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A Guest Post

My name is William Lee and I am a sophomore from Brooklyn, NY. I serve on the Lehman Council for Community Engagement, and we are working very closely with Lindsay Moore ’09 to push for greater institutional support for student engagement with public affairs and community service. We were wondering if Ephblog could raise this issue in a post.

Last Wednesday, the Record published an op-ed by Laura Christianson and Janna Gordon, also on Lehman, which very succinctly explains what we are doing. There seems to be a general sentiment on campus that Williams students could be doing so much more with public affairs and community service, and that there is a severe lack of institutional support for students who do this kind of work. Currently, Williams’ Center for Community Engagement employs only one part-time staff member, and simply does not have the capacity to effectively coordinate resources and expertise for students. By comparison, schools like Amherst, Swarthmore, Middlebury and Hamilton have endowed, multi-million dollar Centers for Community Engagement that employ up to eight full time staff members. The amazing work that Williams students do now with public affairs and community engagement could be exponentially greater and more closely integrated into the Williams experience if the College made an institutional investment in supporting student activism and service.

We are collecting student signatures for a petition that Lindsay Moore will present at the next Board of Trustees meeting on Oct 16. So far, we have 250 names, and we aim to reach our target of 700 signatures by Sunday. We would also greatly appreciate it if alumni could show their support and sign the petition as well, and we were wondering if you could mention this in an Ephblog post.

Links: Record op-ed. There will be another article in tomorrow’s Record about our efforts.

Online petition: Setting the PACE for Excellence in the Liberal Arts: Public Affairs + Community Engagement at Williams

We are extremely interested in listening to what alumni think about this, and Ephblog is the perfect forum for doing so. We are also collecting testimonials from students and alumni expressing their frustrations with the lack of institutional support for student involvement in public affairs and civic engagement. If you or any alumni you know would like to contribute testimonials to the report we are presenting to the Board of Trustees, we are more than happy to include them. (Anywhere from a couple of sentences to several paragraphs suffices.)

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#1 Comment By JeffZ On October 8, 2008 @ 8:27 am

I think this is a great idea. Perhaps you could work with the already-extant Leadership Studies program, seems to be some obvious synergies there. I also think some of the best ways to engage the student body are via high-profile debates and speakers on campus (there seem to be fewer of these this year than the previous election cycle from what I can gather). Does the Williams College Debate Union still operate? It was a very successful series of campus debates, held in Chapin, that would pit a student, guest speaker, and faculty member against a similar trio — are these still going on? Great way to engage the entire campus in wide-spread discussion. Of course, that is only the public affairs side of the equation. As for community engagement, I guess I’m not sure how your mission differs from the Lehman community service council … in all events, I am glad you guys are expressing an interest in engaging more students in these issues.

#2 Comment By Larry George On October 8, 2008 @ 9:04 am

Add Dartmouth, with their well-staffed and funded foundation (Tuckerman?) for community service and their political engagement foundation (Rockefeller?) as a peer comparison in your data/Trustees presentation. Look at what colleges with significant application overlaps with Williams do. Figure out what schools the Powers That Be at Williams identify as peers of Williams, and provide comparative data about what they are doing (I see that you are already going this way). Availability of initiatives in these areas (and sustainability initiatives) are perceived as, and can be marketed to the Trustees as, attractive to applicants and to potential hires, in addition to improving campus life, having important potential for experiential education and making Williams a good neighbor and an exciting place to go to school.

#3 Comment By Larry George On October 8, 2008 @ 9:07 am

P.S. I am really excited to see these students reach out to EphBlog in this way. Let’s do everything we can to support and help them. I hope they, in turn, will send other student inquiries our way.

#4 Comment By David Kane On October 8, 2008 @ 9:18 am

I think that this is a horrible idea.

First, Williams already has enough bureaucrats. Remember the Table Cloth colors. There is no need to for more than one “part-time staff member.”

Second, there is, either in fact or in theory, way more support for service activities than one person. What do you think, say, Chaplain Rick Spalding does (or should do) all day? Any student interested in service activity X could go to Spalding and he would be happy to provide/arrange whatever “institutional support” was needed. Bob Scherr is interested in “raising issues of peace and justice on campus.” He would be happy to help as well. Don’t believe me? Just ask them (and others). Spalding/Scherr and others also have other duties, of course, but they have been involved in service projects at Williams for years.

Third, I can’t find a single specific examples (please provide one) of a service activity that students want to do that they can’t do because of a lack of “institutional support.” For example, if 5 students wanted to go to work at the Berkshire Food Bank once a week but couldn’t get transportation, that would be a problem. I would agree that the College should help make that service possible. But as the dozens of amazing Lehman activities demonstrate, the College already provides such transportation, and everything else (reasonable) that students need.

Fourth, I am very distrustful of people who worry about “community engagement.” Most of them time this is code for: “Why don’t you care as much about X as I do?” If a Williams students does not care about, say, US politics, then who are you to tell her that she should? If a Williams students is uninterested in, say, the quality of Williamstown schools, then who are you to tell him that he should become more engaged?

The Record op-ed claims:

Of course, there are a few well-established groups that provide some opportunities for engagement, but they do not begin to cover the range of student interests or the various areas of need in the Berkshires. The students asking us about service opportunities are a testament to the difficulty students have engaging meaningfully with the community.

Until I hear some specific examples, I won’t believe this. If a student says, “I am interested in getting involved in the local community,” then the obvious response is to point her to the 25 or so Lehman projects. Don’t like the Bone Marrow Registry, then how about Sweetbrook Nursing Home? Not interested in the Berkshire Food Project, then how about Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic?

Then are more than enough projects for students with an interest in community engagement to choose from. And, if you are really interested in project X, then start it up. That is what leadership means.

#5 Comment By rory On October 8, 2008 @ 9:23 am

wow, david, wow.

students in charge of something (community engagement) beg for more support and you say no? Isn’t part of leadership knowing when you need help and not being ashamed to ask for it?

#6 Comment By PTC On October 8, 2008 @ 9:35 am

I have been posting about these matters on this site for years. Williams does not keep pace when it comes to putting its students and its wealth into the area that surrounds it. That reflects the lack of care and separation of wealth that now assaults the framework of our broader American society.

The number one resource Williams has is people, and the college has lost any realistic connection to the town. Gentrification has displaced most of the working class, forcing them to live on the outskirts or outside of town. I am absolutely ecstatic to see students taking the lead on this issue. Kudos to you guys.

I implore you all to not just outreach into the community, but to give honest self analysis when it comes to the ways in which our society has changed into a place where gentrification and monetary wealth supersede those who attempt to get up everyday and work for honest pay. I have felt that in the last decade, Williams is a place that is spinning out of control, stuck on development and physical wealth at the expense of the local community. This is displayed in way in which Williams has developed the town. Keep that in mind as you walk through your campus and reach out into the community.

Congratulations on the start of this self reflection and analysis. May your generation be the one that reaches out the hand to those around you, and helps lift up this great nation! My hope is that you find the locals, get to know them well, and change this country!

#7 Comment By PTC On October 8, 2008 @ 9:41 am

David- They need help. They need to get to know locals. They are asking the school for a bridge, and they deserve one!

#8 Comment By Larry George On October 8, 2008 @ 10:08 am

Wasn’t the Student Life/Tablecloth problem about taking power away from students, about imposing bureaucrats on students unasked and unwanted, about adding staff that took matters far away from the students and often got in their way when they wanted to accomplish something? The current plea seems to be quite different. It’s worth exploring, and seeing how Williams can do things better (there’s always room for improvement, innovation, getting rid of duplicative efforts, bringing several groups’ efforts together, etc.). Yes, the Lehman Council provides a lot of opportunities, but it could do better. Could more students be involved if there were more self-scheduled opportunities, more opportunities that didn’t conflict with practice and competition schedules, more short-term opportunities, more reporting back on what students did in the summer, a summer internship fair, and more cross-fertilization opportunties (eg., arts students being involved ongoingly or oneshot in service programs)? Could students and faculty be energized by a rethinking of the whole area? I think so.

#9 Comment By current eph On October 8, 2008 @ 10:49 am


Larry’s correct–this is somewhat different than tablecloth colors (the issue there was that responsibility was very directly taken away from students). Furthermore, adding a greater degree of continuity could be incredibly helpful for off-campus projects–relationships must be built over the course of 5-10 years off campus, and students alone can’t successfully accomplish that.

The one hesitation I have is that during my days at Williams (03-07), there were tons and tons of community engagement projects. Just about every organization sponsored them, from Lehman groups, to MinCo groups, to the neighborhoods. I think adding a community engagement staffer might not be a terrible thing, but I can’t imagine what even an office with 4-5 (let alone 8) staff members would accomplish. In some basic way, David, I don’t think you’re far off here–campus groups are currently doing a pretty solid job of offering wide ranging and frequent community engagement opportunities. While a slight bump in staff support would solidify and expand these opportunities, I don’t think there’s an especially huge desire or need to do community engagement that is not being met already by the existing services.

#10 Comment By Larry George On October 8, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

I’m not there, so I really can’t say what I think about the level of engagement. I do think things can always be improved and that we should listen carefully to students when they make requests for support. When I am on campus, I see a lot of posters for community service events (not many for the ongoing projects that manage to slog along, like Habitat and some of the feeding and tutoring programs, though), indicating that things are going on, but I wonder about things like 1) “band-aids vs. systemic change” 2) the issue that current eph raises about building up relationships (and not just locally) 3) whether it is appropriate (or perhaps quite limiting) that so much in this area at Williams is run out of/with deep involvement by the Chaplains’ Office (no intention to imply that there’s anything wrong with the chaplains, or necessarily with their involvement) 4) who is there to write major, long-term grant proposals or back up students or faculty members who are trying to do so, and monitor results and expenditures 5) how best to integrate these normally extracurricular aspects of the Williams experience with the academic offerings and resources 6) how best to integrate Career Counseling and the internships, fellowships, and other support currently offered by the College, and perhaps improve on it 7) how best to provide valuable skill-building resources such how to plan a service project or how to write a grant proposal 8) how best to institutionalize knowledge given the short time a student is at Williams and the steep learning curb that can be involved in starting a project (a problem that probably leads unnecessarily to some stasis in what projects are available), and so forth.

