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


A second story follows the defection of President Zephaniah Moore that led to the founding of Amherst College. Our two institutions have been siblings, and rivals, and great friends for almost two hundred years, and the rumor that the secret to my appointment here was the promise to beat Amherst always, all years, in every sport, has been greatly – well, somewhat – exaggerated. Yet what’s important, and what we remember and talk about to this day, is what occurred after Moore and his colleagues departed. The alumni of this College, perched on what was thought to be an impossible, barely habitable frontier, rallied to not just save it but enhance it. The formation in 1821 of the first society of alumni in the U.S. was an act both of gratitude for past experiences and of faith in the possibility of a future. It was a commitment that students in perpetuity should be able to share the unique and remarkable experiences available only in this College in this valley. And it’s in this singular spirit that Williams alumni have long expressed their love for alma mater. It’s a passion – at times, we all know, a possibly subclinical fanaticism *cough* EphBlog *cough* – not simply for the Williams of the past but for the Williams of the future. It’s a continuing, shared responsibility for the preservation and advancement of this College drawn straight from the existential crisis of 1821.


1) Woo-hoo! A shout out to EphBlog in the induction address. That is way cool. The only quibble I might have with the phrase “subclinical fanaticism” is the “sub” part.

2) Love the emphasis on the alumni. Can you see how perfectly Falk’s two stories match up with my own vision of Williams? The most important thing about Williams is the teacher/student relationship. The second most important thing about Williams is the relationship between the college and the alumni. Too many members of the faculty/administration ignore that relationship, don’t care what alumni think, and place no emphasis on fostering greater contacts between the alumni and current students/faculty. My hope (projection?) is that Falk sees things differently, that he recognizes that the alumni are incredibly important (and not just for the money which they donate) and that he plans on making alumni relations a central theme of his presidency. Why else make this the second story of three?

3) OK, OK. Falk did not actually say “EphBlog.” But I hope he was thinking of us!


Darn you there David.   I almost had to listen to the video again.  Perhaps if we run it though some audio enhancement software again?

I do think you’re … how did you put it?…  you may be projecting just a bit.   And I still fear we’re not listening,  but projecting our own wants and needs and hopes.

But,  keeping things shorter for now,  what strikes me here again is that Falk defines the matter in such a historical fashion– we’re not in the potentially lofty realms of American higher education,  or world education.    We aren’t speaking,  in generalities.

We’re talking about a unique place– as complex as that ‘place’ may be– and we have  expressions such as of ‘the unique and remarkable experiences available only in this College in this valley’ and before it,  ‘commitment,’  and then ‘passion’ for ‘the future.’

I won’t try to take you through these, today.    But again they end in a historical formulation- that the character of this institution,   perhaps of what seems its ‘fanaticism,’   comes from a very particular,  historical experience– and an ‘existential crisis.’

That’s a very interesting ontological claim.  How would we go about evaluating it?

Otherwise– I’m tempted to editorialize at length about the issue of relations to alumni,  and I really do think,  that if we accept something like the ‘family’ metaphor,  then the alumni are Williams’ children — I’ll save all the rest of that for the comments.

Equally– these issues of the faculty.

And finally– commitment.   I like that.  It is an interesting word to invoke– it has an interesting history,  I might remark,  in US-American society of the past decades.   But it is sort of a subclinical fanaticism for the particular,  indeed.


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