Curious what his fellow physicists think about Williams President Adam Falk? An anonymous physicist friend told me five years ago:

Falk is definitely one of the best researchers of his age cohort. His work had a lot of impact, which led to his early career success. However, much of that work was done with more senior and more famous colleagues (e.g., his advisor Howard Georgi). I would guess that to, e.g., get tenure at a place like Harvard or Caltech he might have been required to do something of equal impact and by himself.

But I think all of this is irrelevant to his qualifications to lead Williams. For the type of ability you are asking about Adam is already at the level of diminishing returns when it comes to being a university president. He certainly is well above the intellectual caliber necessary to command the respect of Williams faculty. In fact, I doubt there are more than a dozen faculty on the Williams campus who are as bright as Adam. How he does there will be more a function of his people skills, judgement, strategic thinking, leadership ability, etc.

I’ve known Adam for many years and I would say he is a very good person, and very sincerely dedicated to the ideals of higher education. I think Williams made a great choice.

Some time ago (like 5-10 years ago, I can’t recall exactly), I heard through some common friends that Adam had lost “the fire” for research in theoretical physics, and was headed into administration. (Actually I already knew something was up because Adam’s productivity had dropped off.) Luckily for him he was taken on as a protege by the then-dean of arts and sciences at JHU, becoming assistant or associate dean. When that person left JHU for another position, Adam was (amazingly, given his age) promoted to the dean-ship.

I don’t know how long he’s been looking at the college president market, but it would be natural that after a few years as dean at JHU the recruiters would come around, assuming (which is quite likely) that he had a good reputation in that job.

I really do think Williams did well in getting Adam. So many college administrators are just “suits” — they lack passion, are risk-averse, not creative, etc. Adam is none of those things, at least as I knew him :-) It’s possible that these traits are inevitable outcomes of the pressures and incentives of the system, but for now I think it’s possible for him to do a lot of dynamic things.

What I would really be worried about if I were an Eph is that Williams is just a stepping stone for Adam on his way to an Ivy-level presidency!

That was written in 2010. Has Falk done “a lot of dynamic things” at Williams? Not that I have seen. My faculty contacts report that his main focus in the first few years was an attempt to upgrade the quality of the faculty (meaning the quality of academic research produced by the faculty, especially those coming up for tenure), an attempt that was largely beaten back by academic departments jealous of their own prerogatives.

What have you heard?

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