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

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjUCCuFpfCs&start=952

First, we have not just the opportunity but, because of the advantages afforded us, the responsibility to be a national leader – maybe the national leader – in innovative and effective teaching. We have all the elements in place: talented faculty; bright, committed students; and, most important, an academic culture that places teaching at its heart. Our faculty walk in the footsteps of Hopkins, Gaudino, and so many others. Innovation does not mean chasing every fad and every new technology, despite all the possibilities that technology affords; often it means embracing the familiar in new and creative ways. Whatever some say, the traditional disciplines are far from obsolete, although they are in conversation and collaboration with each other more richly than ever before. What innovation does require is that we continually rethink how we teach our students, and what we teach them, using every new tool that deepens their engagement with our subjects and with us. It means broadening our teaching mission beyond Williams, to leadership on the national stage. It means arguing for the value of the liberal arts by sharing with the world the example of what we do. And when we tell students, and alumni, and the media, that the finest possible education in America is to be had at Williams, we must know that we mean it, and that it’s unarguably true.

DK:

1) I love Adam Falk! This is exactly what I believe to be Williams core strength. Great teaching (and the Mountains) make Williams Williams. Not athletics. (Williams was no better than middle of the NESCAC pack as recently as the early 1980s.) Not faculty research. Not the Center for Development Economics. Not the Graduate Art History program. Elite students + excellent teachers = Williams. It is that simple, and that complex.

2) Note that this is somewhat different than previous induction speeches. Other Williams presidents have highlighted our graduate programs. (Falk does not mention them.) Other presidents have sang the praises of faculty research. (Falk ignores that research, and highlights previous faculty (Hopkins, Gaudino) whose research was unremarkable and/or ignored.) Of course, this could all be pablum, but, I like to think that, on the spectrum of people that Williams could have plausibly selected as a president, Falk values teaching over research more than other candidates would have.

3) Note the rhetorical structure. Falk’s first Williams story of three was Mark Hopkins and the log. His first initial thought focuses on teaching.

KT:

“First, we have not just the opportunity but, because of the advantages afforded us, the responsibility to be a national leader – maybe the national leader–“

What does this mean?   Forget the rest of this speech– put it aside–  look only at these few words,  and ask yourself– what do these words mean?

Now go forward.   Adam Falk is about to say– that Williams– because of its position–  again,  stop to ask yourself,  what that position is? — Williams has a responsibility to lead– in — innovative and effective teaching.

Why?  Is there a deficit of innovative and effective teaching today, —  perhaps?   Is there something going on,  in our particular moment in history,  which means that we,  and not Dartmouth,  or Berkeley,  or Harvard,  have a particular duty to bear the burden?

The text does not tell us this.  It only goes on to say,  rather matter-of-factly,  that we are reasonably well-positioned for the task of teaching.

But then– skip forward a little more– we get this word,  “innovation.”  It’s an odd word– you might compare it to Wendy Brown,  speaking at Berkeley a year ago,  using the word “entrepreneurship” with reference to to academia and the issues Berkeley is now facing– and using the word as a sort of insult.

If you are not aware– public education at Berkeley,  as in much of the United States and around the world,   is in crisis.   As Prof. Brown spoke in Berkeley,  and as students faced armed soldiers again in Sproul Plaza– so too in Hamburg and Bonn–

Falk moves on:

Innovation does not mean chasing every fad and every new technology, despite all the possibilities that technology affords; often it means embracing the familiar in new and creative ways.

This seems a sort of hedge,  in the most productive sense–   we’ve substituted “innovation” for the less preferred “entrepreneurship,”  which has a more economic connotation– and we’ve said that we caninnovate,  that there can be substantive innovation,  that we can move forward and address new challenges and circumstances,   at the same time as we maintain our traditions.

In this sense– this seems very carefully stated,  and it calls to us,  to be fairly careful in our own thoughts,  about what we do– and what we reject.

Because my friends who teach at Berkeley–  well that’s another long series of stories–  but I tried to call one of them,  who is the chair of a co-ordinate program,  a few weeks ago.   Rebecca,  who works in the departmental office,  was kind enough to call me back after I left a message — to inform me that my friend had moved offices and facilities was still unable to get him a phone line.

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