What kinds of support the College could provide and how successful it might be would probably depend greatly on the creativity, energy, experience and tone of the person (people?) hired to provide it. I could see how a dynamic listener could collect ideas, put people together and provide support without stepping on anyone’s toes, as well as how it could be a disaster. I don’t know what Williams offers now, but at other colleges I have seen some very helpful, frequently updated binders that set out details on how to organize a project or fundraiser, what permissions are required, notes on past mistakes and successes, what restrictions apply, whom to contact for what resources, the legal implications, sample timelines for organizing an event, etc. I’ve also seen really helpful binders with information about careers, internships, past projects, alumni contacts, syllabi for past experiential education courses, etc. These were compiled and updated collaboratively by students and staff and, at minimum, are the sorts of paid support help that could really help Williams students, assuming that it isn’t already being provided.

#11 Comment By David Kane On October 8, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

Wasn’t the Student Life/Tablecloth problem about taking power away from students, about imposing bureaucrats on students unasked and unwanted, about adding staff that took matters far away from the students and often got in their way when they wanted to accomplish something?

No. As I make clear in the Tablecloth colors post, students initially requested additional “help” and were, probably, majority in favor (or at worst indifferent) to the creation of Campus Life. I (and others) knew that it was a bad idea a priori, but it took students a few years to agree. So, the two cases are analogous. Just because students ask/want X does not mean that X is a good idea, nor does it mean that future students will still want the X that they get.

Keep in mind that there are two very separate issues that, unfortunately, are grouped together under the phrase “student engagement with public affairs and community service.” First, we all agree that “service” is a good thing. Hooray for the many Eph student who volunteer around the community! But there is no evidence provided, not a single specific case, of a student not being able to volunteer at the Sweetbrook Nursing Home or Berkshire Food Project or anywhere else because of a lack of support from the College.

Why can’t William Lee and his colleagues provide a single example? The answer, obviously, is that any student who wants to get involved in one of the 20+ projects can get involved any time she wants.

Second, we have “engagement with public affairs.” This is much more problematic and emblematic of the sort of I-will-tell-you-what-to-care-about strain on nanny-bossiness that permeates to much of the debate at Williams. Today, Williams students are X engaged in “public affairs.” (Measure engagement however you like: reading newspapers, writing letters to congress, attending local planning board meetings, whatever). Who is to say that X is not optimal? Who is William Lee to say that a student who would rather, say, climb Pine Cobble or watch a women’s soccer game (Go Ephs) should instead spend those 2 hours engaged in public affairs? Who made him the boss?

List the activities that you want Williams students to spend less time on so that they can spend more time on “”engagement with public affairs.”

Rory’s comment crystallizes everything that makes me nervous about this.

students in charge of something (community engagement) beg for more support and you say no?

Who put William Lee in charge of “community engagement?” When was that vote? No student organization has the right to make other students do things that those students would rather not do.

By all means, provide Lee with resources. Does he need a table to use for registering voters in Paresky? Give him a table. Does he want to use a classroom to hold a meeting on local zoning regulations? Give him the classroom.

What specific resources does Lee, or any other Williams student, lack?

Larry George says “I do think things can always be improved,” and he is right! Things can always be improved. But does anyone really believe that there are too few bureaucrats at Williams? That we need to hire more non-faculty?

And, if you really believe that, where does it end? Do you want 500 non-faculty? 1,000? I think that, if anything, the student community at Williams would be more vibrant if there were fewer bureaucrats. At the very least, no one has provided any evidence that, on the margin, more is better. Have the last 50 hires improved Williams? Not that I can see.

The more that students do to run Williams, the better that Williams will be.

#12 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

Athletics Department
77 full and part-time employees

Center for Community Engagement
1 part-time employee

Chaplain, Coordinator for Community Service
2 employees

#13 Comment By current eph On October 8, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

That’s fair, David. I am sure William could let us know exactly what sort of resources are needed at Williams that are currently not being provided. I am sure he has a number of examples of specific things. I do agree that just because Amherst has a staffed office of community involvement doesn’t mean that it would be best to have one at Williams as well, but I have no doubt in my mind that William and the other students behind this proposal have other well documented justification for this at Williams (which I am eager to read).

#14 Comment By Rory On October 8, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

oh jeez, david…lehman is the service organization for williams and they requested the help. His name of the org: “Lehman Council for Community Engagement”. let’s not split hairs.

there’s a clear value to having an office in charge of community engagement–the potential for consistency. The potential to provide a local internship base for students over the summer or even during the year to spend a significant amount of time doing community service. the ability to work with faculty to design a fully-functioning community service/engagement curriculum with professors who are interested, etc. The ability to work to fund more and more varied summer internships along with the OCC (which does an admirable job, but probably could enhance that aspect of its offerings), etc. Maybe even work to create a program like Princeton’s project 55 that helps students get 1-2 year fellowships at non-profits around the country after graduating.

Look at amherst’s program and ask yourself: what about this don’t i like? which parts of this can I reasonably expect students to design themselves?

as for things students should do less of? I should have played fewer video games and drank less/watched less football. i’m sure there are still students like that now. happy?

ALSO–NO ONE, I REPEAT NO ONE, has asked for an additional requirement for students to be engaged. William Lee claims that there is a need for more institutional support for community engagement. That’s a complete straw man.

#15 Comment By current eph On October 8, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

172 full and part-time employees

Career Counseling
10 full and part-time employees


#16 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2008 @ 3:17 pm

In fairness to the College, the establishment of major community service centers at liberal arts colleges is a fairly recent development. Swarthmore founded the Lang Center for Social Responsibility in 2002 when board member Eugene Lang (I Have a Dream Foundation & Project Pericles) sat on a presentation to the board about community service at Swarthmore, folded his arms, and said, “It’s not enough…”

Amherst opened their new center and hired their new director in 2007.

There are many reasons why centralizing community service and engagement with a paid professional staff is valuable. Several that come to mind:

a) Continuity: With students coming and going every fourth year, it is almost impossible to sustain a major community service project over time without permanent staff.

b) Education: Students don’t come to college knowing how to write grant proposals, interact with NGO’s, or make community service ideas happen. A good professional community service organization teaches real-world skills to students. These students are ready to step into NGO non-profit positions upon graduation.

c) Faculty involvement: There is a significant trend in higher education to make service learning and community-based learning a part of the curriculum, i.e. courses that have students actively engaged in the community. These centers promote and coordinate course offerings in these directions.

d) Multicultural center: These centers become a focus of campus life for minority and international students. It’s easy to talk the talk about an inclusive community, but these are the types of investments that need to be made to walk the walk on making minority students feel like stakeholders in a college community.

These centers are becoming an increasingly important marketing tool. Compare the face of community service being presented by the three top-ranked LACs:

Amherst College
Swarthmore College
Williams College


And, finally: a cryptic “little birdie says” tip to the students leading this initiative. You need to schedule a meeting with President Schapiro to discuss various approaches of major peer college and universities. He is more familiar with other programs than you might think he is and may already recognize that Williams falls short of the mark. The kind of initiative you are looking for requires a board-level commitment. You aren’t going to get to the Amherst and Swarthmore level with student petitions.

#17 Comment By Larry George On October 8, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

But don’t give up on the petition, as you need to show, in addition to needs and sparkling ideas, a lot of interest (student, faculty, alumni, even local charities and organizations could be helpful in the mix — can you get some letters of support, excitement, …?).

#18 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

But there is no evidence provided, not a single specific case, of a student not being able to volunteer at the Sweetbrook Nursing Home or Berkshire Food Project or anywhere else because of a lack of support from the College.

This is a somewhat parochial view of the types of service projects organized by today’s more ambitious students.

Some examples:

Williams students (Anouk Dey) in Jordan

Swarthmore student gets Clinton Global Initiative grant for medical clinic in Venezuela and more

Amherst students in South Africa

In my opinion, these schools are going to have an increasingly difficult time justifying their billion dollar endowments if they are not engaged in training tomorrow’s leaders in service to a global community.

#19 Comment By JeffZ On October 8, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

Billion dollar endowments … for now.

#20 Comment By David Kane On October 8, 2008 @ 4:55 pm


1) Have you heard? There is a market crash going on. There is no way that Williams will have an “increasingly difficult time justifying” its endowment. That is a bull market concern.

2) Even if that were a concern, how does sending Anouk Dey to Jordan convince anyone who might need convincing? They won a $10,000 grant to go to Jordan. Good for them. How much of that money actually went to “help Iraqi children?” My point is not that they shouldn’t have applied for the award or won the award or gone to Jordan. My point is that this is not the sort of community service that Lehman is typically associated with.

3) You claim:

With students coming and going every fourth year, it is almost impossible to sustain a major community service project over time without permanent staff.

Says who? Many of the projects listed at the Lehman page are ones that I remember from 20 years ago. Lehman itself has been in business for many decades. And, to the extent that projects come and go, that is a good thing. Students change. They used to care about X and now they care about Y. Moreover, that change itself provides leadership opportunities.

4) As usual, no one seems to take opportunity cost issue seriously. Would you rather have another staff member or another professor? Who adds more to the quality of a Williams education?

5) Not only do bureaucrats crowd out student effort, they crowd out faculty involvement. Instead of hiring people, why don’t Lee and others petition the Dean to create a faculty committee on community engagement? The more that faculty are involved in student life outside the classroom, the better. The more bureaucrats you hire, the less that that occurs.

#21 Comment By JG On October 8, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

Re: #4 David, as usual, you are ignoring the arguments that people have put forward and assuming that because they don’t agree with you that opportunity cost has not been considered. The exact argument is that community engagement IS part of the Williams education and that this center or more staff would greatly enhance it. I think funding a project like this can somewhat be likened to creating an entirely new academic department (not an exact parallel I realize). So in this case I actually would argue for funding a staff person in a center like this over another professor in an already established department – by the way, the director of such a center/program could also be a professor.

