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Faculty Governance Seminar: End of the Boston Investment Office?

This is the fifth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Most interesting omission from President Falk’s letter? Any use of the word “endowment.” If I were Collette Chilton or a member of her staff, I would be concerned. Consider the duties of Suzanne Welsh, Swarthmore’s Vice President for Finance and Treasurer.

The Finance and Investment Offices oversee the financial responsibilities of the College which include the budget, financial planning, endowment and debt management, and stewardship of financial resources.

How about Pomona?

Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson oversees the College’s budget and endowment, as well as Office of Facilities and Campus Services, which covers construction planning, maintenance, sustainability, summer conferences, dining, grounds and housekeeping; Human Resources; the Business Office; and Real Property.

I can’t find an elite college (pointers welcome) which has a (highly paid) vice president of finance/treasurer who is not also in charge of the endowment. Can you? Anyone qualified to do all the things that Falk wants the new Vice President of Finance to do would be more than competent to handle the endowment. This would, more or less, simply take Williams back to the structure we had prior to 2006. (Related rants about the Boston Investment Office are here, here and here. Highly recommended for new readers!)

Summary: The Boston Investment Office is a $2-$3 million per year waste of money. We don’t need it. Instead of pretending (unsuccessfully!) to be Yale, Williams should follow the practice of similar elite colleges like Pomona and Swarthmore. Have the Trustees pick the major investments. Hire a VP of Finance who, among her other duties, would keep an eye on the endowment.

Is President Falk heading in this direction? Unfounded rumors and gossip welcome in the comments!


Faculty Governance Seminar: VP of Finance

This is the fourth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.” Consider his discussion about the proposed vice president of finance.

The responsibilities of the Provost have also grown considerably in the past decade, and I believe we should consider some refocusing here as well.

As a matter of simple history, this is false. The year 2000 was not that long ago and, if anything, the responsibilities of the Provost have decreased, not increased. You think that Williams pays Stephen Klass hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to sit around? No. Klass does many of the things that, a decade ago, the Provost would have done. Even looking at those roles, like budget-setting, that have continued in the Provost’s office, there is no reason to believe that these have gotten meaningfully more complex. Running the College’s finances was a hard job in 2000 (ask Cappy Hill!) and it is a hard job today.

It’s critical that this position remain one in which Bill Lenhart’s successors are responsible for the College’s overall budget priorities and the marshalling of academic resources for new and existing programs. It’s also important that faculty continue to exert leadership in such areas as Admissions, Financial Aid, the Museum, the Libraries, and Information Technology. But the financially challenging world that we’ve entered and are likely to remain in for the foreseeable future requires sophisticated leadership in complex areas such as treasury, finance, audit, reporting, debt management, and budget operations.

We already have highly trained and experienced staff working on these topics. You think Associate Provost Keith Finan is an idiot? You think that Budget Director Tom Dwyer is a moron? Untrue! These are skilled professionals. They, obviously, need to keep up with changes in auditing requirements and whatnot, but, first, they already do so and, second, the College hires (and should hire) outside professionals to handle some of these matters.

As always, if the College were rolling in money, then spending $250,000 to hire another senior administrator might be reasonable. But Williams currently offers significantly less generous financial aid than Amherst. Until that problem is fixed, there should be a hiring freeze.

To provide this, we should consider creating a position perhaps called Vice President for Finance, which could take these technical duties, along with allied functions currently under Steve Klass, such as Human Resources, Real Estate, and Legal Affairs.

An experienced observer pointed out to me that Falk is being quite aggressive in suggesting these changes. Typically, a college president would first appoint a committee (perhaps staffed by those who agree with him) and charge it with studying the (hard!) question of college organization. The committee would then survey peer institutions, talk to stakeholders and issue a report. Falk skipped all those steps. If I were a faculty member, I would wonder what other steps he might skip in the future . . .

Doing so would open the Provost’s position to faculty in all departments, and bring to bear the kind of experienced financial expertise that I believe the College needs in these increasingly challenging times.

This is perhaps the most dishonest part of Falk’s letter. Provosts don’t spend their time doing dynamic programming. No math beyond algebra is required. No computer knowledge beyond Excel is used. And, even with the algebra and Excel, you have Finan and Dwyer to do the heavy lifting. Any Williams professor interested in the Provost position today could handle the demands of the job. That Provosts (just at Williams?) tend to come from numbery fields (like economics and computer science) is merely a reflection of both the sorts of people who are interested in such a role and/or the applicant profile that Williams presidents seem to have preferred historically.

