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


Six weeks ago, on vacation with my family, I hiked to the top of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa is, by volume, the largest mountain on Earth, and I stood at the highest elevation in the middle of the largest ocean in the world. At moments like that you expect yourself to think great, perhaps even holy, thoughts. Yet I was drawn then to think of this moment now, and how – as beautiful, stark and inspiring as that place was – my work in life is here, together, with you. None of what we hope for Williams can be accomplished alone, nor will it spring from sublime mountaintop revelations. It will result only from our creative and communal work. We love the Williams that we know and have known, but we will love even more the Williams that we create. Let us join together, now and in the years to come, to bring that Williams forth.


1) Perhaps the falsest note of the speech. Why brag about how rich you are when giving a lecture to hundreds of Ephs, many/most of whom are too poor to visit Hawaii? If I were Jim Kolesar providing comments on the speech draft, I would have kept the imagery while simply substituting in Mt. Greylock for Mauna Loa.

2) A nice closing paragraph but, again, nothing that will be quoted in the future.

3) How would you have recommended that Falk end the speech?


First,  I’d like to apologize to all for missing yesterday’s session.  Professor Kane’s suggestion that the circumstances surrounding Williams’ policy towards international students is in some way similar to the policies towards Jewish students nearly a century ago–

Well,  let me just state that I just came here from reading over personal testimonies in the records of Yad Vashem,  and I find it very hard to find the equivalence.  I think Prof. Kane needs to think about what he is saying,  a little more.  I am not quite as taken aback by his accusation as I was when I read it yesterday,  but I think David needs to think about it a little harder and be far more precise and specific in what he is claiming.

As far as this story of Mauna Loa– well– to tell the truth,  one of my thoughts in reaction here–

It is interesting,  is it not,  how the thoughts and conversations we have with others,  lead us to certain thoughts and considerations,   is not?

David throws out a series of … let’s call them accusations… about where President Falk goes on vacation with his family– about President Falk’s personal choices…  and suddenly,   my mind is drawn along the path,  of thinking about President Falk’s personal decisions,  and what …

Oh good grief!  I’m not going to share those thoughts with you,  and I’m somewhat ashamed to have had any of them.  They do no seem to me,  to reflect a well-ordered,  disciplined mind and life.

But– well I did have one potentially useful though in response–  which is that Williams could create some kind of transportation network,   or plan,  or collaboration with an airline,  whose result was drastically reduced travel costs for students on financial aid.  That seems to me,  within the range of the possible.

As for Falk’s remarks on Mauna Loa– well,  there are a number of traditions at state here,  for instance,  what we can find in Aristotle’s image of the Philosopher-King who retreats to the contemplative distance of the mountain,  to regard the world as well as separate from the daily pressures of its processes.

Those passages in Aristotle are rather hard to read in the stuffy modern English translations of Oxbridge professors– but I suspect that all Aristotle was saying,  in the end,  is that if you live constantly in the world and are surrounding by the pressures and demands of ‘worldly’ processes,  then you’re going to be ruled by the direction of those processes.

Retreating to the distance of the mountain,   or the wilderness,   long enough to get some distance from these processes– and to look upon them,  in a literal as well as figurative way– to arrange them in front of the mind’s eye,  and apply our intellect to understanding them,  and what might be–

well,   this is not an Aristotle seminar,    and while I am thinking about particular mountains around the world,  and the perspective they give– I believe President Falk does a reasonable job,  for the occasion,  of pointing out that the reason for going to the mountain,  is not some abstract enlightenment,   but — the work that is to be done in the Valley.

Though I can certainly hope,  that he will be able to find the time to grab a grab a group of students,  now and again,  and take the walk up Greylock.

Returning to the Western Canon,   there is of course the metaphor of the doctor and diet,  the Philosopher-King and the Academy in Plato and elsewhere.

The Doctor tells the patient– eat these vegetables,   these fruits,  eat this much meat but not much more,   avoid this and this and drinking —

but the Patient,  walking through the Shuk– the Agora– the marketplace (of ideas!) sees the stuffed confection,  and walking by,  cannot resist.

And thus becomes fat– diseased– and dies.

Professor Kane’s tripe here–  we might view it via this tradition.  It is the sweet (t)roll to be avoided.  It looks good from afar,  it is hard to resist,  and it tastes good going down.

Yet in any quantity,  it is deadly.

So much for the Greeks, though. As Nietzsche noted– they were mostly thoughtless morons, except for the few who made it to the mountaintops– and really– they weren’t very interesting, until they met the Hebrews.

Okay, that’s a fairly tale. But my morning discussion, was about the Hebrew commandments regarding killing.

On the one hand, we have the simple injunction, though shall not–

well, is it “kill” or “murder?” For of course the first appears to be a literal act that we can all understand, while the latter seems already a legal or juridical injunction– insomuch as murder is defined as unjust killing.

Then, of course, there are the other commandments and principles– those, for instance, which define acts so terrible or egregious, that one is obliged to, all else failing, kill a neighbor who fails to cease their practice.

Deceit and witchcraft, for instance– not understanding the texts very well, I’m not quite sure there’s much of a difference.

Well- -the time allotted to us is closing. And what I’m saying is, that is some here are occasionally possessed with the urge to wring Prof. Kane’s neck, there may be a sort of ancient moral impulse at work.

And maybe– well, looking at the state of things over there, from over here — maybe more of this impulse could be used.

Though surely without the stones. And– well, the Principles also set forth, that one must find the agreement of three impartial neighbors, who act as witnesses to the matter– that in fact, you all must go to the neighbor who seems to offend, and attempt to reason with him– and then that you must believe in you heard, and search for the truth– and then, you must do a few other things– and then, you must go to the rabbi, and the community, and bring the issue before them — and then–

which reminds me, that a rabbi I know outside of Prague, evidently, given that his congregation was angry with two members, brought a bucket of stones to shabbat dinner recently, and distributed them to the members, and asked them, who planned to start?

If only we could replicate that, in this congregation!

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