Re: #5, did I miss the part where faculty were falling all over themselves to be the points of continuity on these programs? While there are many who give of their time, faculty already have full time jobs and serve on a lot of committees at Williams. Some go above and beyond through Gaudino and some other programs (Rory, you worked with Gerrard on one, right?). But you need institutional support beyond a few committed faculty volunteering their time who may or may not get tenure or stay at Williams. While you may not agree David, students have organized themselves to ask for particular support where they see a need. I think at the very least they deserve a measure of respect for having gotten organized rather than your derisive assumptions that they haven’t considered the costs, invented the need, or don’t know how to use the few resources already available.

#22 Comment By rory On October 8, 2008 @ 5:50 pm

I did briefly. But because it was one professor and two student helpers, they moved that money into funding a professorial chair to focus on the idea (to foster the study of democracy) in a more academic way–partly because the ad hoc basis we had created wasn’t doing enough.

It might have worked, actually, if a staff person had occasionally pushed us to focus on it, we might have done more–it was easy to let it slip what with classes and other commitments (for the students and Gerrard). We did have an election watching event that was pretty successful. A shame we didn’t do more with the project.

My mom has done a lot of work with Princeton and its internship programs (not technically princeton’s–they’ve kept themselves semi-autonomous). Suffice to say, when interacting with non-profits and creating a stable connection, it was very good to have a staff person in charge.

#23 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

Not only do bureaucrats crowd out student effort, they crowd out faculty involvement. Instead of hiring people, why don’t Lee and others petition the Dean to create a faculty committee on community engagement? The more that faculty are involved in student life outside the classroom, the better. The more bureaucrats you hire, the less that that occurs.

That has not been the experience at Swarthmore. The first Executive Director of the Lang Center was a tenured professor who had most recently served as the Provost of the College. Obviously, appointing her signalled a major committment to the Lang Center. My daughter took a service learning seminar from her that involved internships with Phila NGOs. She had considerable contact with her, including writing a couple of recommendations.

She retired from the College last year and was replaced by another tenured faculty member, who had previously been Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs. Again, a significant appointment. The executive board consists of four more professors, a dean, and a coach.

Each year, the Lang Center hires a Lang Visiting Professor of Issues for Social Change. Although usually (but not always) too liberal for my tastes, these visiting profesors have brought a wealth of perspective on social change to Swarthmore students — usually from a more real-world perspective This year’s Lang Professor, George Lakey, had me and an entire amphitheater full of parents and students in tears with his commencement weekend Baccalaureate Speech.

If anything, the Lang Center has served to more tightly integrate the faculty into community service and engagement because its executive directors have been campus leaders with strong ties to the faculty. They have been able to recruit faculty leadership for a number of major projects including War News Radio which offered half-course credit in the History Department.

#24 Comment By David Kane On October 8, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

Well one woman’s “derisive assumptions” are another man’s hard-headed realism.

1) We need specific examples. Until those are provided (and I have e-mailed Lee about this), the case for a staff hire is, at best, incomplete.

2) Can someone give us more context? Who is Stewart Burns, the part-time staff member mentioned in the op-ed? What does he do when he isn’t at Williams? One (obvious) worry is that the students just want their buddy Burns to get a full time job. (I am not claiming that this is the cause, or that Burns has urged them on, or that it would be a bad idea.) How long as he been at Williams? I distinctly recall that there was a woman who held this job two years ago. (She was interviewed in one of the Nathan Friend’s WCFM podcasts.) What happened to her? Is she still at Williams? If not, why did she leave?

3) I have a vague sense that Burn’s job was created just a few years ago, as part of the re-org associated with Campus Life. True? Who advised Lehman before that? I seem to recall that Spalding (and others?) was heavily involved in previous years.

It is very helpful to know the history of the people and institutions involved.

#25 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

Burns appears to have been involved in the Berkshire community, perhaps as a bit of an expert on Sprague Electric:

Link to Burns publication

Burns, Stewart. “Like a Family? Women Workers at Sprague Electric, 1930-1980,” a report for Shifting Gears: The Changing Meaning of Work in Massachusetts, a project of the Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities and Public Policy. North Adams: Western Gateway Heritage State Park, date unknown.

Location(s): Files of Maynard Seider

Burns’ article is based upon a series of interviews by trained volunteers of women who worked at Sprague Electric during the aforementioned time period, and is an attempt to try to evaluate the experience of working at the electronics giant from their own perspective. The women’s working patterns, feelings of loyalty to the company and its founder, and views on the labor unions and strikes are examined in some detail, and it becomes apparent that women workers at Sprague both upheld and shattered expectations in their working careers. While the range of experiences was appropriately diverse, several trends appeared. In general, women professed a profound admiration for R.C. Sprague, recalled fondly the olden days of luncheon parties and singing at their work stations, became dismayed as their workplace became increasingly prone to psychological stresses, and displayed a great deal of ambivalence over the role of the unions and the strike of 1970, even if they had been and were still active union members.

