Dear President-elect Mandel,
We at the Record wish you a warm welcome as you prepare to begin your tenure as the 18th president of the College in July. During this period of transition, we are excited to see what you will accomplish. As students invested in bettering this institution, we want to direct your attention to three roles of the College we care deeply about: the College as an educational institution, its accessibility to and accommodation of students and its interaction with members of the greater community.
As an educational institution, the College must ensure that it adequately meets students’ academic needs, in the sense of both curricular availability and representation.For 27 years, students have fought for the establishment of an Asian American Studies program. Similar programs exist at our peer institutions. While the development of such a program is complex, we would like to see the College prioritize this goal and maintain close communication with students regarding its advancement. Students deserve to be reassured that their voices are heard and that steps are being taken toward achieving their objectives.
Furthermore, the College is expected to see an increase in faculty hiring as a large contingent of faculty members retire in the coming years. New faculty ought to be hired with an eye toward diversity and previous insufficiencies in academic disciplines. For example, a shortage of computer science faculty has resulted in the inability of computer science majors, as well as other students interested in the subject, to take the courses they desire. In 2015-2016, 7.3 percent of students were computer science majors, while less than three percent of faculty taught computer science. This discrepancy must be addressed.
All the while, we must ensure that all students the College accepts can attend and thrive here. Policies adopted after the recession have reduced the College’s financial accessibility for some students. Following the reversion of international student admission from need-blind to need-aware, the percentage of international students receiving financial aid has fallen from 80 percent in 2010-2011 to 58 percent this year. The College also revoked its no-loan policy in 2010, forcing some students to face the possibility of graduating with debt. Since the College’s endowment has fully recovered after the recession, we believe that an effort must be made to dedicate resources to improving affordability.
Similarly, continued attention is required toward student health and wellbeing. Issues regarding mental health are some of the primary obstacles to academic success at the College, and students currently face difficulties in receiving treatment and accessing their prescribed medication. In addition, the inconvenient location and limited hours of the Health Center make health consultations burdensome.
As the leader of this campus, you will have an important role in setting the tone for the College’s broader culture; as such, we believe that conversations on how to redefine, reexamine and reevaluate traditional notions of what a “productive” student looks like play consequential roles in student wellbeing.
Finally, we at the College are part of a community that extends beyond students and faculty. Support staff are vital members of the Williams community and deserve to be treated as such. The College must become receptive to the voices of all its employees, and the post-recession restructuring of custodial pay needs to be revisited. Furthermore, the College does not exist in a “Purple Bubble.” Through increased outreach and engagement, we can cultivate a more robust relationship with the surrounding Berkshire community. For example, students and local organizers have engaged in efforts to have the College’s contractors improve diversity in construction hiring. Women and people of color remain underrepresented in construction both locally and nationally, and the College can help remedy the situation by reconsidering its own contractors’ hiring practices.
We hope that you take our suggestions to heart and consider these relevant issues. We cannot stress enough the importance of listening to student voices –– particularly of those who have historically been marginalized –– and addressing their grievances. Only through a collective effort involving all members of the community can the College achieve its full potential as an institution. Nevertheless, we have faith that Williams will thrive under your leadership and blossom into a community that we can all be proud to call our own.
The Record Editorial Board