Faculty vote to revamp WNY

In two consecutive votes held during last Wednesday’s faculty meeting, the faculty first voted to continue Williams in New York (WNY), and then opted to form a committee to re-imagine the Program.

The first vote, in which faculty decided whether or not to continue WNY, saw 63 percent vote in the affirmative. The results of this vote necessitated a second vote to decide on three potential courses the Program’s continuation would take. Option “a” would have continued WNY in its current form; option “b” would have expanded the Program to address concerns raised by the WNY Review Committee; and option “c” called for a committee to review and overhaul the Program, which could entail its suspension at the end of the 2009-10 academic year.
Option “c” received 71 of the 102 votes cast, while “a” received five ballots and “b” received 26, according to Bill Wagner, dean of the Faculty.

Wagner will work with the Steering Committee and Monique Deveaux, chair of the Committee on Education Policy (CEP) and professor of political science, to select members for the new committee. Wagner hopes to have the committee formed by the end of the semester.

Chris Waters, chair of the WNY Review Committee and professor of history, said he was personally pleased with the results of the vote, although “it is by no means clear what the end product of the future deliberations will be.”

“The WNY Review Committee identified a number of concerns with the program in its present guise, both pedagogical and financial,” Waters said. “But it also pointed out a number of strengths – students living together and working in a unique urban environment with dedicated Williams professors, for example. My only hope is that when the program is re-imagined that cost-cutting doesn’t get in the way of preserving the unique strengths and specific Williams nature of the program.”

Both President Schapiro and Wagner pointed to Williams in Africa (WiA), which makes use of local institutions to keep operating costs low, as a potential model for the new WNY program. “The committee working on the Williams in Africa program has come up with a version that I think gets high marks in terms of academic rigor, experiential learning and cost,” Schapiro said. “I bet our new committee will do the same for the Williams in New York program.”

Anouk Dey ’09, chair of Students for Williams in New York (SWNY), worried that the Program may be compromised if “the current curriculum is traded for more classes at NYC institutions, like NYU or Columbia.” She added, “It would be a shame if, rather than touring Williamsburg and Forest Hills to learn about architecture and how communities interact, students were confined to a classroom, a space as readily accessible in Williamstown as in NYC.”

Dey conceded that, given the College’s financial considerations, it may become necessary to move WNY students out of the Williams Club. Nevertheless, she urged the committee to keep the fieldwork component of the Program, regardless of where students are housed. “As SWNY emphasized in our report, we consider fieldwork essential to the program,” Dey said. “Through this experience, students learn how to observe the world through their own eyes, ears and disciplined sensibilities; with this refined capacity, they are able to take advantage of what makes NYC such an ideal complement to Williamstown.”

Some faculty worry that if the overhaul of the Program is not completed by the end of the 2009-10 academic year, the College may lose its connections with organizations that provide these fieldwork placements.

By the end of next school year, however, the College’s contract with the Williams Club will expire, and thus WNY in its current form will likely be suspended until an overhauled program can be put in place.

Despite the prospect of losing fieldwork connections, Wagner will not mandate that the committee redesign the Program by a certain date. “I expect the committee will do its work expeditiously,” Wagner said. “But given the complexity as well as the importance of the committee’s work, I don’t think it would be advisable to set a specific deadline.”

The faculty vote to continue the Program does not prevent Schapiro and the Board of Trustees from discontinuing it if the College’s financial straits become especially dire. However, Schapiro voiced support for a Williams presence in New York. “I continue to think that some type of New York option should be available given the tremendous opportunities that city offers along with our extraordinary alumni presence there,” he said.