Theater & dance complex resolution highlights importance of Williamstown relationship

As both our front page and our interview with President Schapiro make clear, cooler heads have prevailed concerning the issue of the theater and dance complex. President Schapiro has focused his energy on getting “the whole community involved in moving forward together.” The issue of community is precisely what has been at stake all along, and we at the Record appreciate the president’s candor on this matter. In fact, problems began when the College administration did not work to get the whole community involved.

Williams is an institution run by committee. At its best, this means that all aspects of community life – faculty, students, staff and the Williamstown community – get equal consideration, even if most of the considering occurs in faculty committees. At its worst, this means that committee process and the deliberation that comes with it sometimes give way to action and getting things done.

Unfortunately, until Oct. 10, the Williams community found itself in a paradoxical position regarding the traditional assets and liabilities of the committee process. The proposed theater and dance complex neither went through the regular channels of faculty committee, most notably the Committee on Priorities and Resources, nor was it actually completed. Williams College has nothing to show for a $20 million gift given nearly three years ago, except for strained relations with the community, a discontented faculty, a donor who saw nothing come of his gift and a student body that had lost sight of the project long ago.

The words of Helen Oulette, vice president for administration, pique our interest. She states, “We do listen to what people in the town say, a lot more than they are aware of. But the College will always do everything within our legal rights to do on our property that best fulfills our mission. If we had continued to think that our mission was best fulfilled by building [at the corner of Spring and Latham Streets], we would have done it.”

Certainly we would say that the College should do everything to fulfill its mission, but there ought not be any dichotomy between the College’s mission and its membership in the community. The College should also acknowledge the work of the Williamstown Community Association (WCA), which had concerns about the project from the beginning, and was given a false hope two years ago when Sasaki and Associates were hired to evaluate sites for the facility. We would not advocate, of course, that the college run all decisions by the WCA in the future, but that it makes sure town issues are considered.

Faculty committees help ensure this. As community residents themselves, the faculty have the context to think of both the College and the town. While we students call Williamstown home for four years, the faculty are constant fixtures. As such, a decision detrimental to the town is detrimental to the faculty.

An interesting juxtaposition to consider here, though, are the remarks of Professor Tom Kohut, dean of the faculty, who sarcastically warned President Schapiro at his induction that during his tenure the president would have to deal with “a bunch of whiners.” Of course, we take this remark with a handful of salt, but wonder in all honesty if there is some underlying truth to it, however overstated it may be.

Committees exist to complete projects, not to stall them. With our present issue of the theater and dance complex, the College will have to begin an entirely new committee process.

This provides an opportunity to complete from project – from initial plans to actual student performances – in a timely manner, respecting the donor, the faculty, the students and the community.

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