Editorial: A president’s Williams education

As the 17th president of the College, a few things will already be familiar to Adam F. Falk from his helm in Hopkins Hall, and not just the building’s name. As dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins, Falk oversaw the school’s academically liberal arts values within the context of a larger research university. Having leaped to academic prestige and then administrative leadership, Falk has been cited by the Presidential Search Committee, as well as by his colleagues at Hopkins, for his intelligence and zeal. At his introduction yesterday in Chapin Hall, he was poised, genuine and immediately likable. The one thing that Falk does not already have going for him is an intimacy with the College, and we are confident that the next six months will offer an excellent opportunity for him to learn the many meanings of Williams so that once April rolls in, he can hit the pavement running.

As Falk prepares to take office, his start date also gives shape to our expectations of Interim President Wagner. Before knowing when the transition would happen, it was difficult to know how to view Wagner’s responsibility to the College, on a scale from mere caretaker to a real president with substantive vision. Now that we know there are still six months until Wagner goes back to his post as dean of the faculty, he can shelve any notion that he is merely an asterisk and resume his duties with renewed vigor and responsibility, so that the presidential office chair will already be dusted off when Falk shows up in Williamstown in April for good.

Standing on the steps of Paresky yesterday, Falk was already beginning the work of the leader of our academic-residential community by accepting each of a long line of greetings. He mentioned in a publicity video that spending time with alumni will be a crucial element of his Williams education, and we hope that also at the top of this agenda will be getting to know students, faculty and staff intimately, and not just the ones that extend their hand to him first. We trust Falk will make the most of numerous visits to Williamstown between now and April, continuing to meet with various sectors of the community and allowing us the chance to get to know him, too.

As Falk acknowledged in another video, “To lead Williams is to walk in extraordinarily big shoes,” and knowing that is certainly half the battle. Not only its elite reputation in the world of higher education but the critical eyes of the students, faculty and staff make Williams a uniquely rigorous place, and the only preparation is a lot of attention. Falk should attend the small classes, read the Record, ask hard questions and listen to praise and dissent so that when it’s time for him to start making tough decisions, the community is confident that the Williams he has in mind contains the contradictions and joys we all associate with this place.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *