SWNY denied presentation at faculty meeting

The ongoing debate surrounding the continuation of the Williams in New York Program (WNY) has continued into the fall, with numerous campus organizations – including newly formed Students for Williams in New York (SWNY), the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) and the WNY Review Committee – working to determine the fate of the Program. Most recently, SWNY was denied the chance to make a presentation at the upcoming faculty meeting on Oct. 15. The meeting is scheduled to be almost entirely devoted to a discussion on WNY, and will feature presentations from the CEP, the Review Committee and WNY Chair Liza Johnson.

SWNY was formed by a group of WNY alumni who were concerned with the conclusions reached by the Review Committee in a report submitted before the faculty last spring. The report, which recommended that the Program not be continued in its current form, drew almost unanimous criticism from alumni, who claimed it failed to capture the full depth and value of their experiences.

According to SWNY coordinator Anouk Dey ’09, one of the main concerns with the Committee’s report was that it failed to take into account the testimonies of the most recent participants in the Program. Over the summer, Review Committee Chair Chris Waters solicited input from the 16 participants in fall 2007 and spring 2008, and said that he has received 14 responses thus far. “We will collectively digest this material and present it at the October faculty meeting, where it will supplement the written report we submitted last year,” Waters said.

Thus, while the most recent participants’ opinions on the Program will be attached to the end of the report, the conclusions drawn in the report will remain as they were last May. “While SWNY understands the Dean’s and Steering Committee’s perspectives, it’s definitely disappointing,” said Dey, a spring 2008 participant in the program. “Our hope was to be included.”

In response to the contested report, Dey, along with 19 current and former students, has been working on an SWNY report, which she hopes will be more inclusive. “While our members are subjective [based on their participation in the Program], our goal is to be as objective as possible and make the decision a transparent one,” Dey said. SWNY has solicited responses from 171 “stakeholders” in the Program – which include alumni, faculty and field sponsors – and expects to have compiled its report by Sept. 29.

Tiku Majumder, professor of physics and chair of the Faculty Steering Committee, explained the denial of SWNY’s request to present this report at the faculty meeting as a largely logistical one. Given the three presentations already slated for the upcoming faculty meeting, Majumder said, “We feel that it is of highest priority that there be ample time at the October meeting for open discussion among the faculty in general regarding this important program.” As such, a vote is not scheduled until at least the November meeting.

Majumder and the Steering Committee instead encouraged SWNY to present its report to the CEP, which it plans to do on Oct. 6. “The CEP, which is a representative committee of faculty, students and administrators, is a body whose precise function in the faculty governance process is to undertake just this type of curricular review,” Majumder said.

After meeting with SWNY, the CEP will consider the group’s findings in making its presentation at the faculty meeting. Chair Monique DeVeaux said that the CEP has made WNY its priority this fall. “Last May, the campus discussion about WNY was rather rushed, and even the CEP did not have adequate time to consider the issues,” DeVeaux said. “This academic year, we have cleared the decks to discuss WNY much more thoroughly, and are meeting not only with SWNY but also members of the WNY Review Committee.” She characterized the role of the CEP at the upcoming faculty meeting as one of “highlighting the curricular issues that WNY raises for all of us.” A summary of the SWNY report will be included in the pre-meeting notes distributed to the faculty.

In addition to the upcoming meeting with the CEP, SWNY has been working to further its cause in a number of other ways. In Paresky this week members have been tabling a petition in support of WNY, and as of Monday evening had over 700 signatures. “Our goal is to have the entire student body,” Dey said. Members of SWNY also visited entries on Sunday evening. “We want to let the freshmen know that not only is the future of this pedagogically valuable program in question, but the future of experiential learning at Williams,” Dey said, also mentioning a potential public forum to present the report around the time of the faculty meeting.

It also appears that progress is being made on the potential acquisition of the Williams Club by the College. The Club, a multi-million dollar asset currently run by a board of directors composed of Williams alumni, has been the home of WNY since its inception. According to Provost Bill Lenhart, the potential donation of the Club to the College is “anticipated” but not yet completed. Steve Klass, vice president for operations, stressed that whether or not the Club comes under College ownership has no bearing on the future of the Program, and is at its core a real estate transaction.