On May 6, Megan Bantle, editor-in-chief of the ‘Record,’ sat down with President Falk, Dean Bolton and Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass to discuss the past year and the College’s goals and projects for the future.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen this year?
Klass: The first year or two in my new role have been populated with many planning studies. The biggest change going forward will be maintaining the continuity of all those studies and moving them toward implementation … this is the more complicated phase, as is looking at the way resources can be formed to support the things we’re bringing forward. So for me it’s been about getting my feet on the ground in that first year and understanding the roles of all my areas of responsibility, working more closely with my new departmental colleagues and doing my best to support their work in all aspects of student life.
Bolton: For me, there’s been a growing sense of the way [Klass’] offices and my office can really work together. Students are beginning to get a sense of the breadth of the resource that [Klass] brings to all of his work. So for things like the [Thompson] Health Center planning that he’s doing and the alcohol work group that we’re doing together, I think we’re getting a sense of all the ways those can come together and can grow because of his leadership.
Falk: Unlike my colleagues, this is not just my third year in this role, it’s my third year at Williams. I think a lot of the first period in a presidency is about learning about the new institution, and I think one of the things that’s been very nice this year is that I felt less that I was the new kid on the block and that I was much more familiar with every part of the College. This year we’re really starting to see things that we have been talking about for the first couple years really happening. There’s a wonderful library taking shape outside of my window. It feels very different to be building a library than it does to be planning a library. And that’s a really nice feeling.
How has your focus on campus life played out this year in terms of how the administration deals with campus culture?
Klass: For us it’s been more and more about breaking down perceived disciplinary and departmental boundaries. The people who work in our areas have really learned how to navigate so successfully in that way. And this is true for our colleagues in other departments too, like the Davis Center, athletics and others and especially in how closely we work alongside Mike Reed, [vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity]. Just as we hope that students recognize there are no wrong doors in terms of resources, we want our departmental colleagues to feel the same way. There’s a growing sense among our staff and the student body that there’s this much bigger umbrella over critical issues of student life and campus culture that we’ve been able to provide folks a chance to get under with us.
Bolton: There are other parts of campus culture that have really moved this year – certainly around service, with the Center for Learning and Action and pushing the visibility of that; [protecting] something that I think was, in the minds of many students and staff, a really important thing, but promoting it to a place where it’s working in a very unified and visible way. I think it can draw people in. From the “no wrong doors” point of view, I think that was something people had trouble navigating what the opportunities were.
This year, it seems like that policy of “no wrong doors,” has been really stepped up, meaning that the number of staff members who can provide support for students on issues like mental health, has been greatly creased. Why has that initiative been a priority and how has it affected campus life?
Bolton: I think that we have had this terrific staff for a really long time. There’s been collaborative work across both staff and students to make visible and to make sure there’s full coverage for these types of services. If you look at groups like the Mental Health Committee or Active Minds, or [the Rape and Sexual Assault Network] (RASAN) or Men for Consent, who are thinking about different kinds of support that students might need, students really work hard to make sure that other students really feel comfortable and can easily access those kinds of services. And then also those kinds of groups talk really actively with my staff and [Klass’] staff about what might help make those services feel more accessible.
Falk: For me, it’s been a core priority of mine to build collaboration in every part of the way we administer the College. I think all of us realize that there is very little we can do ourselves, and the most important thing that we can do is help activate the work of those people who work with us and for us and create conditions where they can work together very productively, breaking down barriers to collaboration. That’s actually the most important role any of us play at the senior staff level.
Klass: We’re a pretty flat organization in a lot of ways. Consequently, I feel like I’m usually toggling between that rare 10,000 foot view and then finding myself deep in the weeds of these wonderful self-studies that I’ve been part of. In each of these cases – as we move between these levels of planning and reflection – we’ve had wonderful conversations about what our programmatic aspirations are relative to our current capabilities. So the beauty of having two of us looking at these things is the fact that we bring multiple perspectives to all of our work and have the chance to operate at different levels as things change.
What are your plans going into next year?
Klass: I have a whole shopping list of things ahead of me next academic year. Our project team is finishing the library; we’re moving on the next steps of our residential sector plan; writing the report detailing the south campus sector plan and engaging the campus in those conversations; finding office space so we can bring the whole Center for Learning Action together; continuing to study the Log to see how we can reactivate that space; and pulling together the recommendations from the health and wellness study that we’ve been doing, reaching consensus about what it means to develop a fully affirming wellness center and what that means to the quality of student and campus life. That’s a start, anyway.
Falk: I think that we have a lot of things going that we need to continue to make progress on. Probably the single most important work that we’re doing here is around our culture. The work around the culture of social life, from dealing with sexual assault to the work that’s being done in the Davis Center to build a larger community. We are, as a community, more thoughtful about what being an Eph is. I think that that’s the most important work that we do, alongside the academic work that we do. The academic work we do is a year-by-year process, I almost think of it as a form of agriculture. Planting the right seeds and watching them grow, nourishing departments and faculty and making great hires and trying to keep the faculty we have that other places want. It doesn’t sound like a radical plan to say that I am very focused on continuing to do that really well, but this is a great college to get an education because every year we put enormous energy into doing that well. I never want to lose sight of priority one, which is to care for 2200 students and see to their educations, see to their health and safety and maturation and also help them to have a little bit of fun.