This week in Williams history: Stolen computer, PeopleSoft, bookstore plans

“This Week in Williams History” is a column dedicated to looking back at memorable moments in the College’s past through articles in the Record archives. This week in history, the College suspended a student for stealing a computer, launched its new PeopleSoft system, and received support for its own bookstore.

Dec. 6, 1994: ‘First-year suspended for stealing computer at Brown’

An unnamed first-year student was suspended for the 1994-95 academic year after a member of Williams Security, during an unrelated check-in, found a computer that a Brown University student had reported stolen.

According to the student, he stole the computer when visiting a friend from home at Brown on the weekend of Sept. 30, 1994. The computer, which belonged to a Brown student he had met for the first time that weekend, remained in his dorm room for almost a month. On Oct. 25 of that year, a Williams Security officer paid him a visit after a professor reported that the student had missed a class, and discovered the computer.

Though the crime did not occur on campus, the dean of the College at the time, Joan Edwards, told the Record that the College could still “take disciplinary action against students who commit off-campus violations.” The student was suspended and continued his schoolwork at home.

If he wanted to attend the College in fall 1995, the student would have to notify the dean’s office by letter. At the time of the article, he told the Record that he was unsure of his future plans. “I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think I’d like to,” he said.

Dec. 7, 2004: ‘PeopleSoft receives mixed reviews

From 2000 to 2004, the College spent $5.5 million to migrate its administrative systems including student services, human resources, and financial accounting to PeopleSoft, which many students now call “Sarah” because of its URL, 

The change came after the previous software became too heavily customized by the College’s programming staff — meaning that updates from the manufacturer could no longer be easily implemented — according to Criss Laidlaw, director of administrative information systems at the time.

But the switch to PeopleSoft received backlash from some members of the College community. Then-Associate Registrar Mary Morrison told the Record the new system was actually harder to use than the old system, which she said was better geared towards the registrar’s office’s needs. 

Others, such as then-Associate Director of Admissions for Operations Connie Sheehy, said the transition to PeopleSoft was helpful. Some students, such as then-Williams Students Online Administrator Evan Miller ’06, also said there was room for improvement, especially when it came to the system’s user interface.

Dec. 9, 2015: ‘Community shares high hopes for planned College bookstore

During the week of Dec. 9, 2015, a review of student access to bookstores showed that members of the Williamstown community supported the development of a campus bookstore on Willmott Lot, located on the corner of Spring Street and Walden Street. Previously, students had to walk to Water Street Books to purchase their textbooks, which they often complained was too far from the center of campus. 

Faculty and staff members echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the need for the College to follow in the path of its peer institutions by building its own bookstore. “It’s weird for Williams that we haven’t had a campus bookstore like virtually every other college in the country,” Professor of Philosophy Alan White, former chair of the College Bookstore Committee, said in 2015. “This is a resource we need to support.”

Still operated by Follett — which was the College’s textbook distribution partner at Water Street Books — the bookstore now primarily serves as a place where students can order and purchase their course materials. However, it was initially also intended to be a gathering space for the community that generated business on Spring Street. “We’re taking important public space — community space — and we have to be responsive to the community’s concerns,” White said. “Making the bookstore a hangout space for students is in [the bookstore provider’s] best financial interest.”

The development of the bookstore was only one element of the College’s construction projects at the time. Other projects included the renovation and restoration of The Log, as well as the planned construction of a 60-to-100-room hotel at the base of Spring Street, which is now The Williams Inn.