WNY committee reimagines program

The Williams in New York (WNY) Committee has twice this month invited the faculty to discuss some of the ideas it has generated to reimagine WNY, which was put on hold at the beginning of the current academic year. According to Liza Johnson, professor of art and committee chair, the committee is still engaged in open discussion and hopes to submit its proposals in the fall for a faculty vote. If the faculty does approve the new iteration of this program, the earliest WNY would return is September 2011, for the 2011-12 academic year.

After a November 2008 faculty vote to suspend the WNY program (“Faculty vote to revamp WNY,” Nov. 19, 2008), the committee was charged with the task of redesigning the program. It has since devised a cost-neutral experiential education program that focuses on New York City specifically as the object of study.

“One of the concerns that the faculty had was, ‘How can we be certain this program is providing a coherent course of study?’” Johnson said. “Which doesn’t mean that this is going to be an exclusively urban studies program.”

The committee is currently suggesting that the program include an independent field research project that faculty members at the College would advise, a seminar with the program director and a seminar with an adjunct faculty member from New York. Johnson said that professors have already proposed course and project ideas related to all academic divisions, that include such fields as public health, astronomy, fine arts and food studies. “There are so many people participating and developing the curriculum,” Johnson said. “We feel it really does represent the Williams liberal arts strength.”

In addition to Johnson, the WNY committee includes Paula Consolini, coordinator of experiential education, and John Gerry, associate dean of the faculty, as well as seven other professors and two students. The committee held the open meetings for faculty on April 6 and April 15 to solicit more ideas that faculty members might have. Johnson added that in addition to consulting committee members Abby Islan ’10 and Marcus Morissette ’10, the committee has closely examined student surveys throughout the reimagining process.

Johnson also discussed the fiscal pressures on the program. “The primary focus of our committee discussions is curricular. Within that, it’s a really important time to try to respect the economic constraints of the College,” Johnson said. “We’ve been careful to keep the quality of the program as high as Williams standards demand, and also to keep the costs neutral, and that is totally viable.”

The committee has also drawn up plans that accommodate WNY whether or not the Williams Club – which hosted the original program’s participants – remains a College property. Johnson said that the committee has also been looking into special student life opportunities to complement the program’s academic focus.

Johnson said that although the committee has not discussed its plans with President Falk, it has had consistent contact with Bill Wagner, dean of the faculty and former interim president.

In the meantime, the committee will continue to refine its plans. “We’re not done with this process,” Johnson said. “What we want to do now is spend time really crafting the proposal so it can be as responsive as possible.”

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