Dear Incoming President Falk,
I admire your guts. I really do. Not everyone has the courage to push major changes through to the end, like the controversial Johns Hopkins schedule change you talked about in last week’s Record interview (“Falk looks back, prepares to face new challenges,” Oct. 28). Clearly, you’ve had a lot of experience with undergraduate campus life â€“ which is exactly what our neighborhood crisis calls for. Your “wait-and-see” approach may be what our strong-minded campus needs. But let’s face it: Your interview wasn’t exactly revealing. And while your non-partisan stance is understandable, it fails to satisfy the students who eagerly await their 17th president.
Next April, you will come with seven years of experience from Johns Hopkins and four months from visiting Williams. Which do you think will carry a greater impact throughout the first year? You are right to avoid rash promises, but surely you will bring some established set of ideas and principles to the College. That is, after all, why the Board of Trustees chose you. We, as active members of the College, need to know how you approach issues beyond the learning period. Rhetoric and politics are necessary for any effective leader (see Barack Obama), but why do you think so many were dissatisfied with his Nobel Peace Prize?
Don’t fall into the trap of complacency and bureaucracy. During your visits, it would be helpful to expose yourself to the wider Williams community. Attend a few sports games. Come to entry snacks. Eat at our dining halls (I would advise trying to jostle through lunch at Paresky, just once, to get the idea.) Sit in on classes. Continue what you started when you took the campus tour: Become a frosh. Do not, under any circumstances, simply attend meetings and walk around, admiring the view. Make yourself a visible presence on campus, and don’t let the administration act as a smoke screen between you and the College.
Bill Wagner is a stable interim president, but, through no fault of his own, he lacks a sense of permanent presence. Coming in as a first-year to this uneasy situation, I noticed the importance of the College presidency because of its absence. To begin with, there was a sense of trepidation in the background as the Presidential Search Committee provided periodic updates on the long process. Our powerful First Days speeches could not make up for the authority typically given by a college president’s words. The possibility of no Mountain Day hung heavily in the air for weeks while Wagner, who faced a difficult decision as an interim president, and WOC Director Scott Lewis played weather roulette. Our entries missed out on the “coolness” of having the College president stop by for snacks. True, the position does look like a figurehead at times. But a college president provides a sense of unity more than any other position on campus. You will be the common link between the rising seniors and next year’s first-years. We need your opinions and encouragement to guide the College and see it through.
In some ways, you have it easy. President Edward Dorr Griffin, back in 1821, arrived at a deserted college. He had two professors â€“ one rather old, the other reluctant to stay â€“ and a handful of students. Most of the faculty and students had left for Amherst, along with the former president. Griffin then went on to single-handedly raise $25,000, bring two of our most influential professors to campus and build Griffin Hall. Not bad for a theology student with a Doctorate of Divinity. As a physics Ph.D., gifted speaker and experienced administrator, you might just have a leg-up.
Hopefully, the neighborhood system doesn’t feel as daunting as a dying college. Yet 2010 will bring its fair share of challenges â€“ come prepared. Open the floor to debate by keeping us abreast of your thoughts. Your extensive experience at Hopkins and the principles you’ve shaped there will only become the starting point for an honest conversation about your vision for Williams’ future. If you give us a chance to understand and embrace your opinions rather than try to sweep them under the proverbial rug, our respectful response (whether or not we agree) may surprise you. What ultimately brings us together, despite all our different views and backgrounds, is what happens to the College. You will shape its future; we will live it.
Elizabeth Hwang ’13 is from Westchester, N.Y. She lives in Williams Hall.