The Provost then could be freed to focus on moving forward our top academic priorities. Close collaboration between the Provost and the Vice President for Finance would be essential, especially in developing the annual budget. In this key process, the Provost’s responsibility would be to develop the College’s budgetary priorities, and the Vice President for Finance’s to see that those priorities are reflected in the actual budget that is presented to the Board.

“Be freed to focus” is code for “have his power significantly reduced.”

If it were the case that no faculty member at Williams wanted to be Provost given the demands of the job, then it would make sense to decrease those demands by hiring more senior administrators. But I have never heard that. Has anyone? My understanding is that many (5? 10?) faculty members at Williams would like to be Provost because a) It is an interesting job, b) They sometimes day-dream about being a college president and the Provost position provides a useful stepping stone, c) They want Williams to go in a specific direction and the Provost has some power to do that, and d) The money is good.

Does anyone know if Lenhardt was the only candidate for Provost five years ago?


Induction Speech Suggestions

President Falk’s induction speech on Saturday will probably be the only thing he ever writes that will be read 50 years from now. (Many thanks to College Archivist Sylvia Kennick Brown for gathering the induction speeches of past Williams presidents.) Do you have any suggestions/requests for Falk? Write them in the comments and we will pass them along.

My main suggestion: Specify public metrics by which we can judge the success of your presidency.

Most induction speeches are boring and trite. (Links to good ones are welcome.) Part of that is the nature of the beast. Presidents should not give offense and are mostly charged with a) raising money and b) not messing up. Williams after 10 years of a Falk presidency is going to look a lot like Williams today. Most of Falk’s speech will, therefore, simply re-iterate areas of common agreement. Williams is one of the best liberal arts colleges is the world today. We all want it to be better tomorrow.

But there is still room for Falk to give a better induction speech than those given by the presidents of Amherst, Swarthmore or Pomona. He should to provide specific measures by which we can determine his success or failure.

If he just says, “We will continue to improve the quality of our teaching,” then there is no way, five years from now, for us to measure that. If he just says, “We will continue to attract the very best students,” then there is no (easy) way for us to decide if he has failed. And so on. Instead, he could, right now, propose some specific measures and then promise to make the data available for all to see. Consider these concrete suggestions:

1) Student quality. 90% or more of the students admitted to both Williams and to Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford turn us down. Many of them are making the right choice for good reasons. But many are not. At least 1/2 of them would be better off at Williams. Improving our cross-yield percentages, both with HYPS and with other competitors like Amherst/Brown/Dartmouth, is the single best way to increase the quality of the student body.

2) Student experience. As a part of COFHE, Williams already collects a great deal of high quality data about the student experience, inside and outside the classroom. COFHE rules prevent Williams from releasing the data for other schools, but we are allowed to release Williams data. Falk should promise to do so. He should also specify now what outcomes he thinks are most important and what he plans to do to improve them. He might also propose to gather more and better data. (More on that tomorrow.)

3) Alumni engagement. Williams graduates are engaged with Williams, but they are not nearly as engaged as they ought to be. If improving this engagement is an important goal for Falk (and I think it should be), then he ought to propose specific metrics (annual giving rates, reunion attendance, correspondence with class secretaries, interactions with OCC and admissions, et cetera) and commit to making the past and future values of these metrics publicly available.

Any of these measures might be “gamed” in various ways. But the more transparent Williams is, the less likely that is to occur.

Falk is a young man with big dreams. Although he does not know where he wants to be in 10 years, he would certainly like to position himself so that, if he is successful as Williams president, elite universities like Hopkins and Harvard will consider him a plausible, even desirable, candidate for their own presidencies. The best way to do that is to propose specific, measurable goals for Williams and then spend the next decade achieving them.


Faculty Governance Seminar: Org Chart

This is the third installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Consider the current Williams org chart.


1) Note that the positions of three of the senior administrators (Collette Chilton, Mike Reed ’75 and Stephen Klass) did not exist 10 years ago. Of course, Williams still had an endowment, a Multicultural Center and dining halls in 2000, but those important functions were directly supervised by faculty members. As I noted on Monday, “faculty governance” at Williams has decreased significantly over the last 50 years as fewer and fewer activities/resources are directed/controlled by faculty members. You may think this is a good thing or a bad thing, but there is no doubt about the direction of the trend or about Adam Falk’s plan to continue it.

