Alumnus Profile: Bob Bahr

The Alumnus Profile is a weekly feature that focuses on an alumnus’ experiences both today and during his or her time at Williams. Bob Bahr ’67, who is president of the Society of Alumni, talked with Record writers this weekend.

What do you do currently, outside the Alumni Society?

I’m an ophthalmologist in Providence, R.I.

What exactly does the president of the society do?

Well, I’m not entirely sure. No, just kidding. The Society of Alumni has an executive committee and together with the staff in Mears Office, we figure out programs for alumni and I officiate over the annual meetings. I’m invited to the meetings of the Board of Trustees as a representative of the Society of Alumni in the governance of the College. In addition, I think I have something to do in graduation, of which I’m not quite sure yet, because I’m just starting out in this job.

What other activities do you do here on campus?

The Executive Committee of the Society of the Alumni, which oversees the activities of alumni, meets three times a year: twice on campus and once off campus. The major themes we are pursuing are related to reunions, regional [societies of alumni]and the various affinity groups – young alumni, black alumni, Asian and Latino and BiGALA alumni. The Executive Committee doesn’t administer the Alumni Fund, but it reports to us. We supervise all the aspects of alumni with the help of the professionals in Mears House.

Does fundraising play a major role in the society? What does it do with the endowment?

The endowment is separate, but there is an annual fund that we provide and those are unrestricted funds that are raised every year. They represent about 6 to 7 percent of the College’s annual budget. There is a structure in place, a director of giving and so on to oversee that.

We want to ask you about how life was when you were at Williams. Now, about there not being women…

There were women. They just didn’t go here.

Well, how do you think the campus has changed with the admission of women?

I think it has dramatically changed in a variety of worthwhile, good ways. I had two daughters who went here, and I’ve seen their perspectives of and interactions with Williams.

There have been changes in curriculum, because of the areas of interests and voices of women and an increase in the classes that are taught.

The way in which men and women interact on campus is very different than what it was when I was here. Then we were in strange social circumstances. For example, we interacted with women in the “blind date” point of view, not really knowing them. In today’s context, it’d be kind of hard to understand what it’d be like here on a weekend, there were very different types of social interactions. Today, men and women live together, talk about things they care about, and care about each other – I think the whole tenor of campus has gotten a lot more challenging and interesting.

What was the most popular thing to do on a Saturday night?

Depended on what kind of weekend it was. For example, if there was a football game, there would be parties in all the dorms and row houses and girls would come to town and the campus would sort of swell. Basically, though, there would be parties, probably similar to how it is now.

On other weekends, people would leave the campus for road trips – there were trips to all over the place: to Northampton, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Vassar and other places. But it was a very different phenomenon, because there would be carloads of people going off to all over the place. So people got very good at driving far distances.

What sorts of things did you learn at Williams that have been very helpful for you in the real world?

Hopefully, quite a bit. How to think and analyze. Being able to come up with an idea and being comfortable defending it to others. The fact that you’re in a small college environment and speak up in classes helps you later on because not everyone gets that opportunity.

Do you have any vision for Williams? Where do you see the College going in the future?

I think I realize more now than I used to how unusual a place Williams is. Not just the excellence of Williams, but the uniqueness of our liberal arts educational ability in the setting where one is here for one’s intellect and how one interacts with others. There aren’t many schools functioning at our level; there are fewer still that are need-blind on financial aid. We offer a way of learning that is different from that in a traditional university.

Also, because of the economics these days, there are fewer places that can offer that going forward. Hopefully, we will stay one of the few places that are able to do so.

What role do you think alumni should play in the life of the College? What is a proper role for the Society of Alumni?

The view that most alumni have of Williams is different than at most other places. I have some ideas as to why, but I’m still not totally sure. It’s partly because it’s such an interesting place to go to school. There is a real cohesion among the students and a real feeling of family.

Also, we’re in a fairly isolated area, which builds on that and since the relationships people build tend to be very positive ones, the alumni have very strong warmth for the school. People feel that the school made more of a difference in how they ended up than at many other places. People also come back to campus more than at other places.

The alumni have a desire to help support the school after the fact and that happens in a variety of ways from mentoring students, offering internships and in the support and development area. The Executive Committee would like to interact more with the students and interact with the seniors. People think that the society is only here to raise money for the College, and although that is important so we can have better programs and facilities for the students here, there is a lot more that the alumni do interactively with each other, in fostering camaraderie among alumni.

When you’re a student you think, “they just want us to be their friends so [we] can give [them] money.” And, sure, there is a component of that, but we’re actually looking for participation over amount. We’re not just out there to raise money, but keep and build the bonds between each other through other ways such as interviewing students for admissions.