As Interim President Wagner approaches the end of this term, President-elect Falk and the College are making final preparations for Falk’s April 1 arrival. Since January, Falk has spent one day a week visiting campus or conducting College-related business, and has been working carefully on the selection for the new dean of the College.
According to Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for public affairs, the College will not hold any official ceremony or celebration for Falk’s arrival until the formal induction on September 25, instead allowing for a relatively seamless transition in which Falk can begin work immediately.
The pressing items on Falk’s presidential agenda include naming a new dean, working with the neighborhood review process and working with the budget. Falk said that he hopes to choose Dean Merrill’s successor as soon as possible after he becomes president. He has met with the Faculty Steering Committee several times already to receive consultation on the appointment. “Because the dean of the College position is a really big job, it’s very important to identify someone in time for them to work with Karen Merrill,” Falk said. “I would like to have this resolved as soon as I can.”
Falk also noted the upcoming release of the second part of the Neighborhood Review Committee’s final report, which will come out after spring break. Although he does not know what the second installment will contain, but Falk praised the Committee’s work up to this point. “I’m very encouraged by the content of the first report. I support the recommendations that have come out so far and the steps that have been taken,” he said.
In addition, Falk commented on the economic situation facing the College. “There’s no way to responsibly absorb that drop in revenue without making some painful budget cuts,” he said. He went on to discuss the guiding philosophy behind fiscal decisions. “Any situation like this really focuses us on our core values. One of those core values is academic excellence, and we’re doing everything we can to preserve students’ academic experience,” he said. “Second is financial aid and accessibility to Williams for a truly diverse, including economically diverse, student body.”
He also specifically acknowledged the recent decision to introduce need-awareness for international student applicants. “I am very confident that we will continue to have a diverse and richly representative group of international students that come in,” Falk said. “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t support the changes that we are making.”
In his capacity as president-elect, Falk has been meeting with various constituencies on campus to familiarize himself with students, faculty and staff. Last Wednesday, he attended his first faculty meeting at the College. “I thought that the faculty’s conversation about the Gaudino proposal and the various alternatives that they considered was a really remarkable conversation,” Falk said. “What struck me about it was that everyone, whether they liked the proposal or didn’t or liked a slightly different proposal, was focused on what was in the best interest of the students.”
Falk also took the opportunity last Wednesday to meet with the Minority Coalition (MinCo) groups. “We talked about some pretty tough things, like how we think about diversity,” he said. “I was very impressed by the sophistication of the students and their commitment.”
Nordia Savage ’10, co-chair of the Black Student Union, was present at the MinCo meeting. “I thought he was very receptive and genuine,” Savage said. “I could tell he was interested in what we had to say, which made me interested in what he had to say. It would not surprise me if we continued the conversation at a later date.”
Indeed, Falk believes that meeting with small groups is an efficient and effective way to learn more about the campus. He has a meeting scheduled with College Council (CC) in April, and said that he also hopes to continue meeting with both academic and non-academic departments after he takes office.
In terms of familiarizing himself with campus culture, Falk specifically cited the Laurie Anderson opera at the ’62 Center in February and a tour of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) with WCMA Director Lisa Corrin and her colleagues. “What was marvelous about that WCMA tour was that we talked about all the ways that the College supports the academic mission,” Falk said. “What really struck me was that there’s nothing in WCMA that’s ‘ivory tower’ and narrow; it’s very engaged with everything else.” He has also taken the opportunity to tour the dining halls, dormitories and other facilities.
Because his wife and three children will not move to Williamstown until June, Falk will spend most weekends with his family in Baltimore. Nevertheless, he thinks spending the majority of his time on campus will help increase his visibility. “Part of being visible is just being there,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to being on campus and seeing people.” He added that he does plan to meet with first-year entries in the tradition of President Emeritus Morton Owen Schapiro, but probably not until next year because entry snack time falls during the weekend, on Sunday nights.
In terms of practical changes associated with the presidential transition, Kolesar noted that the president’s office will see no staffing changes, as all current administrative assistants will retain their positions. The president’s house has been vacated since Schapiro moved out last summer. According to Diana Prideaux-Brune, associate vice president for Facilities, Facilities staff members have been cleaning the chimney flues, refinishing the floors, repairing carpentry, upgrading the plumbing and painting walls in the president’s house to prepare for the Falk family’s arrival. Prideaux-Brune said that the areas for events and guests come pre-furnished and that the Falk family will bring their own furniture for the private rooms.
In the next few weeks, Falk will also be completing his tenure as dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins. “I’ve been at Johns Hopkins for 16 years, and there’s a part of me that’s quite sad to be leaving a place that I’m enormously fond of,” he said. “This is a month of finishing up projects, getting things ready for the interim dean,” he said.
As of April 1, Wagner will resume his position as dean of the faculty, his second one-year extension in that capacity. “Bill Wagner’s doing an extraordinary job as an interim president,” Falk said. “He’s just been incredible.”
Wagner explained that he will spend his remaining weeks as interim president working on the 2010-11 budget, the early retirement program for faculty and staff members and the tuition and fees for next year. Wagner said that as president, he has had a heavier hand in the decision-making process at the College and more immediate involvement with different parts of the community than before. “That broader engagement has enriched my understanding of the College and how it operates,” Wagner said.
He continued to describe his feelings on his personal transition. “I’m looking forward to focusing attention again on several projects that I’d like to move forward and to working more closely with faculty colleagues,” he said. “But I’ll miss the greater involvement with other groups within the Williams community that I have had as interim president.”