been in the Philosophy Department for 85 of its years.

White, a senior professor and chair of the Philosophy Department, has taught at Williams since 1986. While pursuing his work in contemporary continental philosophy, he has published three books and served as Director of the Williams-Oxford Programme. This spring he is teaching a course on Heidegger.

White said that funds from the chair would provide “significantly more flexibility than I’ve had in the past,” and noted that he was preceded in the Hopkins chair by former philosophy colleagues Laszlo Versenyi and Daniel O’Connor: “It’s particularly an honor to me to be the successor to such fine professors.”