Last fall, the administration initiated a College-wide strategic planning process consisting of a comprehensive review and a mandate for bold innovation. As ideas evolved into concrete proposals, the College strove to integrate the requisite practical necessities, such as faculty resources and physical space, with philosophical beliefs regarding the College’s educational mission.
Last year’s evaluation of the College’s curriculum by the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) both started and set the tone for this process. The proposals, on which the faculty voted in May, were created by the CEP through a year of community-wide discussion and deliberation.
As strategic planning progresses, new topics, such as residential life, technology in the classroom and the construction of a student center, will replace the curriculum in the College’s collective consciousness. In reviewing the processes exhibited in last year’s decision-making relating to the actualization of the CEP proposals, we would like to offer some suggestions for these new planning efforts.
There were many successes in the CEP’s work, and measures should be taken to ensure that similar processes are used in the coming year. Positive aspects of this method included the attempted inclusion of students, faculty and administrators, which, in turn, generated proposals from a wide range of opinions. In particular, the CEP provided opportunities for discussion at critical intervals by outlining a strategy and performing its work in clearly demarcated periods. The fact that the process proceeded through existing channels, here the CEP, instead of through a newly created ad hoc review committee was commendable as well. This action reaffirmed the College’s commitment to student-faculty committees ? those best suited to grapple with these issues ? in decision-making.
There was also a constant dissemination of information, with frequent updates of a website and all-campus mailings. The CEP prioritized its work, refining and combining ideas into a group of manageable proposals. Finally, the CEP worked to integrate aspects of the proposals to create a cohesive academic program ? for example, recognizing the ability of expanding tutorials to provide more avenues to achieve competencies in writing and speaking.
However, as strong as some aspects of curricular innovation were, we still see room for improvement. Departmental factionalism was often evidenced, with disagreements arising because of proposal’s perceived impact on particular departments rather than the potential effect across the curriculum. While we agree that minority interests should not be overlooked, we urge all parties to work towards compromise, ensuring that their particular interests are cared for while keeping in mind the community as a whole.
Though students undoubtedly contributed to the final outcome, their overall level of involvement was cursory at best. Positive student contributions were at times clouded by what were perceived as uninformed knee-jerk reactions. Lastly, although timing is often difficult to control, the culmination of all of the work in a finals’ week faculty meeting was disappointing. The process’ last few weeks felt rushed, and we fear that momentum may have been lost over the summer hiatus.
As we embark on a new year and become engaged in new projects, we hope that the positive spirit established by the CEP’s work last year will be learned from and built upon. As the CEP works to implement proposals approved last spring, the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) is due to initiate its own work on evaluating possibilities for improving student life and the residential component of the Williams education.
As the CUL sifts through comments and suggestions to create proposals, members of the college community should ask not only whether they as individuals like these changes but also what benefits and drawbacks they hold for the community as a whole. Therefore if the CUL decides that housing groups should be reduced to four people, the appropriate response is not to think locally ? what impact will it have on my housing group ? but more communally ? what impact might this have on the composition of dorms, will it increase diversity as hypothesized and how might it affect campus life next year as well as four years from now?
Likewise as plans get underway to renovate (or reconstruct altogether) Baxter, we hope that the administration will invite ideas from students and, like the CEP, allow the community to respond to plans at regular, planned intervals.
In an all-too-frequent recurrence in student life, alcohol incidents will unfortunately and inevitably occur throughout the year. The administration and students need to work with each other to tackle issues as they arise. The former should not swiftly invoke new policies and the latter should not immediately condemn them. Instead, it would be reasonable for a taskforce of administrators, security, faculty, students and the Williamstown police to examine reality ? students will drink on campus regardless of their age ? and create procedures that will simultaneously discourage more reckless drinking by underage students as well as promote good town-gown relations.
Other areas, such as the role of Spring Street, the state of diversity at Williams, the effectiveness of the Office of Career Counseling and the College’s student activities apparatus, among other issues, must also be included in a wide-ranging evaluation of student life.
As the execution and implementation of last year’s curricular reforms are carried through this year, the community looks to a second ? and equally important ? facet of the strategic plan: a comprehensive review of the life Williams students lead during their time here. As we did last year with our curriculum, hopefully the College will come together to act again in the same spirit, with an eye toward procedural details that ensure appropriate reforms.