College prepares for incoming president

As Incoming President Adam Falk continues his full-time position as dean of the Krieger School at John Hopkins, College administrators have begun to discuss preparations for the transition to his presidency on April 1. During the next few months, Falk will focus on his position at John Hopkins, just as President Schapiro remained focused on the College last year after accepting his position at Northwestern but before transferring to the University. Interim President Wagner will continue to serve in his role until the spring.

“I and senior staff will consult with President-elect Falk on those matters that are likely to have the longest-term effects,” Wagner said, noting that most communication will likely occur via e-mail and telephone.

“I think senior staff is going to prepare as much as possible for Adam when he arrives,” said Greg Avis, chair of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “They’re working on a number of issues, ranging from an ongoing study on housing in the neighborhoods to the budget and they’ll have information ready for Adam. He’ll be digesting a lot of folders and a lot of binders between now and April.”

Falk plans to visit the College a couple of times this semester and then once per week starting in January. “We will also be discussing with him how to use his visits to Williamstown most effectively to become more familiar with the college and the community,” Wagner said.

Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for Public Affairs, highlighted the obligation that both Falk and Wagner have to fulfilling their current positions. “It’s great that he’ll be here once a week from the beginning of the calendar year and Williams people will keep him in the loop on certain matters but he still has a job and so does Bill Wagner,” he said.

“We have begun discussing the question of at what point does he want or need to enter the conversation here, but nothing has been fixed,” Dean Merrill said. “We want to develop a plan that’s going to be helpful and that has the capacity to evolve as we get used to the transition.”

According to Wagner, Falk’s belief in the necessity of collaborative planning and his acceptance of the College’s current core commitments will help to make the transition a smooth one. “He said that he won’t be arriving here in April with a predetermined plan or set of ways in which he intends to change Williams,” Wagner said, referring to Falk’s opening remarks in Chapin Hall last Tuesday. “That’s good because colleges, especially colleges like Williams, don’t change in big ways due to an idea from one person, even the president. Williams’ fundamental purpose won’t change. We have been and are providing, and we will continue to strive to provide, the finest possible liberal arts education for our students.”

Wagner noted that administrators’ planning process centers on collaboration and does not depend on merely the ideas of one individual. Examining the changes that were enacted during President Schapiro’s presidency, he said that they did not occur because Schapiro directed others to act upon his ideas. “President Schapiro designed and oversaw that process, but the generating of ideas, the weighing of those ideas and the implementing of the ones that were given priority were done not by the president but College-wide,” he said.

“We know from what [Falk] has said about his leadership style, and from what he has shown in his time as a leader at Johns Hopkins, that he values the collaborative style of planning that is already deeply embedded at Williams,” Wagner said.

Until Falk’s inauguration, Wagner will devote much of his attention to the College’s budget, specifically to overseeing the process of managing the budget and addressing financial challenges. “These decisions will affect the College for many years to come; my job, therefore, is to work with the Provost, the Board and others to see that they are made as thoughtfully as possible,” he said. In addition, he will prioritize working with committees and administrators to address issues including diversity and inclusion, sustainability, international education and the study of the residential housing system.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Galinsky, managing editor.