WNY program suspended for review and redesign

In a Jan. 7 campus-wide e-mail, Bill Wagner, dean of the faculty, announced the vote by the senior staff to suspend the Williams in New York (WNY) program at the end of the spring semester. The primary reason behind the suspension was economic. With the recent financial crisis, the College has been looking for numerous ways to cut expenses, and Wagner cited the suspension of WNY as saving $325,000 a year.

While Wagner said that he regretted WNY’s suspension, he added that it was the wisest decision. “At the end of the day it seemed more responsible to maintain continuing programs rather than expend resources on a version of a program that needs reform,” Wagner said.

Last November the faculty voted to keep WNY, but to create a new committee to review and reform the program. In his e-mail, Wagner announced the formation of a committee chaired by Liza Johnson, professor of art who works in New York with WNY participants, and consisting of 10 faculty members from a variety of departments, along with two students. The committee is to begin its work by the end of this month.

In a separate e-mail, Jeremy Goldstein ’09 and Peter Nurnberg ’09, College Council co-presidents, asked for students interested in joining the committee to submit self-nominations for consideration. The application process closes today and College Council will subsequently choose two students to join the committee. Both Nurnberg and Goldstein expressed support for WNY and hope for its successful reform. “I hope the members of the committee will construct a program that continues to build and strengthen the connections that have been forged, and still focuses on field work-based experiential education,” Nurnberg said.

Wagner said the committee has “extremely wide latitude” to conduct its work, with only the requirement that a new WNY program be economically feasible. Johnson, chair of the new committee, was confident that WNY could be reformed to be more financially viable. Johnson cited considering alternative housing options and new partnerships with other programs and universities as means to cut costs, changes similar to those instituted at the Williams in Africa program. However, she wanted to make clear that WNY would remain independent, saying, “The program will not become a part of another study program.”

While WNY has been suspended for the 2009-2010 academic year and there is currently no deadline set for the committee to report, Johnson said that it was “possible” for it to return for the fall of 2010. Wagner, however, declined to predict any date for WNY’s return, although he noted that the Williams in Africa Committee took two years to redesign that program, which is slated to return for fall of 2009.