It’s lonely at the top

Williams College, you are now ranked the top liberal arts college in the nation in both athletics and academics. This notion that we reign both in the classroom and on the athletic fields perhaps evokes strong emotions: pride and maybe awe (how in the world did I get admitted to such an amazing school?).

Some of us do not take such rankings all that seriously, for a number of reasons, but there is something that is now uncontestable: Williams is one of the foremost leaders in the field of education and a model for other colleges and universities across the nation to aspire to.

This is a time to celebrate, but it is also a time to realize that we have a prerogative and a responsibility to lead by example. Although we must prevent these rankings from going to our heads, we must nonetheless consciously hold ourselves up to our own high standards for growth and excellence knowing that others may follow in our steps. President Schapiro understands this and sees the potential for Williams to not only continue to excel, but also pioneer innovative programs in American education.

A ten-year strategic plan developed by the President and the board of trustees is already starting to transform the academic, residential and social landscapes of Williams and will no doubt continue to do so. Components of this plan include the expansion of the Oxford-style tutorial program, the recruitment of new faculty members with a special emphasis on bringing in new minority professors, the development of the Housing Coordinator system and the redesign and reconstruction of Baxter Hall.

These initiatives and others in the strategic plan will no doubt change Williams, but it is still to be decided whether or not they will be implemented in a way best suited to student needs and aligned with student opinion. Right now, most of these major initiatives are being designed, spearheaded and implemented almost exclusively by the administration and the board of Trustees.

There has often been a lack of student input into these kinds of initiatives, but it’s not because of any sort of resistance from the administration and board. Our administrators, our President, our board of trustees and others who are making major decisions for the College want to hear from students amply and regularly.

They take student opinion to heart because they know that the true mark of a top school is its ability to provide the best for their students based on their needs and opinions. The rankings that placed Williams at the top are a reflection of the quality of the undergraduate experience from the student perspective.

We, as students, need to take a leadership role in deciding the details of these major initiatives, because Williams only truly improves when it provides a better undergraduate experience from the perspective of students. It’s time for the student perspective to be heard. The men and women making the big decisions for Williams are ready and waiting.

Come out to the student forums with the architects of the new Baxter Hall student center that will be held periodically throughout the Fall semester. Tell the architects what kinds of social spaces and study spaces you want to see in the new building. Make sure your organizations and priorities are represented.

Come out to the community forum on affirmative action planned for the end of the month. Here students will share ideas and address questions to administrators on affirmative action in admissions policies and in the policies hiring of new faculty and the ways that they may change in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gratz v. Bollinger.

Join College Council, All-Campus Entertainment, the Minority Coalition or Frosh Council and get involved on an even more significant level.

At a small college like Williams, every involved player has influence and has the potential to make a positive difference. Not only will your efforts improve Williams, but you will be helping to make decisions that will shape institutions that will serve as a model for other colleges and universities throughout the country.