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Falk Quad == Farquaad?

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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#1 Comment By sigh On February 26, 2018 @ 8:42 am

alternative hypothesis: Williams names the biggest and/or last building a President was associated with building/renovating after said President that isn’t otherwise already named and a similar explanation exists for the directorship.

c’mon, man, let it go.

#2 Comment By Doug On February 26, 2018 @ 11:02 am

1.) Nobody will call it Falk Quad. It’s known as Science Quad for obvious reasons, and an email to the student body saying otherwise won’t undo this obvious and much more practical designation. Not even sure where they would put up a plaque to help push the “Falk Quad” label further.

2.) I think Payne has the interior of Goodrich named after him. The building is under renovation currently, but I recall the actual interior space being called “Payne Hall”. It gets referred to as such in certain emails.

I agree that Falk won’t be remembered as a great president by any means. He never took a hard, consistent stance on any issue (campus speakers, for instance), so he only alienated both communities. Those who wanted fewer conservative speakers were disenchanted with him, and those who wanted more felt scorned as well (and continue to feel this way: see, Ephblog). UChicago’s approach was better, in my opinion: they attacked the idea of “safe spaces”, which alienated one group, but also earned them tremendous respect from the other camp. Falk’s obvious tip-toeing around controversies led to him being viewed as self-interested, ineffectual, and even cowardly.

But at the end of the day, the true measure of a president is their fundraising abilities. From what I can tell, Falk did fine in this respect. Of course, he had an easy situation to work with, since Williams (at least in the past) produced alumni with very strong loyalty and deep pockets — it’s not like he’s Leon Botstein over at Bard.

But in any case, I wouldn’t call him a “bad president”. He just wasn’t a leader.

#3 Comment By international ’17 On February 26, 2018 @ 11:17 am

sigh – I think that’s a very naive judgment, since Williams, as an institution, tends to take itself very seriously. If the kerfuffles over the Horns (in which the admin rightly refused to relent to student protests to changing Horn Hall’s name) and the Log mural have taught us anything, it’s that Williams takes its history, enshrined in, among others, the names of buildings we see around campus, very seriously indeed.

The point here being, of course, is remembrance. Indeed, whenever we say “Hopkins Hall” in reference to the seat of administrative offices of the college, we pay ode to the memory of President Hopkins, whose significant contributions have made the college possible in its current form.

That Falk’s “honors” are either hard to roll off the tongue (I don’t see anyone calling it Falk Quad, ever) or buried deep in an administrative appointment so that no one might say his name in the future is telling. Who wants to remember the Williams president that banned a student-invited speak and all the black eyes that followed?

We should be on the lookout for the upcoming plaque in Science Quad – if there will be one – and its size, relative to that of other named buildings, as another datapoint in ascertaining the college’s view of Falk.

PS. US President James Garfeld said that an ideal college is “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” Do you think anyone, anyone at all, will say the same of Adam Falk? Certainly not Zach Wood… Either way, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

#4 Comment By frank uible On February 26, 2018 @ 11:45 am

How rude to discuss this subject publicly.

#5 Comment By Dick Swart ’56 On February 26, 2018 @ 12:54 pm

I agree, Frank.

The discussion of accomplishments and contributions to Williams does not usually include
those whose name lives on only in smaller recognitions. Yet they have contributed much to what became at least until very recently a strong tradition to loyalty and continuity to the college.

I take the liberty of appending the story of one such.

Brainerd Mears, Williams Class of 1903, was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1881 to Leverett Mears and Mary V. Brainerd Mears.   His parents moved to
Williamstown two years later when Leverett joined the Chemistry faculty at Williams.  Brainerd, or “Bray,” grew up in his father’s lab and graduated from Williamstown High School in 1898.

He enrolled at Williams in 1899 and became a dedicated member of Theta Delta Chi fraternity. While at Williams, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and tapped by the Gargoyle Society.  Mears was also the best miler on the Williams track team during his career.  He received his bachelor’s degree in 1903 and, two years later, received a master’s degree from the College. From his graduation in 1903 until 1906,
Mears was an assistant instructor of Chemistry under the chairmanship of his father.   

He then attended Johns Hopkins University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and received his Ph.D. in 1908.  He returned to Williams as a full professor in 1909 after a year at the University of Illinois and was named Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Chemistry.
Brainerd replaced his father as department chair in 1917.  

He was a member of many scientific societies
and was honored by the American Chemical Society as a fifty-year member. He retired from the College soon after World War II.

Besides being a long-time member of the faculty, Mears was also very active in the Williamstown community.   He was elected to the School Committee and the School Building Committee in the 1920’s when his children were in school.  In 1928, he was elected as town moderator, a position he held for 25 years.  

He used his chemical background for practical purposes like testing local water supplies and milk from surrounding farms for impurities.  He also served on the Board of the Williamstown Savings Bank.  He was first named a trustee in 1926 and was elected president in 1938, a position he held for 24 years.  

The multitalented Mears was also a volunteer firefighter for more than forty years and enlisted in the armed forces in both World Wars.  During the First World War, he taught military skills to Williams students on campus.  He was a Master of the local Masonic Lodge and helped to found the local Rotary Club and the Williamstown Historical Society.  He was active in the First Congregational Church, was a trustee of the North Adams Hospital, and president of the Williamstown Welfare Society.

