Establishing our roles

To the Editor:

It’s not “strictly academic” when a major College donor writes a cautionary letter to The Williams Record. The actions to which Herbert Allen refers (“Minding our reputation,” May 2) – those surrounding Jiz Lee’s lecture – threaten to take on a life surpassing those of Act Up gestures or springtime pranks which fast fade away, as College grown-ups would hope. The brouhaha triggered by the Dively Committee’s activities risks unintended consequences. The College has long since become an inter-generational alliance between (1) some of the world’s brightest kids, (2) many of the country’s best teachers and scholars and (3) alumni. Group three, where attitudes evolve with demography, is a vital component in assuring that the Williams experience provided by group two remains accessible to group one, regardless of economic means.

To keep this great enterprise going, each group must do its part, exercising judgment and tolerance. For students and their mentors, this does not mean censorship. It means balance, perspective and restraint (aka courtesy and tact). This applies to alumni as well. Alumni needn’t understand it all, for instance, why some words we abjured, such as “queer,” are now politically correct, while others, such as “fag,” are not or how pornography muscled it’s way into the curriculum ahead of peace, poverty and geography.

But today’s students should recognize that the culture and gender wars have been fought and won – unless we’re so foolish as to start another.

Declare victory and move on. And remember that before long, younger students – and the Development Office – will be looking to you to pick up the torch, financially, for the College.

With poverty and inequality at home and wars abroad, there are issues about which students should raise their voices. Better a clamor than a “silent generation,” which was the criticism of my generation’s response to the Korean War and the Cold War. But College leadership, including students, faculty and the president, took on the big issues of that day, courageously rising to defend academic liberty and professors targeted by anti-Red demagoguery.

Williams, with its pioneer alumni association, built its strength on the unity of students, faculty, administration and alumni. Neither the elimination of fraternities nor the admission of women caused the boat to flounder. Unlike the case of Dartmouth, also alumni-proud, which suffered feuds with and among them.

Allen, who knows theater and its trappings, is correct that it is “the sponsorship which wraps [Lee’s pornography] in the Williams banner” that matters. Financial support for the College is at stake. So too is that bright world reputation which attracts a diversity of talented students and parents from various communities and cultures.

Tolerance and a sense of humor are essential, but simply “lightening up” is not the answer. All stakeholders in the College need to show judgment, restraint and mutual sensitivity to maintain the unity and reputation of the College. While I am not a member of Mike Dively’s Class of 1961 nor Allen’s Class of 1962, I’m still certain none of us want to see a proud history replayed as farce.


– Harry Montgomery ’54

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