Women workers at Sprague were often career production workers– working even after marriage and childbirth at greater rates than might have been expected for the middle decades of the century– and at the encouragement of Sprague management, an unusual move for the times. At the same time, women of the time were less likely to raise protests against gender discrimination, even though they were certainly aware of its existence. Burns and to some extent the women themselves attribute this behavior to a combination of gender limitations given the time period and the docility supposedly instilled by the Catholic religion of many of the workers, although his successor (see Gabrielsky) comes to a somewhat different conclusion.

#26 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

He also appears to be the editor of books on MLK Jrs papers and the Montgomery bus boycott:

See link HERE

#27 Comment By hwc On October 8, 2008 @ 7:15 pm

Here ya go. Burns’ hiring was announced Sept 2006. From the press release announcing dozens of administrative appointments:

Stewart Burns, coordinator of community partnerships for the office of community service. Burns has been a visiting professor of leadership studies and history at Williams since 2004. He is the author of several books, including “To the Mountaintop: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Mission to Save America, 1955-1968,” which won the 2005 Wilbur Award for excellence in communication of religious themes to a secular office. Burns received his B.A. in history from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1975 and his Ph.D. in history and politics from UC at Santa Cruz in 1984.

#28 Comment By PTC On October 9, 2008 @ 3:07 am


My Grandmother worked at Sprague.

I am not sure how many of you got to experience, or to what degree, exactly how far into the depths of depression North Adams fell in the years “after Sprague” but “before Mass MoCA”.

In the late 70s, through the 80s and into the 90s, North Adams truly was an example of a New England mill or plant town gone under. Poverty, welfare, drugs, illiteracy, incest, teen pregnancy – North Adams had some of the highest rates in the State. We (Williamstown townies) used to hang out there to muck it up. Looking back on it, It was a sad place really, many of us lost our virginity there as young teens. You can see examples of what the place was like scattered all around New England, especially in Connecticut. Pittsfield is what happens when you have not recovered from the tragedy that was once North Adams. I have a lot of memories there.

Stewart Burns sounds like he has his act together in terms of community outreach. If he studied and understands some of what went on in North Adams, then he knows the destruction of a New England town when production leaves.

Is he a local? Where was he born?

#29 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On October 9, 2008 @ 3:49 am


I remember NA in ’88-’97 fairly well– didn’t spend nearly as much time there as I should, but had friends at NASC–

Kentucky in the 70s and 80s seems to me so painfully similar: the depths of poverty and despair (drugs and etc flowed in mostly after I left, thankfully): but to think that majority of counties are still places where $10K is the average income, to try to come to terms with the fact that one in four adults in Nashville-Davidson are functionally illiterate– and that is far better than the surrounding counties–

I almost wrote SophMom yesterday: two generations of middle Americans have been denied a basic education– it is time to define a bold project to rescue them, to repair–

over a decade ago, I sat down with a young woman in a cafe in rural Germany– in Iserlohn, outside Wuppertal– who had just graduated the Gymnasium. An “average” woman– who amazed me, because she had taken the Art History tract and she knew more than most Williams seniors who majored in the subject.

The flaws of the European system aside, it amazes me because of all that it offers to its citizens (and its immigrants)– and all that “we” do not. I’ll temper that– with looking at French schoolchildren in the bus line in Fontainbleau, and realizing that French socialism means 95 out of a 100 in that line will never earn more than $35K/yr, never have the resources to live in Paris.

But… well I was going to say “even the banlieu” are not North Adams, and you have to range to eastern europe to find that… but with the Paris banlieu having accepted nearly a million immigrants, and the vast squatter-towns emerging, as in (the) Africa(s) and (the) Latin America(s)… I’m thinking about a decade ago, when much has changed and become more complex…

but enough of this, for now

#30 Comment By PTC On October 9, 2008 @ 8:50 am


I am having my first experience with public education in Virginia Beach and my wife and I are very impressed. She is a well educated woman who works with children for a living, so she would know!

It is largely up to each community in the United States to get their act together when it comes to local schools. One of the things that shocks me when I get home is the relative high increase of people’s sentiments when it comes to Drury in North Adams, in comparison to their low sentiments towards Mount Greylock in Williamstown. The opposite of what I experienced growing up. The financial troubles of Greylock and the Colleges role in helping the local high school has been a favorite topic of David’s.
I think NCLB has been a disaster. Public schools are forced to teach to a test for large portions of their curriculum, which crushes intellectual exploration and liberal arts education. I’d stab myself in the eye with a pencil and quit if I was forced to attend public school today.

I have spent about a year in Germany over the last decade. I was there for several months last year. I do not speak German and I am always amazed by the number of people who speak English very well even though they have never been to an English speaking country. I suppose, given the nature and scope of our (American) presence there, they have plenty of need and people to practice with. No doubt that the entire country has its act together, when it comes to education.

I witnessed some very large divisions in Eastern Europe. I got to spend time in Slovenia, which was a proud Mountainous nation with a well organized society and strong structure. Very different from what I found when I traveled south to other parts of the Balkans.

Central and South America I had a sound familiarity with in the 90s. I speak Spanish, and I spent seven years there. It has been a long time since I have been back. There have been opportunities, but no time.

