Dear President Falk,
We at the Record editorial board would like to formally welcome you to Williams College. As you said, this is a big moment – for all of us. We are genuinely excited about what your leadership is bringing to this institution, and we look forward to seeing more of you in Chapin Hall, in our inboxes and in our common rooms. However, we will also be looking closely at how you will grapple with the many challenges that come with your position. This may be a small institution, but your transition has high stakes.
In these two weeks, you have made your presence felt in very promising ways. Your April Fool’s Day e-mail had a sincerity and enthusiasm which convinced us that your appointment wasn’t a joke. The next time you wrote to the Williams community, you announced that Sarah Bolton, professor of physics, would be the new Dean of the College beginning July 1. This was also a very heartening e-mail for two reasons. First, Bolton seems to be an excellent choice for the position. Second, your promptness in making this crucial decision is commendable. Before assuming the presidency, you said that you wanted to select a Dean as soon as possible, and you followed through on that.
We were further encouraged when we heard that you had visited the West common room to watch part of the NCAA title game last Monday. Both the fact that students extended an invitation to you and the fact that you accepted do you credit. Without denying the countless other demands on your time, we urge you to make yourself even more available to students – and we’ll be urging our fellow students to reach out to you as well.
Beyond these concrete actions, your stated commitment to academics as well as your willingness to articulate clear stances on important issues like student housing and financial aid indicate a capacity for strong leadership of an institution that defends its liberal arts model fiercely. We cautiously state that you seem to be upholding the trust that the presidential search committee, led by Greg Avis ’80, had in you. That said, it is also imperative that you fulfill an expectation you once expressed yourself: that the College community use your initial mistakes as an opportunity to educate you about the College (“Falk prepares to assume presidency,” Feb. 24).
We very much appreciate the time and energy you have already in your personal Williams education while you were still at Johns Hopkins. Now that you are in residence at the College, we hope that you will only intensify your pursuit of this education. In your interview, you said that the no-loans policy and need-blind admission for internationals had primarily symbolic value. Although it may be a technical term, removing the “need-blind” tag felt like a statement of priorities. Whether we are discussing financial aid policies, a College’s reputation as the premier liberal arts school in the nation or a new college president joining some students to watch a basketball game over pizza, symbolism is crucial in cultivating values, communities and relationships.
We also ask that you consider what a truly open community entails. Historically – at some times more than at others – the administration has placed value on transparency. Our trust was shaken when recent decisions, such as reducing the number of international students accepted to the Class of 2013, were made without announcement, and we urge you to reaffirm transparency as a value. You have repeatedly praised the quality of conversations on this campus, and we would like to see that praise manifest in honesty in decisions and reliance on dialogue across campus constituencies, especially as volatile finances demand policy changes. On our part, we respect your wealth of experience, and we will do our best to be open to the fresh perspectives that you bring. Your instincts as a newcomer have great potential to dovetail with preexisting Williams culture to strengthen our beloved college.
Finally, we suggest that you consider holding an open speech in Chapin Hall, or another meet-and-greet with students this semester. As much as we anticipate your induction events in September, we know that first impressions do matter, and that students, faculty and staff would be eager to see more of you before the academic year ends, while energy and excitiment about the transition is still running high.
President Falk, we realize that we’re asking for a lot. We know that balancing acts are tricky, and that yours is made even more so because numerous parties – students, alumni, trustees, faculty, staff – are equally high but subtly different expectations of you. We hope that you know we’re asking because we believe you can deliver. As our new president, you have a lot to prove, but we have faith that you can live up to our hopes. We also hope that we will live up to yours. Good luck!