WNY debate to continue into Fall

Debate regarding the continuation of the Williams in New York Program (WNY) will revive in the upcoming months, with extensive discussion scheduled for the Oct. 15 faculty meeting and a final decision planned for the Nov. 12 meeting. Faculty voted to table the motion at its meeting in May, where dialogue quickly revealed the complex issues underlying the decision.

Controversy unfolded in late April after the Williams in New York Program Review Committee made public its final report, which assessed the strengths and shortcomings of the Program and concluded that WNY should not be continued in its present form. Alumni of the Program almost unanimously complained that the report was lacking and failed to fully capture the intellectually enriching experiences of its participants.

One strong criticism from students was that the Committee hadn’t taken into consideration the experiences of the Program’s most recent participants – those from fall 2007 and spring 2008 – and that given the evolving nature of the pilot program, the report didn’t reflect some of the significant improvements made over the past year. An e-mail sent to faculty over the summer from Bill Wagner, dean of the faculty, indicated that, given the additional time until the vote, the Committee had solicited reflections from these recent WNY participants.

In addition, the Committee on Educational Policy will be devoting several of its September meetings to discussing the Committee’s report and the Program in general. It will present its conclusions and recommendations to faculty at the October meeting. “The objective is to ensure that the faculty have the information they need to discuss the issues fully and thoughtfully,” Wagner said. He added that the majority of the October meeting will be set aside for faculty members to respond to the various reports and to ask questions.

Meanwhile, a coalition of alumni and students intending to participate in WNY have formed Students for Williams in New York (SWNY), a group charging itself with ensuring that the discussion concerning the Program’s future is as comprehensive and public as possible. Anouk Dey ’09, coordinator of SWNY, explained that the group’s work does not focus on advocacy for the Program, but rather on an objective presentation of stakeholders’ assessments. “We intend to make the entire process transparent so that when the fate of the Program is determined, there is no ambiguity as to why a certain conclusion was reached,” she said.

SWNY has requested appraisals from participating students, faculty, field sponsors and other individuals with interests in the Program, and has also asked that they send their evaluations to the Faculty Steering Committee. The group intends to publish its unedited materials, as well as a summarizing report, on its website, www.swnyonline.com, which is slated to be launched later this week.

The ownership of the Williams Club in Manhattan, where WNY participants reside, may also be under re-evaluation. The Williams Club is currently run by a board of directors, composed of Williams alumni, and is run as a hotel. According to Wagner, the board of directors has approached the College regarding the possibility of donating the building to the College. Wagner stressed that decisions on the building will not affect the timing or outcome of a decision regarding the Program. “If faculty determine that the Program should continue, it will, either at the Williams Club building or elsewhere,” he said.