He was married to Sara Bliss and had two sons, who were both members of Theta Delta Chi during their time at Williams. When the fraternity turned over their house to the College in 1966, they dedicated it to Mears, their most distinguished alumnus and their alumni treasurer of 25 years.  Brainerd Mears
died in 1972 after a long illness, at the age of 91.

 Paul Friedmann (Williams Class of 2000)

From the Williams Archives

#6 Comment By ambrosius aurelianus On February 26, 2018 @ 1:06 pm

That Record article on the marble detritus introduced to the Stetson-Sawyer quad quoted unnamed “professors” using the term Falkhenge. They should’ve made that name official. It’s hard to imagine Science Quad ever being called by another name.

#7 Comment By myrddin emrys On February 26, 2018 @ 2:01 pm

The equally risible “Falk-lands” has emerged.

I agree that this discussion is unseemly, just as it was when several professors were asked to supply honorifics in the alumni magazine.

#8 Comment By JCD 🏝️ On February 26, 2018 @ 4:45 pm

The naming of Horn Hall was a fundraising and public relations disaster. Falk knew what he was getting into and failed to take appropriate action. He brought shame to the campus.

I think history will show that Falk lost his moral compass when he did not seem to get why a track-record of lying, criminality and abuse disqualifies someone from having their name displayed on a student residence hall.

As you may know, Joey Horn was sentenced to five months in prison. It is absolutely disgusting to know there is now a building on campus advertising her name. Ideally, the staff should honor Adam Falk by nailing a rotten piece of fruit to Horn Hall and labeling it Adam’s Apple.

#9 Comment By JCD 🏝️ On February 26, 2018 @ 6:42 pm

#10 Comment By anon On February 26, 2018 @ 7:40 pm

‘The white slabs of marble strewn across the Sawyer-Stetson quad have become some of the most controversial icons of campus. Skeptical professors referred to the slabs of marble as “Falk-Henge” and students dressed up as the scattered pieces of landscape architecture for Halloween. How did marble landscape architecture create such a polarized and intense response across students, faculty and the administration of the College?”


No one knows who they were, or what they were doing
But their legacy remains

Hewn into the living rock, of Flalkhenge

Falkhenge! Where the demons dwell
Where the banshees live and they do live well

#11 Comment By anonymous On February 26, 2018 @ 8:04 pm

Ephblog snark goes up to 11.

#12 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On February 26, 2018 @ 10:32 pm

Thanks for the correction about Payne Hall. Interesting article from the Record here:

Payne was invited to the [induction] ceremony [for President Schapiro], but declined the invitation mainly due to the fact that he was on campus just a few weeks ago for the dedication of the great hall of Goodrich in his honor as Payne Hall. Since Payne has found a new home in Atlanta it is understandable that such quick trips north are often difficult to make.

Regardless, I feel that the members of this community who were esponsible for the induction performed a great disservice to the legacy of Payne’s tenure as president by failing in his absence to even mention his name at the induction.

As I sat in Chapin Hall last Saturday I saw President Vogt perform his ceremonial duty of passing on the College’s charter and key to President Schapiro, officially marking the transition. Seated just to the side during the ceremony were former presidents Francis C. Oakley, John W. Chandler and, on behalf of John E. Sawyer, his widow. But there was no Hank Payne.

If there is one thing that I have learned about Williams, it is that our history is extremely important to who we are today. We perform ceremonies and dress up in robes in order to place ourselves in the midst of a much larger academic tradition. College events, be they convocation, commencement or an induction, are important not only because of what they mean to us today, but also as a vehicle that connects us to our past. Given a history as rich as Williams’ it is completely appropriate that we embrace our past so that it can inspire us all to what we can achieve in the future. However, without the presence of one of our past leaders at such a ceremony our history is left with a gaping hole.

Almost certainly an intentional one, on someone’s part.

I would expect that Falk will be on campus for the induction of his successor. If he isn’t . . .

#13 Comment By anonymous On February 27, 2018 @ 10:36 am

It’s unfortunate that they named anything at all after Falk. The only thing that would make sense to name in his honor is the Director of Communications job. Falk will likely be remembered in a very poor light, if at all. In the last year or so of his tenure he was essentially invisible; a local social pariah living in the apartments on Water St. Staff morale at the college was very low at this time. It’s a shame the trustees weren’t a little more transparent about what really happened to him rather than making it seem like it was his choice to move on. The lack of transparency makes me skeptical of the trustees in general. I suppose they are trying to protect the brand, but in my opinion it would be better protected with transparency. Many prominent alums – the types of whom are presidents of their respective classes- have no clue about any of what went down with Falk, or about campus controversies in general (i.e Zach Wood, truth about Prospect racism hoax, Horns, etc). This might be due to their own willful ignorance. Anyway, good riddance, and I hope for all involved that he does not show up for the naming ceremony of the science quad.

#14 Comment By kt22 On March 2, 2018 @ 11:25 pm


Take comfort. You may have noticed the recent resignation of the Berkshire DA. A friend of a friend says there is a direct connection to Williams. And Adam Falk in particular.

Faulk Quad? Odds low and falling fast…