It is challenging to offer a view of a President of Williams College. By definition these men are all leaders and scholars, administrators and planners, and the recipients of respect from students, faculty, and alumni.

For me, the subject is John Wesley Chandler, still very much with us! In the off-chance he should see this, my sincere apologies in advance for whatever I have misunderstood.

I am struck by President Chandlers’ having presented analyses
of the accomplishments and styles of performance of Presidents Mark Hopkins, Harry A Garfield, and John E Sawyer at the convocation on September 25, 2010 for the induction of President Adam F Falk.

To have served as President for twelve years, to view the past 34 years after his own inauguration as President, and now to offer these views to an incoming president is passing on a heritage and a sense of responsibility to the college. This may be what Chandler himself felt and received at his own convocation.

It occurs to me that what Chandler selects as most important to import to Adam Falk in his histories of the three past presidents, has been shaped by his own time past to the minute he stepped to the lectern.

And how did these life-time conclusions compare with his own induction speech
and presentation of the future after so many years gone by?

Chandler starts his inaugural speech in high good humor. He refers to the presence of a colleague at Hamilton College present as a part of the induction, this way: “His gracious willingness to take part in this ceremony can only be compared to the spirit of a divorced wife who serves as matron of honor for her husband’s new bride”. You can’t help but like Chandler right away!

He went on to describe what it was like to succeed President Sawyer: “To use an appropriately strenuous metaphor, the succession of presidents in the life of an institution such as this one may be compared to a relay team of swimmers or runners. The man who proceeded me set such a blistering pace that he passed on to me a commanding lead …”.

A difficult position regardless of the love and respect on all parties for the new guy.

He then takes on a realistic focus – “to suggest certain practical means of achieving a better climate for learning”. As a part of the larger climate of the time he mentions the disillusionment and loss of ‘national innocence’ through My Lai and Wounded Knee. He injects the larger view of the world outside of the bubble as being a part of the problem.

In a somewhat, to me, similar climate today, he speaks of the loss for the generation he would be called upon to nurture as having a sense of omnipotence and ‘Pax Americana’. He asks for a ‘better way’ to replace what has been lost.

Chandler goes on to recognize the small liberal arts residential college as an unquestioned need to help achieve this better way, the relation of teacher student as a key to discovery, and Williams’ responsibility and obligations ‘to the larger society to try to perceive the character of the emerging future which both it and its students will occupy.’

(I do not believe that Phinney Baxter saw the role of Williams in this manner in the ‘50’s. My classmates were pretty much assured of their position.)

What does he foresee as new times/new ways?

“What is variously called the technocratic age, the knowledge society, or the post-industrial society. It is a society in which the highly complex decision games … will play similarly important roles in public policy … It is a society in which knowledge is essential”.

Chandler does not despair that the University will replace the role of the college,
even though it is being challenged at this time. He calls for more emphasis on science and technology in the curricula included with the traditional. What he sees for Williams is the use of scholarship funds to expand the base of students to include more young people with leadership potential and to offer them

“…liberal learning … the preeminent source of the higher order of critical intelligence that is capable of judging both means and ends and without which we will become a society (quoting Max Weber) of “sensualists without spirit, specialists without heart”.

Near the end of his speech he says

“We should be able to look especially to the graduates of liberal arts colleges for the sensitivity to historical backgrounds and contexts that will save us from repeating old errors or forgetting wise counsel from the past”

(The parallels to our current national situation, at least emotionally, can be seen. A disillusionment in our financial and political leadership to have a view of the future beyond the next slice-and-dice financial offering or a derisive debate in congressional halls.)

How does Chandler sum up those three Presidents who he spoke of in 2010?


(Mark) “Hopkins was way ahead of his time as a teacher. His inaugural address in 1836 is a remarkable statement of what he thought about educating young people. He stated that the human mind is not an inert receptacle into which content is poured, or a piece of iron that is to be beat into shape, or a block of marble that it to be sculpted into a beautiful form. The mind of a young person is rather like a seed that must be tended and cultivated in terms of its distinctive needs. … His students remembered him and his teachings gratefully and fondly. Hopkins truly embodied the metaphor by which James A. Garfield immortalized him and defined Williams College.


Courses of the elective variety were often referred to as “inspirational” courses, which appeared to be a euphemism for what then were known as “snap” courses and later as “gut” courses. Garfield was determined to change all that. He wanted academic rigor. He also wanted the faculty to work together in planning and teaching, and he wanted faculty and students to be in constant conversation about programs of study. In short, he wanted a community of learning. These ambitious goals were largely accomplished through the new curriculum that the faculty approved in 1910 and which went into effect in 1911. …He had a clear vision for what he wanted to achieve, and he realized his vision by providing direct leadership. Perhaps he could have had the trustees simply mandate the new curriculum. That was often done at that time. But he recognized the importance of faculty support, and he had strong democratic impulses that guided him in giving the faculty a crucial and determining role in the decision.


After describing Woodrow Wilsons’ time as President of Princeton, he goes on:

Granted that Williams and Princeton were two very different institutions, and that the two men functioned in different eras and environments, it is difficult to imagine that a college officer with his own agenda and ambitions would have outflanked Jack. He was strategically brilliant, and he was more effective than anyone I’ve known at making an advantage out of bad news or unfavorable developments. He did his homework very carefully. He was meticulously careful and deliberate about process. He left nothing to chance. He lined up the necessary support of the leadership of the major constituencies. As openings occurred on the board of trustees, he brought onto the board distinguished and powerful candidates with independent minds and distinguished records of accomplishment. Many of them had not been particularly active in Williams affairs before Sawyer tapped them. I think of such figures as attorney John Lockwood, Harding Bancroft of the New York Times, Governor Jake Driscoll of New Jersey, Van Alan Clark, Pete Parish, Wayne Wilkins. It interested me that the board that Jack assembled included what seemed to me an inordinate number of lawyers. He pointed out that lawyers tend to be very good at process and that they are usually careful and deliberate about making big changes. When they see a particular innovation as justified, he pointed out, that’s a good sign that others will be persuaded to follow. Jack was one of a kind. We all stand forever in his debt.

To write an induction speech following President Sawyers’ administration must have been difficult. I see in it a man who stands among this rebuilding of the fabric and social structure of Williams and says ‘Now What’ and presents a vision for the liberal arts grad and a mission for the College in a quickly changing world.

What does Chandler pass to Falk through the three presidents? The legacy of the log and our sense of place, the precedent of restructuring the curricula to meet new needs, and the example of energy and skill to change well-established assumed social order.

To me the thread is strong between the two speeches, perhaps the latter, more tempered by life’s’ experiences. President Chandler had a vision at his induction. It is realized in the much more diverse group of alumni that we see today.

I wonder if he sees any parallels in his speech of 1973 to todays’ disillusion, lack of jobs, need for new product-producing industries, and leaders with their own ethos.

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