Africa changes so rapidly in terms of structure and wealth, generalizations are tough. I only have a feel for West Africa. What I found were curious people and massive separations of wealth. Plus the Christian and Muslim divisions… thank god we have the opportunities given to us.

I am rambling….

#31 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On October 9, 2008 @ 10:44 am


Thanks for the rambling: to veer into another thread, this is also a ‘discussion’ sort of site.

Running to prep for a meeting, but one of the bitter and sweet memories you reminded me of: north of Munich, early 90s: KEIN ZUKUNFT (“No Future”) spray painted on a concrete wall– the true despair of youth culture that the phrase embodied.

Ljubljana: for later.

#32 Comment By William Lee On October 9, 2008 @ 6:24 pm

I would first like to thank everyone (David Kane included) for their helpful comments and suggestions. It’s great to see alumni take in interest in this, and we really appreciate all the support you can give.

We are in the process of collecting testimonials from students and alumni in order to document some of the difficulties students have faced when doing work in public affairs and civic engagement. These testimonials will go into a report that we will present to the Board of Trustees next week. Until then, I can list a few examples of perennial student frustrations off the top of my head:

– Zoe Fonseca ‘08, Morgan Goodwin ‘08 and Julia Sendor ’08 founded Thursday Night Group, the leading environmental sustainability activism group on campus. Before they graduated, they identified three first-years to succeed them as strong leaders for TNG, and did their best to pass on all the knowledge and expertise needed to run the group. This year, as sophomores, TNG’s groupheads have found the job incredibly challenging. No matter how well the graduating seniors prepared them, there was still be a steep learning curve when the sophomores hit the ground running in September, mobilizing immediately for a nation-wide youth activism campaign, coordinating with other schools on organizing a national conference of student leaders in environmentalism, and executing local campus initiatives. There are so many moments now when new problems or unexpected situations arise, moments when it would be incredibly useful to get advice from Zoe, Morgan and Julia, except that Zoe’s Teach for America position is a 24/7 job, Morgan is a community organizer in Ohio, also a 24/7 job, and Julia is in Nicaragua. The Lehman Council can only do so much to provide support; we all have our own service projects to focus on, and none of us work closely enough with TNG to give them the advice they need. Imagine if there were a full-time staff person like Zoe, Morgan or Julia, who remained on campus as students came and went, centralized and unified a sophisticated body of knowledge about doing this kind of work on campus, and was always available as a resource when students needed help and had to mobilize fast. Lehman has put together guidebooks and binders in an effort to bring together this kind of information, but a guidebook just does not compare to an actual person who has years of experience in service, who maintains close relationships and connections with community leaders in North Adams and Pittsfield, who can open doors for students who are new to the Berkshires and do not know the full network of community resources out there. It is incredibly inefficient that every student activism or service group needs to reboot every two or three years when seniors graduate and first-years have to start from square one. Discontinuous leadership and high turnover rates detract significantly from student work, and can be directly addressed with an institutionalized support network.

– Every year, Lehman receives many times more Alternative Spring Break Trip grant requests than we can fund. These student-run trips have become immensely popular over the last several years, and there is always fierce competition among students to earn spots on a trip because so few trips can receive funding. This spring, Purple Valley Films traveled to New Orleans to carry out a service project and produce a documentary on the many problems that have persisted since Hurricane Katrina. The Christian Youth Fellowship also went to New Orleans to rebuild houses for displaced low-income families. Each year we have to make the wrenching decision to turn away many other grant requests. Williams students are coming up with brilliant ways to change the world around them, but are unable to implement their ideas because of a frustrating lack of funding.

– Similarly, Lehman’s Social Entrepreneurship Grants are the primary, and often the only, means of funding for students who come up with innovative new strategies for addressing social problems on campus or in the Berkshire area. Our latest grant went to Anouk Dey to allow her to continue her work in Jordan on campus. She is using the grant as seed money to fundraise on campus for Right to Play, an NGO which funds sports activities and camps for Iraqi refugee children living in Jordan. Previously we had to turn away an application seeking to establish an annual Model U.N. competition in rural Pakistan because we had to devote our money to funding grants that worked on campus or in the area. Compare this situation with the Swarthmore Foundation, a dedicated endowment established for the sole purpose of financing student-created and student-implemented service projects worldwide. Several Swarthmore students have used Swarthmore Foundation funds to jumpstart long-term projects or even to create independent non-profits, something that Lehman’s limited year-to-year grants simply cannot do.

– Sadly enough, sometimes it does come down to minor logistical details like a lack of cars. With the gentrification of the Williamstown area, the majority of student service projects require students to drive into North Adams, Adams or Pittsfield. BFP, Best Buddies, Sweetbrook Nursing Home, Habitat for Humanity, WRAPs and many more all have to compete for time slots to use the two Lehman cars dedicated for service projects. BFP was originally intended to send Williams students daily to work at the food shelter, but has to cut down on shifts to accommodate other groups.

