At first glance, President Falk’s Sept. 15 e-mail may have seemed irrelevant to students, but the changes it suggests are substantial. Last winter, as Falk prepared to step into the presidency, he studied the College’s history and operations minutely. Among other things, he discovered an ongoing conversation about the structure of senior administration. The realignment possibilities he has put forth show thought; the fact that he informed the campus about his thinking shows courtesy. In fleshing out the proposal and perhaps eventually implementing it, he must uphold the College’s values of faculty governance and the centrality of student concerns.
Falk’s proposed changes, if executed, will put important responsibilities currently held by faculty into the hands of professionals. Indeed, there are some tasks, particularly in the financial realm, that professionals may be better equipped to handle. Advocates for the proposal assert that the streamlined roles will allow for both wider faculty interest in senior staff roles and more space for big-picture evaluation within these roles.
It is imperative, however, that the reorganization not lessen the influence of faculty members – the very people who hear students’ concerns and glimpse their day-to-day lives. Yes, faculty members’ expertise may lie in the academic arena, but their concern for student life does extend beyond the classroom.. Their voices must be central in top-level conversations about “non-academic” areas – dining, security operations, campus life – as well.
Falk’s changes also would see a splitting of responsibilities for overseeing student life. If these changes go forward, the positions of dean and vice president for student life will need to work closely in order to avoid a further bureaucratization of the administration. In addition, the vice president for student life should be intimately familiar with the way campus works: how services tie together logistically but also what it’s like to eat in dining halls every day and how students interact with the spaces in which they live. Just as Falk studied Williams before his arrival, the vice president for student life should build an understanding of student culture and living – and not just by reading reports and spreadsheets.
These changes have the potential to better the quality of life at Williams, both for students and for overburdened senior staff. According to Falk, they will be cost-favorable and hardly noticeable to students. If all administrators maintain a clarity of focus about their common goals, these claims may well see fulfillment. Professionals need not have only professional input; faculty members need not confine themselves to academic priorities. With all parties working toward excellence in academics and student life, the proposed system could flourish.