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

Consider the current Williams org chart.


1) Note that the positions of three of the senior administrators (Collette Chilton, Mike Reed ’75 and Stephen Klass) did not exist 10 years ago. Of course, Williams still had an endowment, a Multicultural Center and dining halls in 2000, but those important functions were directly supervised by faculty members. As I noted on Monday, “faculty governance” at Williams has decreased significantly over the last 50 years as fewer and fewer activities/resources are directed/controlled by faculty members. You may think this is a good thing or a bad thing, but there is no doubt about the direction of the trend or about Adam Falk’s plan to continue it.

2) Falk writes:

It’s critical that the faculty in these positions [Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Dean of the College] be focused on advancing our top academic priorities, but unfortunately they increasingly find themselves needing to burrow into detailed administrative and management duties, which in our ever more complicated world require technical knowledge and skills.

First, to “burrow” is to lead. A good Provost does not pen motivational speeches or concoct 20 year plans of world domination. She dives into the financial and operational details of the college. That is what Cappy Hill used to do before ascending to the Vassar presidency. That is what Bill Lenhardt does today.

Second, what “technical knowledge and skills” does the Dean of the Faculty require? None. Same with the Dean of the College. Nor is being Provost rocket science. None of these jobs require mystical “knowledge” that the average faculty member does not have, or could not easily acquire. (They require leadership, consensus building, insight and so on, but such was the case 50 years ago as well.) Even the technical details (Excel spreadsheets?) of the long range planning that is done in the Provost’s office is handled by folks like Associate Provost Keith Finan.

Third, even to the extent that technical knowledge is required, learning on the job (and talking about the topic with interested/enthusiastic alumni) is a reasonable strategy. Instead of hiring a VP of Finance, appoint four faculty members as assistant provosts. This would be a service position, similar in its workload to chairing a department or major committee. This would be a perfect way for a junior professor to try out administration, see if she likes it, to determine if she wants to do more of it. Future provosts would often be selected from the ranks of former assistant provosts.

These responsibilities limit, often extensively, the time needed for strategic thinking and leadership. Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions can make them less attractive to faculty, and the technical skills required of the Provost seem to limit its candidates to faculty in certain academic disciplines.

Just how much “strategic thinking and leadership” did, say, Dean of the College Karen Merrill (or Nancy Roseman or Peter Murphy or Steve Fix or insert-your-favorite-dean-here) accomplish during her term. Very, very little! And that is not Merrill’s (or Roseman’s or Murphy’s or Fix’s) fault! The only role at Williams that calls for meaningful “strategic thinking” is the Presidency and, even there, just how much strategy is involved is a matter of dispute. Managing at Williams is a matter of committees and meetings, consensus-building and information-gathering. At Williams, like at almost all other elite colleges, senior faculty positions like Dean of the Faculty require zero “strategic thinking.”

So, why does Falk pretend that they do? Because he wants to weaken faculty governance. He wants to decrease the knowledge and power of the faculty by replacing faculty decisions-makers with senior bureaucrats, people without tenure, people beholden to him, people he can fire/replace if they do not go along with his strategic thinking and leadership. The fundamental effect of Falk’s proposal is to weaken the faculty and strengthen the presidency.

Whether or not you think that is a good thing depends on your opinion of the Williams faculty. What do you think?

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