Bringing back the momentum for change

In the fall of 2000, now nearly five semesters ago, President Schapiro charged into Williamstown with a vision for change. Walking around campus that fall, the sense of excitement was almost palpable as he encouraged our community to re-evaluate the way we do nearly everything. He challenged that we were in the unique position to lead in the classroom and on the athletic fields, but had fallen behind other colleges in terms of our physical plant. The College community jumped at the opportunity to take fresh looks at our campus and policies – many of which had remained relatively stagnant for all too long.

The next year saw a flurry of activity as debates about residential life, academics, athletics and new building projects filled the agendas of committees and the pages of the Record. Now, two years after his inauguration, President Schapiro has seen some of the debates he spawned come to fruition. Students just last spring grappled with a controversial new housing policy, and architects presented plans for a world-class theater and conceptual ideas for Baxter. Additionally, the College began interviewing candidates to increase the size of the faculty.

Despite the revolutionary attitude of the last few semesters, the momentum seems to have slowed this fall – a sort of sophomore slump for the Schapiro presidency. Many of the bright new ideas which invigorated the campus a year ago have become part of the routine day-to-day composition of campus life. While the importance of these cannot be denied, the College must fulfill the mission President Schapiro gave us, and we, in return, challenge the administration to help us in this endeavor.

In the whirlwind of campus construction planning, many projects that were at the forefront of campus discussion last year have remained unresolved or have not been revisited for evaluation. Last year’s graduating editorial board of the Record charged the College to act with “endurance and transparency.” We as a community have not endured as we should have, and right now, before construction begins and campus energies are focused on those projects, we need to apply our concentration towards certain unresolved issues.

The CUL’s housing proposals had the potential to revitalize residential life at the College. While Community Life Coordinators and the new housing guidelines have made changes in some houses, the overall schema of housing has not changed significantly. Many houses are still seen as “belonging” to certain groups on campus and the pain caused by limited pick sizes and gender balancing outweighs the seemingly minimal benefit received from the purported increase in diversity. To ensure an eventually successful restructuring of residential life, it is time that the campus revisits last year’s proposals to determine what was successful and what was not.

Similarly, the role of athletics has been a hot topic ever since Bowen’s The Game of Life broached the subject over two years ago. Despite years of discussion and in-depth reports about the state of athletics at the College, the debate seems to have polarized the campus into two camps, and we fear that the recent inactivity is a sign that both sides have become complacent in their division. If the community decides to agree to disagree on this point, the status quo will prevail by default. After enormous effort has been thrown at this issue, we cannot afford to let our research go to waste. We need to arrive at concrete solutions about the role of athletics in the admissions process, and in the academic and social life on campus.

As evidenced in the mediocre results of the CUL reforms and the lack of closure in the athletics debate, a clear, pertinent and unified vision for the College is essential if Williams wishes to remain the institution of quality that we proudly call our own. So-called “sexy” projects – the Theatre and Dance Complex, for example – garner attention and symbolically portray the status of our institution.

However, short-term, lower-cost goals such as student advising and class size reduction would have a significant impact on student life despite their lack of panache. Achieving some improvements for students on a smaller scale will lay the foundation for the more sweeping changes that will be taking place in the next few years. Along with addressing immediate needs, we must not let the momentum and ideas generated last year stand by the wayside as we wait for the completion of longer-term projects.