Oxford changes require reaccreditation

Williams Oxford students might be issued new ID cards next fall with the title “visiting student” printed on them. Presently, Williams students are considered “associate students” to the university, a classification of a non-Oxford student that gives the people studying abroad less access to the University’s resources.

Of the estimated ten thousand students who attend Oxford University, about ten percent of the student body consists of non-Oxford students, a majority of whom are visiting students. The College’s program, along with those run by Stanford University and the University of Georgia, is one of the few that enrolls students at the university as associate students, a policy that Williams has maintained since the inception of the Oxford program in 1985.

At the time of the program’s founding, John Chandler, then president of the College, said the College’s program was “more closely integrated with the Oxford structure than any other [college] in America.” Since this time, however, the dynamics of the university have changed, affecting the relationship between the Williams Program and Oxford.

Two years ago, the university re-examined its policies regarding non-Oxford students, stating that they would prefer all non-Oxford students to be “visiting students.” The university hopes that such a change would give Oxford a greater control over the independent programs that send students to the university.

The College does not oppose this decision, as its effects would only improve the quality of the Williams-in-Oxford program by granting College students greater access to the university’s vast resources. Tom Wintner, assistant dean of the faculty, explained that from the student standpoint, there would be no loss.

The students of the Williams Oxford program unanimously agree that the biggest gain from the change would be the increased library access to the Bodleian library and its dependents, where presently associate students can only study from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, but where visiting students have unfettered access.

Due to the restrictions of these hours, students are forced to study during active hours of the day, limiting their opportunities at the university and their interaction with Oxford students. Associate standing has restricted student entrance into specialty libraries, such as the politics, international relations and sociology libraries, as well, forcing the College to make individual arrangements with the various departments.

The status of visiting students would also would improve the integration of Williams students into the university community. Andrew Golden ’03, a former participant in the Oxford program, explained that the rank of associate students “meant that we were essentially third-class citizens in Oxford.”

As an associate student, Williams students are not enrolled directly into one of the 39 colleges of Oxford; rather, the College maintains its own program that is affiliated with Exeter College. Next year, however, students may be official students at Exeter.

Under this umbrella, College students should have an easier time securing tutors for their courses. Williams students would also be able to compete in varsity sports against Cambridge along with Oxford students and would have better access to athletic facilities, language labs and counseling opportunities.

While the College has explored the possibility of changing the title of Williams Oxford students, they previously have hesitated because of concerns about relinquishing autonomy. Since the College owns the Williams-in-Oxford program’s complex, College students live in one of four buildings owned by the College, and the College provides all needed services. The College’s program has its own admissions process and full-time director, Christopher Waters, professor of history, who was unavailable for comment on the proposed changes.

As a liberal arts school, the College also wishes to keep control over the breadth of classes its students can take since Oxford encourages a more focused curriculum for every student. Besides curriculum, the College would like to continue to oversee the academics and grading of its own students.

Over the next few months, the College will be negotiating an agreement with Exeter College on how to integrate the Williams Oxford Program into the Exeter College community.

Thomas Kohut, dean of the faculty, and Catharine Hill, provost, eventually will travel to Oxford to meet with Exeter administrators. The administration plans for all discussions to conclude in time for the changes to be in effect for the next academic year.

Wintner said that the College will pursue “anything we can do to keep the program and enhance what it can do for our students.”

Administrators especially will have to reevaluate financial agreements between the College and Oxford, since the College presently makes parcel payments for access to Exeter’s services and resources. For example, in order for students to attend university lectures, the College pays an individual fee of five hundred pounds per student. Dean Wintner, however, explained that for students, there is “no reason that there will be a change in the Williams price-tag.”

While negotiations have yet to commence in earnest, the potential benefits of the new policy appear promising. As one Williams Oxford student pointed out, however, the true benefit of the new visiting title on student IDs is that “students would be less likely to get funny looks from bouncers at clubs.”