President Falk’s induction speech on Saturday will probably be the only thing he ever writes that will be read 50 years from now. (Many thanks to College Archivist Sylvia Kennick Brown for gathering the induction speeches of past Williams presidents.) Do you have any suggestions/requests for Falk? Write them in the comments and we will pass them along.

My main suggestion: Specify public metrics by which we can judge the success of your presidency.

Most induction speeches are boring and trite. (Links to good ones are welcome.) Part of that is the nature of the beast. Presidents should not give offense and are mostly charged with a) raising money and b) not messing up. Williams after 10 years of a Falk presidency is going to look a lot like Williams today. Most of Falk’s speech will, therefore, simply re-iterate areas of common agreement. Williams is one of the best liberal arts colleges is the world today. We all want it to be better tomorrow.

But there is still room for Falk to give a better induction speech than those given by the presidents of Amherst, Swarthmore or Pomona. He should to provide specific measures by which we can determine his success or failure.

If he just says, “We will continue to improve the quality of our teaching,” then there is no way, five years from now, for us to measure that. If he just says, “We will continue to attract the very best students,” then there is no (easy) way for us to decide if he has failed. And so on. Instead, he could, right now, propose some specific measures and then promise to make the data available for all to see. Consider these concrete suggestions:

1) Student quality. 90% or more of the students admitted to both Williams and to Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford turn us down. Many of them are making the right choice for good reasons. But many are not. At least 1/2 of them would be better off at Williams. Improving our cross-yield percentages, both with HYPS and with other competitors like Amherst/Brown/Dartmouth, is the single best way to increase the quality of the student body.

2) Student experience. As a part of COFHE, Williams already collects a great deal of high quality data about the student experience, inside and outside the classroom. COFHE rules prevent Williams from releasing the data for other schools, but we are allowed to release Williams data. Falk should promise to do so. He should also specify now what outcomes he thinks are most important and what he plans to do to improve them. He might also propose to gather more and better data. (More on that tomorrow.)

3) Alumni engagement. Williams graduates are engaged with Williams, but they are not nearly as engaged as they ought to be. If improving this engagement is an important goal for Falk (and I think it should be), then he ought to propose specific metrics (annual giving rates, reunion attendance, correspondence with class secretaries, interactions with OCC and admissions, et cetera) and commit to making the past and future values of these metrics publicly available.

Any of these measures might be “gamed” in various ways. But the more transparent Williams is, the less likely that is to occur.

Falk is a young man with big dreams. Although he does not know where he wants to be in 10 years, he would certainly like to position himself so that, if he is successful as Williams president, elite universities like Hopkins and Harvard will consider him a plausible, even desirable, candidate for their own presidencies. The best way to do that is to propose specific, measurable goals for Williams and then spend the next decade achieving them.

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