In an e-mail to the campus on Sept. 15, President Falk detailed ideas for a proposed realignment of the College’s senior administration. The suggestions involve changes in areas of administrative oversight for three of the current senior administration positions: the dean of the College, the vice president for operations and the provost & treasurer position. Falk’s proposal also includes the creation of a position tentatively called the vice president for finance.
Under Falk’s plan, Vice President for Operations Steve Klass will acquire a revised job description, along with the current working title “vice president for student life.” This new position will oversee departments including Facilities, Dining Services, Health and Counseling Services, Campus Safety and Security, residential life/student activities and the chaplains; many of these departments are currently under the dean of the College’s purview. The dean of the College will retain responsibility for overseeing the associate deans, fellowships, advising, academic resources, writing programs and the registrar.
The financial part of the reorganization would see the provost position, filled by a faculty member on a rotating basis, retaining oversight of budget priorities and resource allocations. A new professional senior staff role, the vice president for finance would handle the technical financial details while, Falk said, “making sure the priorities are reflected in the budget.
“In today’s world, the three sources of revenue the College has relied on – tuition, the endowment and philanthropy – are likely to flatten,” Falk said. “If we want to do new things, we have to find money by stewarding money very carefully. It is essential that the College be state of the art in the management of our resources.”
According to Falk, the changes will be “cost-favorable” to the College in the long run, since having a professional as a senior financial administrator will pay for itself.
Falk plans to present a formal proposal to the Board of Trustees at its next meeting, which will take place Oct. 14 to 16. The trustees must vote to approve any changes to the senior administration. According to Falk, having the framework for a new system in place by October is imperative, as filling the vice president for finance position will require a national search.
The administrators now holding the potentially altered positions have voiced support for Falk’s ideas. Provost Bill Lenhart has served in this capacity for five years. His term – extended from its original three years to facilitate the presidential transition – ends on June 30. According to Lenhart, who is also a professor of computer science, faculty members who serve in the provost position would benefit from a financial officer who has more professional training and experience.
“The range and volume of financial work that the provost’s office is responsible for has grown dramatically over the past several years,” Lenhart said. “A good portion of this work, especially around issues related to debt, compliance, internal controls and changing accounting standards, has become increasingly complex and technical.”
For an effective model including both a provost and a vice president for finance, Lenhart said, those holding the two positions would need to work together closely. Of particular importance would be the task of setting the College’s yearly budget – a job that would rely on the expertise of both the provost and the vice president for finance.
“Responsibility for balancing spending across different important spending categories (salaries, department operating budgets, capital renewal, etc.) in order to best support the mission of the College would rest with the provost, but ensuring that this is done accurately, efficiently and within the limits of available resources will be the job of the VP,” Lenhart said.
Similarly, Klass noted that the revised roles of dean of the College and the vice president for student life would require close collaboration.
Klass described the relationship between the positions as a Venn diagram, with much of the important work taking place in the overlapping portion. “As life in both of these arenas – inside and outside the classroom – continues to grow in complexity, it requires differentiated and expanded leadership across all student life offices to remain effective,” Klass said.
Dean Bolton emphasized that input on student life is still being collected so that the needs and wishes of students will remain the top priority. “The role of the dean of the college is something we want to talk to the community about. We also want to talk to students about what they want to preserve and what things aren’t working that they want to change,” Bolton said. “I would imagine [the role of the dean] would be quite similar in the future of this reorganization: the point person for many kinds of concerns. The reorganization enables us to think of these things.”
Klass, who previously worked at the University of Chicago as vice president and dean of students in the university, expressed excitement for the possibility of increased interactions with students.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to think about creatively reconnecting key aspects of my work in higher education over the past decade,” he said. “It would allow me to refocus my work on areas important to the quality of student life outside the classroom.”
Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for Public Affairs, saw the evolving needs of the population as another area that can benefit from fresh thinking.
“As more students arrive at Williams with particular needs, it makes sense to think of ways to reconfigure that office as well so the dean of the college can focus on the issues that she is intended to and to offer maximally effective support to students with their academic work,” Kolesar said. “Having someone [like Steve Klass] who can focus on student quality of life outside the classroom makes … logical sense. A vice president for finance could shift some responsibilities from Steve.”
In his e-mail, Falk called the strength of the College’s system of faculty governance a “hallmark” of Williams. According to Falk, his proposed changes will strengthen faculty leadership by using faculty input in their areas of expertise.
“Their leadership can focus on making choices that define who we really are as an institution,” he said. “That leadership is the reason the College will continue to provide education that is second to none.”
Some have noted that the addition of a vice president for finance would decrease the proportion of faculty in the nine senior staff positions, which has already dropped in recent years with the addition of the vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity as well as the chief investment officer. Currently, the dean of the College, the dean of the faculty and the provost roles are filled by faculty on rotating three-year terms, while the other six positions are professional.
Still, a number of faculty have expressed support of Falk’s proposal, which he presented at the Sept. 15 faculty meeting.
“There is no question that both the dean of the College and the provost have way to many duties to perform,” said Colin Adams, professor of mathematics. “It is unrealistic to expect faculty to come into these jobs with incredibly steep learning curves and perform up to the expectations the College requires.”
Others agreed that the demands of the provost’s position are formidable, specifying that the technical responsibilities of the provost deter many faculty from pursuing the position.
“As the job is currently defined, it is difficult for faculty who are not quantitatively oriented to hold the position,” said Ralph Bradburd, professor of economics. “The job should that of allocating resources among educational endeavors, and it is undesirable to have this traditionally always be done by Div. III or Econ faculty.”
Professors overall believe that having faculty input at high levels of the administration has been advantageous for the College. Peter Murphy, professor of English and department chair, said that he is a strong supporter of the changes.
“The presence of faculty members is crucial to the Williams ecosystem,” Murphy said. “I think it has helped, over many years, to keep [the College] focused on its students, and I think it has been crucial in maintaining a healthy administrative climate.”