What does Williams think of Adam Falk?

Lordfarquaad[T]he Board of Trustees unanimously voted to honor Adam Falk, our 17th president, by naming the Science Quad in his honor. The decision continues a Williams tradition of naming important public spaces in honor of our past presidents.

In addition, a group of current and former Trustees and other generous donors have endowed the directorship of the Center for Learning in Action (CLiA) in Adam’s name. The Adam Falk Directorship is a tribute to his founding support for the Center, which engaged more than 800 Williams students in projects across our community and region this year alone.

“Williams” is, of course, not a very well-defined entity. You, random alum, might hate Adam Falk. Collette Chilton might think he’s wonderful. But, to the extent Williams, as an institution, has expressed a judgment, it is via these honors. The trustees’ opinions can be gauged by considering these names and comparing them to names bestowed in the past.

First, Falk is definitely not in the top rank of Williams presidents (again, as judged by the trustees and major donors). Those presidents — Sawyer, Chandler, Schapiro — get major buildings named after them. Falk doesn’t even get a building!

Second, Falk is not even in the second tier of Williams presidents. Phinney Baxter ’14 once had the major building on campus, the old Baxter Hall and, even now, still has Baxter Great Hall within Paresky. Frank Oakley, while not in Sawyer’s league, was still a successful president. You might think that the Oakley Center is fairly modest, at least in comparison to Schapiro Hall. But those who know Frank can confirm that he has loved the Center for the past 30 years and would much rather have his name associated with it than with any of the larger buildings on campus.

And so we come to the third tier. Hank Payne, president from 1994 to 1999, is widely (and, I think, unfairly) regarded as an unsuccessful Williams president, which is one reason why there is no campus building named for him. The trustees and/or major donors have only given us the Harry C. Payne Visiting Professor of Liberal Arts and the Harry C. Payne Professor of Poetry.

Williams places Adam Falk squarely in the third tier of Williams presidents over the last century. Indeed, other than Hank Payne, it is hard to think of a president that the college has so dissed with its naming largess.1

First, we have the Adam Falk Directorship. This isn’t even a named professorship, two of which Payne was honored by. Professors have higher status than administrators. Perhaps the CLiA was something that Falk truly cared about. (Informed opinions welcome, but I certainly don’t recall him talking about it much.) In any event, this is a small $ gift.

Second, we have the . . . Adam Falk Science Quad? Falk Quad? Who else is reminded of Lord Farquaad, the short-statured, dark-haired, inept ruler of Duloc in the movie Shrek? This strikes me as almost an insult:

a) Who is ever going to use the words “Adam Falk Science Quad?” Not me, nor any student/professor. It is an absurd mouthful. If they name something after you, and no one ever says the name, then what is the point?

b) Might the phrase “Falk Quad” be used? Maybe. (Reader opinions welcome.) It certainly does not roll of the tongue! Everyone currently uses the phrase “science quad” to refer to that part of campus. Will that really change? I have my doubts.

If 10 years from now, the only thing permanently associated with Falk’s name is an administrative position — and not even for a position in the top rung of administrators! — then it will be clear that the trustees and major donors view Falk’s tenure as a disappointment.

[1] It could be that the College, once the Capital Campaign is complete, will name a major building after Falk, perhaps one of the new structures in the science quad. If that happens, we will revisit this conclusion.

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