This is the first installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter (pdf) about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

President Falk writes:

A hallmark of Williams is the strength of its system of faculty governance. Without a doubt, this is one of its attributes that drew me here; it’s a key reason for the excellence that the College has attained. In particular, Williams has been very well served by the practice of rotating faculty into the positions of Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Dean of the College, which embeds faculty at the center of our prioritizing and planning.

This is one part truth and three parts gibberish. Before diving into the details of Falk’s proposal — a proposal much more subtle than it might first appear — it is useful to consider the meaning and history of “faculty governance.” The truth in Falk’s statement is that the faculty at Williams do, indeed, run the College and always have. And that, I think, is a good thing! Yet the gibberish is important to understand as well.

First, Williams is not special. Williams has no more faculty governance than Amherst, Pomona, Swarthmore or any other elite liberal arts college. (Contrary opinions welcome.) One might claim that Williams and other small colleges have more faculty governance than large universities like Harvard and Yale, but even that is unclear. Large universities also have faculty members as presidents, have faculty members in charge of all the key committees, and so on. Does anyone believe that the faculty at Williams have more power than the faculty at Harvard? Please explain.

Second, faculty governance has decreased dramatically over the last 50 years.

Governance is not just, or even primarily, about decision-making power. It is about knowledge. Recall the era of Fred Copeland ’35 (pdf), Director of Admissions and Professor of Biology. That is faculty governance, when members of the faculty hold decision-making power at Williams directly, not via a proxy. (Copeland was also in charge of all undergraduate housing.) When a faculty member was director of admissions, then the faculty was truly in charge.

First and foremost, Fred was an academic, and his prevailing questions in committee were always, “How would the faculty enjoy teaching this student?” and “What would the faculty think?”

When non-faculty member Phil Smith ’55 succeeded Copeland, was his focus on what the faculty would think? Partially (of course), but not as much as Copeland’s was. Indeed, I suspect that Williams would not have gone so overboard for athletic preferences in admissions if a faculty member had succeeded Copeland.

EphBlog’s Maxim #6: Every hire of a senior administrator weakens faculty governance.

Every decision made by a senior administrator is a decision no longer made by the faculty.

Third, Falk’s proposal weakens faculty governance, thereby continuing the clear trend of the last 10 years, and the 50 years before. Consider four of the senior administrators hired by Morty: Stephen Klass, Collette Chilton, Doug Schiazza and Mike Reed. Assume that these four are the very best administrators in the whole world, the most qualified people that Williams could have possibly hired. Even so, those hires, like any new ones, decrease faculty governance because they, hard-working and wonderful though they are, all do things for the faculty that the faculty used to do for themselves.

We will discuss these issues over the next 5 days, looking closely at the details of Falk’s proposal. For now, I am reserving judgment. There is no doubt that hiring more vice presidents decreases the power of the faculty. My bias would be to argue that this is a bad thing, for the same reasons that expanding the Office of Campus Life is a bad thing: Remember the Tablecloth Colors!

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

If you (Falk? the Trustees?) think that faculty are vaguely clueless academics and incompetent managers, then, obviously, you want to decrease their power. Let them focus on teaching and research. They are good at those things, and no so good at running Williams. My assumption is just the opposite:

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

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe we need more vice presidents at Williams precisely because the faculty can not be trusted to run the College (competently) themselves. Let me start this seminar with a simple question: Do you want the Williams faculty to have more power or less?

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