I know this community of readers often dislikes to see soapboxing; follow me below the fold for a piece about our new President and a particular reaction I keep getting around campus.

Since the announcement of our new President, a lot of what I’ve heard about the President has to do with the categories he fits into: for example, he’s young and a Div 3 type of teacher, something this blog pointed out has been very rare at Williams. However, I’ve also heard a lot of reactions to the “diversity,” or lack thereof, of this pick. I’ve heard from more than one student about how unfortunate it is that Williams went with another white male, instead of breaking a barrier, and from others how glad they were that Williams didn’t let a desire for diversity keep them from picking the best candidate.

Such responses don’t surprise me, but the amount of focus on these traits was unexpected. I have a few responses:

First, while I don’t know the non-students on the search committee especially well, neither Alan Arias ’10 nor Lizzy Brickley ’10 were white males, and I completely trust their judgment and ability on this matter. They are both stand-up individuals who were very patient as I was trying to deconfirm Falk yesterday after the false (and slightly damaging) Hill leak.

Second, I’m bothered by the idea that there was a “best candidate.” “Quality” is, first of all, a non-quantifiable judgment call. True, there are definitive ways of looking at possible indicators of quality, like counting citations or awards, but ultimately it comes down to a gut decision between candidates that pass a certain bar of pre-requisites. We can’t foresee the problems and events that will shape President Falk’s time at Williams, and it’s entirely possible that one of the other 60 people interviewed for the job would have been better for whatever’s coming down the temporal road. However, we have to choose someone without the benefit of that knowledge, and President-elect Falk seems to be entirely capable of handling anything unforeseen. Remember the quote from the new site: The Search Committee Prospectus was said to describe him to a T.

Third, I’m bothered by the idea that a choice for someone who is “diverse” reflects choosing a President of lower quality. That’s nonsense. There is some rational basis, though, to the idea that the candidates for the position were probably overwhelmingly white and male, because policies aimed at correcting such imbalances have yet to take long-term & full effect. Within that context, I’m not surprised that Williams chose a white male, but it’s not something to celebrate or berate.

A caveat: I entirely agree that circumstances at Williams (and likely within higher Ed generally) have not been as easy for those coming from different backgrounds; my time on a panel during an alumni weekend last year made that clear as day. However, fixing the causes of those imbalances is different than treating the symptom of over-representation in school leadership. I would have been bothered if the Search Committee had chosen someone they felt was less capable than another candidate on the basis of checking a different diversity box, and I would have been hugely bothered by the suggestion that a non-white male picked would have lacked ability. I am a white male, and truth be told, that affects my perspective, but let’s talk about Falk and the things he has chosen in his life, not the traits he was born with. He is a beneficiary of privilege, but I’d like to think that didn’t factor into this choice.

I imagine it takes something special in an academic to get tenure in 3 years and a full professorship three years after that; I’m glad Williams now gets to benefit from whatever qualities those were. Enjoy the webcast; I’ll be there live.

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