These are just a few specific examples; they point to some larger systemic and institutional problems with the way public affairs and community engagement are integrated into the Williams experience. A couple of alumni have already anticipated what these problems are:

– Yes, too much bureaucracy is a problem, but the bureaucratic structure that exists now is counterintuitive. Stewart Burns in the Center for Community Engagement, Rick Spaulding and Bob Scherr in the Chaplain’s Office, Paula Consolini as the Director for Experiential Education, Ed Burger and the Gaudino Fund, tutoring programs at local high schools run out of the Dean of the Faculty’s Office and then separately out of the CCE, the Office of Career Counseling’s administering of internship funds, and finally the Lehman Council – all these individuals in different offices are tasked to different degrees with facilitating student involvement in public affairs and service. Responsibilities and lines of communication are fragmented and decentralized; even as a Lehman board member, I was not aware of Paula Consolini’s office until late last semester. Resources are underutilized or misdirected, and possibilities for lateral cooperation are sometimes left unexplored. A unified center would streamline resources and centralize expertise, and allow these wonderful people to put their time and energies to even greater and more ambitious uses.

– As hwc pointed out, there is a need for closer faculty involvement. So far, the problems I have cited are only the ones evident from the Lehman Council’s perspective, and have not begun to touch the issues that faculty have raised about the place of public affairs in the Williams curriculum. Swarthmore has a public policy major, its Lang Center is steered by faculty supervision, and the Center hires a Visiting Professor to focus on issues of social responsibility. Amherst’s Center for Community Engagement is organized under the umbrella of Academics, and offers workshops for faculty on “community based pedagogy and research,” “building mutually productive community partnerships,” and “social science research with local organizations.” Pitzer College offers a semester-long academic program for students that combines classes on the theory of social work with a practicum component on the practice of social work. The Williams liberal arts curriculum could do so much more to engage directly with public affairs. Cathy Johnson, chair of the Williams Political Science Department, shares this concern, and she will be speaking alongside Lindsay Moore in our presentation before the Board of Trustees next week.

– Williams students are now thinking globally, but the support structure for civic engagement work continues to think parochially. Anouk Dey is connecting her fundraising efforts on campus with a transnational drive to better the lives of Iraqi refugees. Sasha Zheng and Santiago Sanchez with the Global Education Project conduct directed fundraising drives to sponsor small-scale but big-impact projects such as the construction of a new elementary school in a rural South American village or the provision of textbooks for a startup university in Africa. The challenge to thinking globally about humanitarianism is that global solutions are more ambitious, costly, and difficult to implement. These students need a professionalized support structure that can provide them with the financing and expertise they need. The problem is that the existing support structure has a more parochial focus because it does not command the financing or expertise to think globally. Lehman focuses its social entrepreneurship grants on local and regional efforts because international projects are much too expensive. The net effect is that most of our service groups do local work, which although important and necessary, cannot address systemic conditions of poverty, injustice or inequality. Students with bold and broad-reaching ideas, like holding an annual Model U.N. competition in rural Pakistan, are left without support.

– As hwc and Larry George mentioned, continuity is a serious problem even for the existing support structure. Lehman Council is the umbrella organization for student activism and service groups, but the fact is that we are all volunteers (and full-time students with a lot on our plates), and we simply cannot operate at the capacity that a devoted and permanent staff can. We are susceptible to the same turnover problems that weaken the student service groups we oversee. Each incoming Lehman member faces a steep learning curve, while each outgoing Lehman member cannot possibly pass on his or her full range of expertise, knowledge and personal connections with important community partners. Providing a support network that can centralize this expertise and skills base does not equate to taking away student leadership and initiative. If you give students more support and more resources to work with, they won’t step back and do less—they’d step up and do even more. With stronger institutional backing, the creativity and diligence of students will continue to be the wellspring of campus efforts to engage public affairs and civic engagement, and will only carry students’ work so much farther.

I hope I have addressed some of your questions and concerns; I’m sure I must have missed a few things in this long-winded post. We are very glad and extremely interested to hear what you think, so please keep sending questions and suggestions our way! I’ll let you know when we decide to publicize the report. Again, if you’d like to sign the petition, you can do so at http://www.williams.edu/resources/commservice/index.php?id=8

Thanks again!

#33 Comment By Will Slack ’11 On October 9, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

I have to run out, but that last comment should be made as an official post. It’s far too well thought out to stay here in the thread.

#34 Comment By Larry George On October 9, 2008 @ 8:35 pm

Well done.

I hope someone will be including/presenting lots of details about faculty involvement/field work/engagement-focused classes at other schools. An appendix, perhaps. Let’s give the faculty a chance to get fired up.

#35 Comment By JeffZ On October 9, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

William, great post. You are a credit to Williams. I am glad to see the popularity of alternative spring breaks — that was one of my best experiences, personally, at Williams (in my case a Habitat trip). One thing I really hope President Obama uses the bully pulpit for, given his ability to connect to youth, is to encourage (or if necessary, guilt) college kids to spend half of their four spring breaks doing service oriented trips. A great way to inspire the start of a lifelong interest in community service … and a way to turn youthful ideology into society-wide returns, without any real costs … and believe me, those trips are still plenty fun.

#36 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On October 9, 2008 @ 8:48 pm

William: allow me to add to the kudos: great post!