2) Falk writes:

It’s critical that the faculty in these positions [Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Dean of the College] be focused on advancing our top academic priorities, but unfortunately they increasingly find themselves needing to burrow into detailed administrative and management duties, which in our ever more complicated world require technical knowledge and skills.

First, to “burrow” is to lead. A good Provost does not pen motivational speeches or concoct 20 year plans of world domination. She dives into the financial and operational details of the college. That is what Cappy Hill used to do before ascending to the Vassar presidency. That is what Bill Lenhardt does today.

Second, what “technical knowledge and skills” does the Dean of the Faculty require? None. Same with the Dean of the College. Nor is being Provost rocket science. None of these jobs require mystical “knowledge” that the average faculty member does not have, or could not easily acquire. (They require leadership, consensus building, insight and so on, but such was the case 50 years ago as well.) Even the technical details (Excel spreadsheets?) of the long range planning that is done in the Provost’s office is handled by folks like Associate Provost Keith Finan.

Third, even to the extent that technical knowledge is required, learning on the job (and talking about the topic with interested/enthusiastic alumni) is a reasonable strategy. Instead of hiring a VP of Finance, appoint four faculty members as assistant provosts. This would be a service position, similar in its workload to chairing a department or major committee. This would be a perfect way for a junior professor to try out administration, see if she likes it, to determine if she wants to do more of it. Future provosts would often be selected from the ranks of former assistant provosts.

These responsibilities limit, often extensively, the time needed for strategic thinking and leadership. Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions can make them less attractive to faculty, and the technical skills required of the Provost seem to limit its candidates to faculty in certain academic disciplines.

Just how much “strategic thinking and leadership” did, say, Dean of the College Karen Merrill (or Nancy Roseman or Peter Murphy or Steve Fix or insert-your-favorite-dean-here) accomplish during her term. Very, very little! And that is not Merrill’s (or Roseman’s or Murphy’s or Fix’s) fault! The only role at Williams that calls for meaningful “strategic thinking” is the Presidency and, even there, just how much strategy is involved is a matter of dispute. Managing at Williams is a matter of committees and meetings, consensus-building and information-gathering. At Williams, like at almost all other elite colleges, senior faculty positions like Dean of the Faculty require zero “strategic thinking.”

So, why does Falk pretend that they do? Because he wants to weaken faculty governance. He wants to decrease the knowledge and power of the faculty by replacing faculty decisions-makers with senior bureaucrats, people without tenure, people beholden to him, people he can fire/replace if they do not go along with his strategic thinking and leadership. The fundamental effect of Falk’s proposal is to weaken the faculty and strengthen the presidency.

Whether or not you think that is a good thing depends on your opinion of the Williams faculty. What do you think?


Faculty Governance Seminar: Queer Life Coordinator

This is the second installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Consider this (never published?) letter to the New York Times from Falk (link added).

Questioning the Need for a Queer Life Coordinator?

By Adam Falk

Timed to coincide with the publishing of their book criticizing higher education, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, recently had an essay run in The New York Times Education Supplement.

Perhaps inadvertently, the essay, titled “Administrative Glut,” does Williams the favor of publicizing our commitment to the position of Queer Life Coordinator – one of several positions and offices at Williams that the authors imply the College could do without.

But, of course, to do without them would be to abandon what Williams is: a vibrant community working to enable all of its members to live, learn, and thrive. That we won’t do.

As wrongheaded as I find their analysis, I hope the authors continue to help us spread this word.

Assume for a second that the College’s current Queer Life Coordinator, Justin Adkins (an occasional EphBlog correspondent) is the best in the country. (And I have heard nothing but good things about, and have enjoyed my own dealings with, him.) Still, every conversation he has with students, every decision he makes, every thing he does is something that could be (should be?) done by a member of the Williams faculty. If Justin leaves Williams, shouldn’t we replace him with an (excellent) professor like Katie Kent ’88, Carmen Whalen or Chris Waters?

