The Record provides no useful coverage on the strategic planning process. The College’s presentation is professional but (because of that?) completely uninteresting. Comments:

1) This is Presidential Leadership 101. Come to a new college. Listen. Create a dozen committees. Seek lots of input. Come up with some pleasant ideas. Start the next capital campaign. Once again, we see that Maud is highly competent.

2) Predictions? Expect to hear about how all the things Williams currently does are wonderful and we should do more of it. The College is a supertanker, which even a president would have trouble turning. There will be a call for more new buildings (starting with a new field house and hockey rink), a constant refrain of the last 100 years. I have heard rumors about a major new initiative in data science, a hot, Hot, HOT part of academia right now. Anything else?

3) The big lost opportunity is a failure to have all these smart people look hard at major dimensions on which Williams differs from its peers. Have each working group pick such a topic (examples below), investigate it and write a thorough report. Ideally, the reports would include the best arguments for and against each of three options, one of which is the status quo. Example questions:

Which graduate degree programs should Williams offer? Amherst offers none. Wesleyan offers a dozen. It is highly unlikely that the optimal number for Williams to offer is exactly two.

How old should first years be? Back in the day, 99% of Williams first years were 18. Now, there is much more variation, driven both by changing student behaviors (the rise of “gap years”) and changing admissions policies with regards to groups like male hockey players, veterans and community college students. Should 1% or 5% or 20% of Williams first years be older than 18? An important question! I assume that our peers vary on this metric, but I can’t find any good data sources.

Should students be required to spend a summer in Williamstown? Dartmouth requires students to a) spend the summer after their sophomore year on campus and b) one semester away from Hanover during their junior year. That is, obviously, radically different from Williams, and almost every other elite college. But it is really interesting! And maybe a really good idea, both in the way that it brings a class together during the summer and in how it gives Dartmouth students a big advantage in doing substantive internships during their junior year. This is one topic where I don’t know the right answer. So I want a group of smart Ephs to study the topic, educate us all, and make a recommendation.

Should Williams offer an engineering major? I have talked to many strong high school students who never apply to Williams because they are interested in engineering and at least want to maintain the option of studying it in college. Our Ivy League competitors all offer engineering options, even Brown! Swarthmore, and some other liberal arts colleges, do as well. Why don’t we? How much would it cost? How hard would it be?

Should Williams offer an finance major? See here for the case in favor. Students at UPenn can major in finance. Why can’t Ephs? Again, my goal here is not to make the case for any particular decision. My point is that a high quality strategic planning process would focus its efforts on these major questions.

Where should first years live? Almost all of us think that First Year housing at Williams — in entries, with JAs, in Mission and the Freshmen Quad — is excellent. But what if we are all wrong? What if a system like Smith’s — first years live in the same houses as upperclassmen — is better?

How many international students? Williams (still?) has a quota for international students. But (in a policy change?), the class of 2023 is 11% international, very similar to Yale and Harvard. Is that the right percentage? Again, I don’t know enough about the variation among our peers on this metric. Which is why we need a committee to investigate, to find out what other colleges do and why they do it. Washington and Lee, with Will Dudley ’89 at the helm, is at 3% international. There is a case for 3% and a case for 25%. Make those cases so that the Williams community can make an informed decision.

Should we have affinity housing? Plenty of other schools do, including Brown. Yet I have never read a non-partisan investigation about well such houses work (or don’t). How many of our peer schools have them? How do they work, precisely? (For example, at Amherst, you can only live in such a house for two years.) How popular are they? Why don’t other schools (like Harvard and Yale) have them?

What preferences for athletes in admissions? Prior to the MacDonald Report, Williams gave very significant preference to athletes, which is why we had an almost unbeatable football team. Now we just give significant preference. (See this interest Record op-ed.) Caltech gives athletes zero preferences in admissions. What would happen if we adopted Caltech’s approach?

As readers know, I have strong opinions on many of these questions. A serious strategic planning process would devote most of its time and energy to all of them, and to similar issues. How are we most different from other elite schools and are those differences best for the future of Williams? Is that what the 8 working groups are currently doing? Not that I have heard . ..

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