In the years ahead, there are many new buildings and renovations planned for the Williams campus. The College will be improving our theatre facilities, renovating Mission dining hall and, eventually, building a new student center. Due to labor restrictions in the area, Williams can only undertake one or two major projects each year. These decisions are undoubtedly difficult, but I think that the administration has ignored the need for improvement in Williams’ athletic facilities. There is some discourse about renovations of athletic facilities, but no plans are finalized. One can only assume that any changes will take place after the new student center is built, if ever. Even as a freshman, I have little hope of experiencing any improvements.
What distresses me the most about the decision to ignore some of the dilapidated facilities on campus is the way that the administration seems to be turning its back on the College’s sports. A central issue on campus this year, to which a debate was dedicated, was the role of athletics in admissions and on this campus. The dialogue of the administration emphasized that sports are not central to this college. Although education is obviously the reason that we all are here, athletics are a core part of the Williams experience. My concern is that in de-emphasizing the role of sports, the administration has diverted funds away from athletic improvements that would benefit the school a great deal.
As I’m sure everyone is aware, Williams routinely wins the Div. III Sears Cup, and our teams dominate the NESCAC in almost every sport. However, we arguably have the worst facilities in the NESCAC. There are obvious ways to counter to this statement: the squash courts are gorgeous, the new basketball court is great and the football field has charm, but the rest of the facilities could use a serious overhaul.
Perhaps the most egregious example is the weight room. It is extremely small and ill equipped for a college such as ours. If a student is unfortunate enough to go to the weight room during a crowded period, he or she may have to wait up to 20 minutes to use a specific machine. My high school weight room was much nicer and more spacious, and I went to a public school. I’m sure the hockey team would appreciate a real hockey rink. Each time a player is checked hard into the boards, I’m not sure if the board will stand. Also, the field house has to be one of the ugliest buildings on campus. I’m sure the players on every team have many examples of how their facilities could be improved.
The question remains as to why the administration has not enacted these changes. It is surely not for lack of money. Our endowment is enormous. Williams is also in a unique situation for a college in that improvements in athletic facilities would benefit almost everyone on campus. We have a remarkably high percentage of students involved in some organized athletic activity here. I’ve seen a number as high as 95 percent of all students have been active in varsity, club or intramural sports. Nice facilities would attract recruited athletes as well as applicants who are not recruited but plan on being involved in athletics. When a student is choosing between a number of similar highly selective schools, the differentiating factor may come down to athletic facilities.
I am afraid that the administration is trying too hard to diminish the impression that Williams is a sports school. Anyone who knows anything about our institution is keenly aware of the educational focus of the school. However, in their zeal to promote education, the administration is neglecting a huge part of the Williams experience: athletics, varsity and non-varsity. Some of the athletic facilities here are in serious need of improvement. Williams is a wealthy institution and its students deserve the best in facilities. However, when you look at the hockey rink, the weight room and the field house, it is evident that the school has done nothing to improve these facilities recently.
There is no reason to de-emphasize athletics at Williams, as it is an integral part of the Williams experience for many students. When compared to many other colleges of our size and academic reputation, some of our facilities fall desperately short of other schools. The athletes here work extremely hard and deserve every advantage that this institution can reasonably provide.
The extent to which the administration will go to de-emphasize athletics is best shown by their response to George Steinbrenner’s offer to build a minor league-quality baseball field for Williams. The administration flatly refused this offer largely because they didn’t want athletics to become too central on campus. It is ridiculous to think that having nice facilities and good teams somehow takes away from the academic experience. Clearly, the administration is aware of the condition of many of the athletic facilities. They choose not to improve them, however, because they believe that this will somehow ruin the academic integrity of Williams. I ask the administration to rethink this policy and allow the remarkable scholar-athletes on this campus to enjoy the best facilities that Williams can offer.