Excellent letter to the Record from Professor Frank Morgan:

At a time of important decisions, Williams must remember its mission and purpose. I see Williams College as a joint student-faculty/staff enterprise dedicated to the proposition that understanding brings progress. We value critical thinking, the free exchange of ideas and a community based on open-mindedness, inclusiveness, mutual respect and freedom from prejudice.

Do we need to adjust our priorities to adapt to the current climate and stay number one according to U.S. News and World Report in order to attract the best students, faculty and staff? No. I believe in our ideals. That’s what attracted me to Williams, and I do not think that we can do better than to attract those who share our ideals.

I am concerned that during some recent major decisions we have not focused clearly on our top priorities. Take the decision to close Greylock and Dodd dining halls. It might well have been the right decision, and one that would have been reached after a different process. For the sake of argument, let us suppose that for financial reasons we had to cut $800,000 from dining services. The question is exactly how to do that. The arguments we’ve heard have been about the most popular dining options. Those are legitimate but secondary considerations. The prime consideration should remain our mission and purpose, encouraging intellectual and community conversation among students, between students and faculty and across groups that are diverse intellectually, culturally and socially. We could include staff, visiting speakers, alums, prospective students, families and other guests. The potential for fostering such activity through College dining options I find exciting.

Our mission and purpose (which can be found online at www.williams.edu/home/mission) not only justify our best decisions but also mandate a more open decision process, in which we can practice what we preach about the free exchange of ideas leading to better understanding, more ideas and better solutions. Such open exchange of ideas, one of our core values, however inconvenient, deserves and requires our commitment, especially because it is sometimes inconvenient.

Such considerations apply not just to dining services decisions but also to the neighborhood review, the disposition of the new library, all the ways we spend our money and, more importantly, our time here at Williams.

Indeed. The College does some things well when it comes to transparency and some things horribly. The basic conflict is between people in the Administration who think that information/details should be “reserved for policy makers” — this was the justification given to me for keeping the details behind the 2009 Report by the Athletics Committee secret — and those, like Frank Morgan, who think that, as much as possible, a “more open decision process” and an “open exchange of ideas” are critical to the future of Williams. Frank is right.

Whose side are you on?

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