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

This is the single most misleading sentence:

Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions [Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the College, Provost] 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.

Now, it is true that there is at least one faculty member who finds these positions “less attractive” then they might otherwise be, but the overall implication of this sentence — that the College has trouble attracting faculty to these jobs — is completely false. Consider a similar comment from Guy Creese ’75:

My father put up with being a Dean for five years and went back to teaching. Professors can be real prima donnas, and often invoke “academic freedom” as a way to get what they want. It’s a pretty thankless job, and saying the faculty should do more governance may sound nice, but there’s no guarantee people will be willing to do the work. If you create a Frankenstein of a job, you may get no takers.

Again, there is nothing literally false about Guy’s comment. (And Guy is extremely knowledgeable about elite education in general and Williams in particular.) But, like Falk’s letter, it implies that Williams has a recruitment problem, that the President has trouble finding anyone to take on the “thankless job” of being Dean of the Faculty.

That implication is false. There are dozens of Williams faculty who would love to be offered these positions, far more than will ever have the chance to serve Williams in this way. Don’t believe me. Ask Williams faculty members that you know. I did and everyone I talked to agreed that there were 5+ (and probably many more) faculty members who would be eager to take one of these positions if it were offered to her. Professor Joe Cruz writes:

I think that there are many faculty who would be very pleased to take on leadership roles at the college, including, of course, Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the College, or Provost. Venturing numbers would be pure speculation on my part, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t dozens of us who believe enough in the importance of faculty governance to seriously and enthusiastically see ourselves in those roles. To me, the most serious downside would be not spending time with students in the classroom, in tutorials, and supervising theses. Now, I don’t know how you can twist my words around here and I hope you won’t. I take myself to be saying something obvious (to me) and clear: Though I have not personally talked about this matter with more than a handful of friends, I strongly suspect there is no shortage of willing faculty members who would readily serve in these positions if asked by the President and Steering Committee. I am not saying that President Falk’s proposal for reorganization is a bad idea (my opinion is quite the contrary) nor am I saying that, were things to stay as they are now, that faculty would remain the best suited candidates to address the growing complexities of those positions.

If past experience is any guide, some commentator will now claim that I made up this quote, that I don’t really know what is going on at Williams and so on. Most of the time, I ignore this sort of stupidity because, ultimately, arguing with stupid people is a waste of time. But, for those who don’t believe my summary of faculty opinion and don’t believe my quote from Professor Cruz, here is Professor Frank Morgan’s comment.

I think that plenty of Williams faculty would like to be provost or dean of faculty. The talent for and interest in leadership at Williams exceeds the need. This has been fortunate for helping to keep our priorities academic rather than administrative.

Correct. And finding out the truth on these matters (and truth notably absent from the Record‘s pathetic coverage) is why you read EphBlog.

UPDATE: Apologies for messing up the quote attributions in this post. My mistake! I have fixed the post accordingly.

Print  •  Email