Thanks to David’s inquiring post and Wayne Hammond’s valuable follow-up, we know that acquiring the Daniel Chester French archives won’t force Williams into a difficult budget decision, like this:

Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life at Smith College, closed a budget gap by laying off
her only three practicing chaplains, representatives of the American trinity of religious tradition: Protestant, Catholic and Jew… [F]or the first time since 1935, there will be no chaplains at Smith.

According to Dr. Walters, the end of the chaplaincy was not just a matter of money. On a weekly basis, “less than 100 students were actually participating in regular religious services provided by the college,” Dr. Walters said. “Maybe close to 50 total, to be honest.”

Uh huh. I think “just a matter of money” and what Smith perceived as the “right place” to find it.

Notwithstanding my remark above, I can’t imagine Williams would take a similar step — both because religion is so deeply integrated with the history of the College and because the full-time (I’m pretty sure that’s right — although the Catholic chaplain was upgraded to full-time pretty recently, right?) chaplains at Williams are involved in so much more than leading worship, such as coordinating community service. And the community alternatives available for students in Williamstown are much more limited than in Northampton.

But has attendance at religious services declined as much at Williams as at Smith? Ten years ago, the JRC alone had more than 50 students per week attending services and dinner on Friday nights. And the
Chaplain’s Office webpage lists scheduled services for at least four other groups of students as well. Is that a reflection of differences among the student bodies? Credit to the carillonneurs (including Will Slack ’11) for providing a regular spiritual reminder from high atop Thompson Chapel?

Wondering what a “dean of religious life” will do without a chaplain? Well, Dr. Walters is herself an Episcopal priest who appears to have academic interests to pursue. And, according to the Times, there are new growth opportunities:

[S]he will continue to broaden Smith’s definition of what religion is, or what it is for. “Smith has a wellness director, so we have been working with her on self-care,” Dr. Walters said. “Writing workshops to reflect on their life, a sunrise hike where students get up at 4 or 5 o’clock and walk to Mount Skinner and watch the sun rise — is that a religious program?”

Hmm. I think there are going to be some prospective parents who are pretty disappointed on their college tour when they pass by the pretty chapel building. “Is that where Sunday services are?” asks a parent preparing to spend or borrow $200,000. “No, we just use it as a meeting spot for early morning hikes… but students can take a van over to Amherst on Sundays if they’d like.” I think that may cost Smith a few more students than they expect.

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