Financial aid office braces for increased need

After months of deliberation, the fate of the Williams in New York Program (WNY) will be decided by a faculty vote this afternoon. The faculty will be voting first on whether to continue the Program, and, if necessary, on three different potential courses that the continuation of the program might take.

The faculty meeting will include deliberation before the vote. Much of the discussion has already taken place in preparation for today’s meeting, both at the last faculty meeting and at meetings between various campus organizations such as the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP), the WNY Review Committee and Students for Williams in New York (SWNY). “The expectation is that after some further discussion and clarification of various options, voting will take place on the future of the program,” said Tiku Majumder, physics professor and head of the Faculty Steering Committee, which is plans the agenda for faculty meetings.

The process will consist of an initial vote on whether or not to continue the Program – a majority vote in the negative being a vote to terminate the Program no later than the 2009-2010 academic year.

If the faculty vote in the affirmative, a second vote will be held in which faculty will rank by preference three options: “a”, continuing WNY in its current state, “b”, expanding the Program within its current model to address the concerns raised by the WNY Review Committee, and “c”, appointing a new committee to completely overhaul and re-imagine the Program, which could entail suspending the program at the end of the 2009-2010 academic year.

According to Will Dudley, professor of philosophy and member of the CEP, “the most distinctive contribution of WNY is the fieldwork experience, the opportunity to study the urban workplace. Whether that opportunity justifies the costs associated with the program is what the faculty need to decide.”

The Review Committee, which produced a report last spring recommending that the Program not be continued in its current form, met over the summer and “collected testimony from nearly every student who was in residence in New York last year,” said Chris Waters, professor of history and chair of the Review Committee. The Committee, which has also gathered new data about the material being taught over the past year, presented its findings at the October faculty meeting and met with the CEP, Faculty Steering Committee and SWNY.

Many students have rallied behind SWNY, a group consisting of WNY alums, which produced a report this fall in response to the Review Committee’s findings. SWNY’s petition in support of the program, which garnered over 1000 signatures between last year and last Thursday, according to Anouk Dey ’09, SWNY chair. The goal of the petition is to “demonstrate to the faculty how broadly supported WNY is,” Dey said.

While there will be no student representatives present at today’s vote, students do serve on the CEP, which has devoted much of its time this semester to discussion of WNY. According to CEP Chair Monique Deveaux, “the purpose of [the CEP’s] deliberations was to focus on the curricular dimensions of WNY and to try to convey to the faculty our sense of the challenges the program faces, as well as its many contributions.”

Though prior to the last faculty meeting the CEP circulated a statement saying that it was “not inclined to recommend a renewed commitment to WNY,” Deveaux said the main purpose of the CEP is not to sway the faculty one way or another, but rather to encourage them to consider all aspects of the Program. To this end, no final recommendation will be provided by the CEP today.

Majumder stressed that WNY continuation was under consideration because it is a pilot program, adding that “all curricular programs at Williams, of which WNY is an important example, are routinely evaluated on a periodic basis.”

Dey was not worried that WNY is coming under more scrutiny due to the current financial situation. “President Schapiro said fiscal considerations shouldn’t affect the sustainability of the program – either it’s worth it or not, based on its educational value,” she said. However, Dudley added that “we should always be evaluating the contributions and costs of our programs, whether there is a financial crisis at the moment or not.”

“The Faculty Steering Committee has worked very hard to provide an appropriate forum and framework for faculty discussion and consideration of this program,” Majumder said. “The decision will be the result of thoughtful discussion, and will keep focused on the ‘big picture’ of the College’s desire to offer a diverse, challenging educational experience to Williams students.”