This post continues our month-long seminar about President Adam Falk’s Induction address.


The most resonant is James Garfield’s describing “the ideal college” as “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” His point was that education is fundamentally an interaction between committed teacher and engaged student. Everything else that we do supports that relationship. While hardly an unusual philosophy, at Williams we hold it at the very core of who we are. We use it, a century and a half later, to orient our educational priorities. Among the finest accomplishments of Morty Schapiro’s presidency was expansion of the tutorial system, the modern manifestation of this ideal.

What should happen on that log? No one has better described it than Mark Hopkins himself, who said:

We are to regard the mind, not as a piece of iron to be laid upon the anvil and hammered into any shape, nor as a block of marble in which we are to find the statue by removing the rubbish, nor as a receptacle into which knowledge may be poured; but as a flame that is to be fed, as an active being that must be strengthened to think and to feel—to dare, to do, and to suffer.


1) This is perfect, but expected. Surely, one would think, every Williams president mentions Garfield’s aphorism in his induction address? Alas, they don’t, at least according to my quick skim. Frank Oakley did not mention the log in 1985, nor did John Chandler in 1973. Even the sainted Jack Sawyer, the greatest Williams president of the last 100 years, failed to highlight the single most important statement ever made about a Williams education. Shocking, isn’t it?

2) Adam Falk rocks! I may be suffering from a bit of fan boyish — or fan middle-aged mannish — enthusiasm, but I am more and more convinced that Falk was an inspired pick, that he will lead Williams in exactly the direction it ought to go, that he understands what needs to happen to make Williams the greatest college in the world. You should keep my bias in mind as we continue this seminar.

3) That Falk would use this as the first story, that he would, in large measure, base his entire speech on this central metaphor, tells us a great deal about his future plans for Williams. What are your predictions?

4) We covered various aspects of the log story during our seminar this summer.

5) By the way, is anyone clicking on the YouTube video segments that we provide? It is somewhat of a hassle to set it up so that it starts at the location which corresponds to the paragraph that we are quoting, but , as long as at least some readers find it useful, we will continue the practice.


Well Dave,  we may have to work on the schedule here or I may not be making it to many of these seminars.

Sorry to show up late,   but I do have to make a living,  or at least,  make EB version 3.1.  And such– it’s almost sabbat,  after all.

So I’m going to keep this real quick.  First,   review.   Last time I was hear,  I noted that Falk gives us three grand– they’re not quite metaphors– ways of looking at Williams.   One is as what seems a physical place;  another is as a historical entity;    the final is as an educational institution,   in the context of other educational institutions and a world.

Then– think Chancellor Kerr again,   and think of Prof. Birnbaum’s caution against naked,  theoretical constructs versus history– Falk does not begin by talking about the College or the University as such, in purely abstract terms.  He — in one vocabulary– starts talking about concrete,  historical examples.

In another vocabulary,   we might say– he asks us to review the data.  One may wonder– “do we have an experimentalist here?”

Finally,   in this movement– Falk leads that historical review with Garfield and Hopkins.

My comment– why is it that no other President has led with this example?   Certainly it tells us something– that this is very much,   our self-conception at the moment.   It’s very present-ist.  As Falk will comment later,  it’s become quite fashionable.

And in that sense,  these comments are quite ‘present.’  But I’m not sure it’s anything more than historical review,  with the right flourishes and bows– of course we’re proud of this,  but are we really proud of it,  for the right reasons?–  I’m not sure, it’s quite the endorsement,  you think it is.

And are tutorials the end-and-be-all of education?   They’re very nice and all– but as Paul Rabinow was won’t to put it,  if you think they’re all there is,   then leave Berkeley and go to Oxford.

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