Few students weigh in on presidential search at forum

A sparse number of students met Saturday night in the first of two forums held by the Presidential Search Committee to collect student input during the search for the next president of the College. The forum was led by Lizzy Brickley ’10 and Alan Arias ’10, the student representatives on the Committee. While turnout was small, the students present showed their enthusiasm for preserving the Williams community, emphasizing throughout the discussion their desire that the next president understand and continue the many traditions that they believe define the College.

When asked whether the next president should come from outside the purple bubble, offering fresh perspective, or from within the College, familiar with its history and culture, students suggested an ideal candidate would be someone who had been involved with the College but had been away from it recently, as was the case with President Schapiro. They hoped this would provide both a familiarity with the spirit of the College and an open mind to positive changes. Students voiced their desire for a president adept at making small changes, but who will stay in touch with present traditions, and above all will preserve and encourage diversity on campus.

Looking toward the future, financial aid was a central topic of discussion; students said that they consider it essential that the College maintain its dedication to need-blind acceptance and full need-based aid while eventually extending aid to cover summer programs and more college-related costs, such as lab fees, gym classes and Winter Study trips. “It would be great to extend the summer science and humanities programs and summer study abroad options,” said Roop Dutta ’12.

There was a strong consensus that throughout economic hardship, the most important focus should be students, faculty and staff. “It would be nice to see more effort in the future to help financial aid students participate in anything,” said Colin Killick ’12.
Another issue discussed was possible reform in the faculty advisor system. Students cited their own frustrations with the random distribution of first-years to academic advisors without regard to possible major and suggested incoming students be placed with a faculty member within a subject of interest.
Despite these concerns, the discussion Saturday evening indicated that the next president will have big shoes to fill. There were few complaints about the current administration and students felt Schapiro has served as an effective and personable head of the College.

Elizabeth Dorr ’12 spoke about her experience with a change of administration in high school, saying that a new president who is unable to reach out to students will negatively affect the College. Arias summed up the students’ consensus in saying, “We need a president who can resonate with students.” He added, “Morty’s outreach is important, and it’s important to students that the next president foster community.” However, some still feel that the most valuable attribute in the search for a new president is the candidate’s ability to deal with the economic crisis and manage the administration with skill.

In a phone interview, Greg Avis ’80, chair of the search committee, said that while the next president will have to deal with the current economic crisis and its effects on the College, he or she will also need to shape the College beyond the crisis over the next five to 10 years. We need someone with the “ability and leadership to continue Williams’ ascent as a premier liberal arts institution,” he said.

According to Avis, the search is on schedule and the search committee is “fully engaged in the community input process.” They expect to have a prospectus written within the next 30 days that “will describe the College and the position [and] can be used as a document for candidates,” he said. At the committee’s last meeting on Feb. 12, Schapiro gave his input from the position of outgoing president, saying the next president should be an accomplished, highly qualified candidate who loves students, is willing to make him or herself available to the constituencies that will demand his or her time, and be able to make effective decisions and trade-offs. Avis summarized Schapiro’s feelings on the search, saying the current president feels Williams “is a fantastic place and will be able to attract a very accomplished and very qualified candidate.”

There will be more forums in the future targeting alumni network leaders, the Society of Alumni Presidents, key young alumni leaders, class presidents, regional leaders and alumni fund chairs, as well as faculty and staff. Another student forum will be held next Sunday, March 1 at 7 p.m. in Paresky’s Baxter Hall. Brickley said she “appreciate[d] all student input” and is “hoping for a bigger turnout next week.”