Shapiro presides over first faculty meeting

For 11 years, Morton Owen Schapiro sat among his colleagues at Williams faculty meetings. After a nine-year hiatus, Wednesday, Sept. 19 marked his return as a faculty member; this time he presided as president of the College.

After Tom Kohut, dean of the faculty, introduced the new faculty members, Schapiro began his remarks, recalling his days in the so-called “peanut gallery.” He told faculty members that the obligations of his new position are “scary,” but that he was happy to be returning to the community that he has missed for the last nine years.

At the meeting Schapiro laid out his vision of a new strategic plan for Williams, while faculty members discussed intellectual property issues and the proposed theater and dance center.

Schapiro’s introduction

Schapiro used his time in front of the faculty to discuss his formula for creating a new form of undergraduate education that, if perfected at an “ideal” location like Williams, could be exported to other institutions. He explained his conviction that strategic planning must be the first step in this reevaluation process.

Schapiro said it is essential for Williams to develop a broad educational vision in order to help him determine which gifts from alumni to accept and which gifts to decline. When he was the vice president for planning at the University of Southern California, Schapiro declined several large donations and said he “regretted some of the gifts that he did accept, but never regretted any of the gifts that he declined.”

In order to form this strategic vision, Schapiro spoke of his plans to work with the existing committee structure and have each committee work on an aspect of the overall plan, in order to make it a coordination of various constituencies, not an imposed system.

As part of his plan to reexamine the Williams curriculum, Schapiro said the College must consider several options, including a reinvigoration of the tutorial program, more effective use of technology as a teaching tool, and a workload reallocation to allow the faculty to spend more time with students.

Schapiro then spoke about infrastructure, expressing his belief that the new Integrated Science Center is an outstanding example of Williams’ potential.

“We need to replicate for Divisions I and II what we just finished with the new Science Center,” he said. The renovations of Baxter and Stetson Halls are top priorities for Schapiro.

Schapiro ended his remarks by saying that size of the student body should be on the table as well as the size of the faculty and their teaching load.

The new deans

Following Schapiro’s remarks, Kohut and Nancy Roseman, dean of the College, made their inaugural comments from their new positions.

Kohut echoed Schapiro’s statements, distinguishing between the two main elements of Williams: student life and academic life. As dean of the faculty, he said, it is his charge to stay abreast of academic life.

On the academic side, Kohut said he was especially excited to work with Schapiro on three main elements: curricular innovation, expansion of the faculty and teaching load reduction.

Roseman spoke about student life and student services at Williams, encouraging professors to refer struggling students to the Dean’s Office.

She also announced that, along with Dave Johnson, assistant dean of the College, she will co-chair a committee developing plans for renovating Baxter Hall.

The faculty then discussed issues of intellectual property. One of the charges of the ad hoc Technology Committee formed last year was to examine the College’s policies on intellectual property. The co-chairs of the committee – Kim Bruce, a professor of computer science and Sherron Knopp, a professor of English – delivered their final report, which is available online at http://www.cs.williams.edu/~kim/TechCom.

The committee’s report emphasizes the need for the College to form a coherent policy on intellectual property rights as more professors explore opportunities with distance-learning organizations. Kohut will write an official policy into the faculty handbook based on the committee’s report.

Theater and dance center

The final issue taken up by the faculty was the proposed theater and dance center. William Wagner, a professor of history and chair of the Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR), explained that the cost of the project has increased. The current estimate is that the project will now cost $38 million plus an additional $5 million to build supporting town facilities, including a parking garage.

Wagner also said that the current estimate calls for an additional allocation of $27 million of endowment funds for annual support. Since it takes about $2 million of endowment funds to meet the cost of an additional professor, the annual maintenance of the center will cost as much as hiring about 14 full-time professors.

Various faculty members reiterated their sentiment that the entire project seems to be spiraling out of control. Frank Morgan, a professor of mathematics, asked if the College was even in a position to cancel the project at this point.

Wagner responded that the CPR was only an advisory committee and had no actual power in making such decisions. The president and the Board of Trustees decide whether or not to accept major donations and how to allocate College resources.

Roger Bolton, a professor of economics, stated that he remained troubled by last year’s selection of Spring Street as the location for the project. Bolton also commended Schapiro’s commitment to working to inform potential major-project donors on key issues.

Tim Cook, a professor of political science, asked if at this point the College could reconsider the location of the site. Schapiro admitted that he was coming into the project late, but indicated that the Board of Trustees revisited the issue last spring and “it remains a go project.”