EphBlog is honored that President Emeritus Francis Oakley has joined this Winter Study group to comment on his own induction speech (pdf) in 1985. His biography may be read with great interest!

Again,it is necessary to say:


By Francis Oakley, President Emeritus

Re-reading the document:

I should report that that process was for me an exercise of “emotion recollected in tranquility”—or, at least, quasi-tranquility. Given the passivity (politically speaking) that set in during the mid-nineties among college students nationwide and has continued on into the present, it is easy to forget now that the years from the sixties to the early-seventies and then from the late-seventies on into the mid-nineties were marked by a good deal of student activism whether political or micropolitical. In this respect Williams was no exception. As a result, when I stood up in Chapin Hall to deliver my address I had to do so without being secure in the knowledge that the orderly student protest against the College’s investment policies that the Williams Anti Apartheid Coalition was mounting outside the building would not modulate into some sort of messy disruption within—something that had in fact happened at other places. Happily, it did not , and I was able to concentrate with no more than marginal unease on the message I wished to deliver.

Rehearsing the educational “verities”:

As for the verities touched upon in the first section of my discourse, they were a matter for me then of passionate conviction. A quarter of a century later, they remain for me a matter of no less passionate belief.


In the remarks on modernization/secularization with which I led into my affirmation of those verities, I can detect in retrospect the impact on me of the old secularization hypothesis stemming from the Enlightenment , developed later by Max Weber, and popularized in the 1960s and 1970s by people like Peter Berger and Harvey Cox. I.e. the notion that the remorseless progress of technological modernization /secularization necessarily brings with it the privatization of religion or an actual decline in religious commitment. And that means that for the mid-eighties I was a bit (though not all that much) behind the theoretical curve. That hypothesis in its older form had seemed verified by the Western European experience, but events have since proved it to be inadequate to encompass the complexity of developments both in North America and in other parts of the world—e.g. Poland, Iran. Among other things, running counter to its claims was the 1980s re-entry of Protestant fundamentalism into the political arena here in the United States, as well as the historic recovery of vitality by Islam in so many parts of the world, Europe not excluded. The secularization hypothesis in its original form appears thus to be no more than provincial in its explanatory power as many parts of the world experience once
more the “de-privatization “ of religion.

Liberal Arts/Arts and Sciences:

I find that people are sometimes prone to equating the liberal arts more or less with the humanities alone, and I’m glad that in the address I tried to make it clear that I myself identified them with the arts and sciences as a whole (i.e. including the natural sciences), and that I saw the great divide in the vast, sprawling system of American undergraduate education as lying between the arts and sciences, on the one hand, and, on the other, the overwhelmingly predominant and short-sighted focus on preprofessional or vocational subjects. I would want to make that point even more strongly now . One hears a lot about “crisis in the humanities” but I can also envisage an impending “crisis in the natural sciences” too. It is a brute fact that in the country at large (including our great research universities) too few American students have chosen and are choosing to major and go on to graduate work in the sciences. I believe our national research establishment to be dependent, in fact, on a species of artificial respiration in the sense that too many of our research people have to be imported from abroad, and especially from Asia. As the Asian economies mature, something of a reverse migration may already have set in, with Asian graduate students here choosing to return home rather than, as in the past, making their careers in the United States. The liberal arts colleges have long had a terrific record in encouraging science majoring and sending on gifted people into professional science. But the record of the universities that graduate the vast majority of our American students is, in this matter, pretty dismal.

The Bolin Fellowships:

After being elected president I had had to move pretty quickly to put the necessary arrangements in place so that I could announce the establishment of these important
Fellowships at the time of my Induction. I am happy to be able to report that they have since proved to be a great success. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, the copying of this initiative at other institutions speaks well of it.

The 1985-87 curricular review:

Towards the end of my address I indicated that I had already move to start a “wide-ranging review” of the Williams curriculum. Perhaps it would not be redundant if I were to report now that a hard-working faculty-student committee chaired by Tom Jorling came up with a series of significant proposals that the faculty, after careful deliberation, and some reshaping, approved. As a result, we strengthened the distribution requirement once more, established two new ( interdepartmental) majors in Asian Studies and Literary Studies, created an Interdepartmental Program for Experimental and Cross-disciplinary Studies ( a sort of curricular holding company to facilitate experimentation), and, most important of all, introduced here at Williams itself the Oxbridge-style tutorial mode of instruction which we had already adopted and tested in the Williams-Oxford Programme (which had opened its doors in 1985). Done properly, and I think we do precisely that, this is a highly labor-intensive and, accordingly, expensive mode of instruction. As a result, in the 1980s we had to begin the tutorial program on the small side. So I was truly delighted when, in the early years of the last decade, and under Morty Schapiro’s energetic leadership, the College proved financially able to effect a considerable expansion in the number and range of the tutorials offered and to make them available now to sophomores as well as to upperclassmen/women. To such a degree, indeed, that tutorials have now become for Williams something of “signature program.” I fervently hope that we are going to be in good enough financial condition to continue this commitment on into the future. For this instructional mode the tires have been well and truly kicked and the reactions of students and faculty alike have been overwhelmingly positive. Certainly, having myself taught a tutorial course again last year (to a group of truly terrific students), I remain nothing less than a true believer!

Francis Oakley
President Emeritus

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