Merrill, Raymond to step down June 30

Last month, President-elect Falk announced that Dean Merrill will be stepping down from her position as dean of the College on June 30, when her original three-year term ends.

However, Falk has appointed Interim President Wagner and Bill Lenhart to serve as dean of the faculty and provost respectively through the 2010-11 year. This appointment marks the second year-long extension of their initial three-year terms. Professor of Computer Science Andrea Danyluk will continue to serve as acting dean of the faculty until Wagner reassumes his duties on April 1.

The process to select the next dean of the college is underway. As this position is a presidential appointment, Falk will make the selection in consultation with the Faculty Steering Committee (FSC).

The FSC is also working to help Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity Mike Reed to choose a successor for Wendy Raymond,
who is set to end her term as the College’s first associate dean for institutional
diversity on June 30 as well.

Christopher Bolton, chair of the FSC and associate professor of comparative and Japanese literature, emphasized that the authority to select the dean of the College lies with Falk. “Our role is to collect and synthesize input from students, staff and faculty, and pass it on to the president to help him make the decision,” he said.

According to Bolton, the FSC sent an e-mail to all faculty and staff last Monday, soliciting input to this search for a new dean. A similar e-mail will be sent to students within the next few days. “We have also been in contact with the College Council (CC) co-presidents, and will be working with them to get student opinions about the qualities that are most important in candidates for this position,” Bolton said.

The CC will discuss the selection of the new dean at its meeting today at 7:30 p.m. in the basement of Hopkins Hall.

In his Dec. 21 e-mail to students, Falk expressed his appreciation for the willingness of faculty at the College to serve in “important and demanding” roles, such as the deanship. “It’s one of the many reasons why I’m so looking forward to joining this remarkable community,” he wrote.

Dean of the College

Having served in such challenging administrative roles for five years – first for two years as director of the Center for Environmental Studies and then as dean – Merrill spoke of a desire for a different pace of life. “As great a job as this has been, and as much as I am excited by this work, the schedule and daily commute from Amherst, Mass., have placed a lot of demands on me and my family,” she said. In her remaining semester as dean, Merrill aims to see the work of the Neighborhood Review Committee through to completion, as well as to institutionalize some of the preliminary improvements made to first-year advising over the last few years. Other long-term recommendations for pre-major advising are in the works under an ad hoc committee.

Citing the activism surrounding queer student life last fall, Merrill also noted she will continue to work with CC and other student groups to address broader concerns such as student culture, community values, respect and accountability. “That’s a more amorphous thing, but it’s been very near and dear to me since my first semester as dean,” she said. “Also, I don’t think I’m going to stop thinking and working on issues like alcohol and mental health awareness till it’s July.”

Next academic year, Merrill will be on leave, having deferred a fellowship when she became dean. “I will be taking classes, taking up research for my book project again and speaking with both the history department and environmental studies program about the sort of courses that I will be teaching in the future,” she said. Following this period, she will be teaching full-time at the College during the 2011-12 year, after which she plans to take a year-long sabbatical. “Serving as dean has been such a huge learning experience, but at heart I’m a teacher and scholar,” she said.

Associate dean for institutional diversity

On July 1, Raymond will also return full-time to her role as professor of biology after completing a three-year term as the first associate dean for institutional diversity. “It’s been an evolutionary process,” Raymond said. “We’ve defined the position as we’ve gone on, but my constant focus has been trying to get the College to achieve inclusive academic excellence: equal achievement by any measure, regardless of financial background, ethnicity or any other cultural marker.”

In line with this framework, Raymond named several targets for her final semester at this position: collaborating in making recommendations to Dean Merrill about pre-major advising; working with the Claiming Williams steering committee to determine the direction of this campus event after its second iteration
on Feb. 4; furthering her work with the Faculty-Staff Initiative, a grassroots organization that addresses equity issues for faculty and staff across ethnic lines; and continuing to serve as an informal advisor to faculty and staff, especially those of color. “One of my goals is to make diversity efforts sustainable at Williams,” she said. “As such, having this associate deanship turn over to another faculty member is very important to me.”

In a process analogous to the search for a new dean of the College, the FSC will gather input on possible successors. As the associate dean reports directly to Reed, he will be making the final decision. “We hope that it will be someone who’s passionate about issues of inclusion, and also capable of working well with all constituencies across campus,” Raymond said. “Hopefully the new associate dean will be able to influence President Falk to move in bold and exciting directions.”

Presidential transitions

Wagner noted that although the circumstances of his and Lenhart’s respective
appointments are unusual – one three-year term with two one-year extensions – the resulting duration is not, as faculty typically hold these positions for two three-year terms. However, he does not anticipate serving as dean of the faculty past the 2010-11 year. “It’s been a fabulous and very gratifying opportunity and a wonderful way to serve the College, but I also love teaching and there’s a book that I’ve been trying to finish writing for some time,” he said.

According to Wagner, there is significant continuity between his roles as interim president and dean of the faculty,
as all the College’s senior staff are familiar with a broad spectrum of issues. “Nevertheless, my place at the table has changed and will change again,” he said, noting areas of particular presidential purview, such as alumni relations, development and investment policy. “This larger perspective that I’ve gained will be very beneficial to me both as an individual and as dean of the faculty.”

Wagner is also confident about incoming president Adam Falk’s abilities. “Having worked with Adam pretty closely since his appointment, I am enormously impressed and extremely excited about his coming,” Wagner said. “He’ll be a phenomenally effective leader, with his excellent insights and deep commitment to the kind of educational opportunities that we try to provide here.”