With a professor in this role, a professor still teaching her classes and doing her research — just as Fred Copeland ’35 did 50 years ago while simultaneously serving as Director of Admissions — “faculty governance” is increased. It would be a faculty member advising students, a faculty member learning directly about their concerns, a faculty member involved in making Williams better. Instead of Justin Adkins as the lead non-student involved in the occupation of Hardy House last year, wouldn’t the College be better off with a faculty member in that role?

Consider an extreme scenario: a Williams without senior administrators. Every thing that needs to be done is done by the faculty. Since there are 300 faculty members, this does not require a lot of work on average. Instead of a single faculty members as Dean of the College, there would a Dean and 4 assistant deans, each in charge of a different aspect of student life, each serving for three years, each simultaneously engaged in teaching and research, each interacting with students both inside and outside the classroom.

Would those faculty members be busy? Sure! But busy is good. We want faculty members to be busy. We want them to be (more) deeply engaged in the life of the College. We want faculty members to take their “community service” responsibilities just as seriously as they take their academic research. In this scenario, every faculty member at Williams (who is not on sabbatical) would devote 10 hours per week to administrative duties.

Instead of a single Provost, we would have a Provost and 5 assistant provosts. Instead of a single Dean of the Faculty, we would have a Dean and five assistant deans. Instead of an Admissions Department without a single faculty member, five or more faculty would make the key decisions about who comes to Williams.

How much more poorly would Williams be run if all the senior administrator hires of the last decade had never been made? Was the Williams of the 1980s (with less than 1/3 of the current bureaucracy) really less well governed than the Williams of today?


Faculty Governance Seminar

This is the first installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter (pdf) about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

President Falk writes:

A hallmark of Williams is the strength of its system of faculty governance. Without a doubt, this is one of its attributes that drew me here; it’s a key reason for the excellence that the College has attained. In particular, Williams has been very well served by the practice of rotating faculty into the positions of Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Dean of the College, which embeds faculty at the center of our prioritizing and planning.

This is one part truth and three parts gibberish. Before diving into the details of Falk’s proposal — a proposal much more subtle than it might first appear — it is useful to consider the meaning and history of “faculty governance.” The truth in Falk’s statement is that the faculty at Williams do, indeed, run the College and always have. And that, I think, is a good thing! Yet the gibberish is important to understand as well.

First, Williams is not special. Williams has no more faculty governance than Amherst, Pomona, Swarthmore or any other elite liberal arts college. (Contrary opinions welcome.) One might claim that Williams and other small colleges have more faculty governance than large universities like Harvard and Yale, but even that is unclear. Large universities also have faculty members as presidents, have faculty members in charge of all the key committees, and so on. Does anyone believe that the faculty at Williams have more power than the faculty at Harvard? Please explain.

Second, faculty governance has decreased dramatically over the last 50 years.

Governance is not just, or even primarily, about decision-making power. It is about knowledge. Recall the era of Fred Copeland ’35 (pdf), Director of Admissions and Professor of Biology. That is faculty governance, when members of the faculty hold decision-making power at Williams directly, not via a proxy. (Copeland was also in charge of all undergraduate housing.) When a faculty member was director of admissions, then the faculty was truly in charge.

First and foremost, Fred was an academic, and his prevailing questions in committee were always, “How would the faculty enjoy teaching this student?” and “What would the faculty think?”

When non-faculty member Phil Smith ’55 succeeded Copeland, was his focus on what the faculty would think? Partially (of course), but not as much as Copeland’s was. Indeed, I suspect that Williams would not have gone so overboard for athletic preferences in admissions if a faculty member had succeeded Copeland.

EphBlog’s Maxim #6: Every hire of a senior administrator weakens faculty governance.

Every decision made by a senior administrator is a decision no longer made by the faculty.

Third, Falk’s proposal weakens faculty governance, thereby continuing the clear trend of the last 10 years, and the 50 years before. Consider four of the senior administrators hired by Morty: Stephen Klass, Collette Chilton, Doug Schiazza and Mike Reed. Assume that these four are the very best administrators in the whole world, the most qualified people that Williams could have possibly hired. Even so, those hires, like any new ones, decrease faculty governance because they, hard-working and wonderful though they are, all do things for the faculty that the faculty used to do for themselves.

We will discuss these issues over the next 5 days, looking closely at the details of Falk’s proposal. For now, I am reserving judgment. There is no doubt that hiring more vice presidents decreases the power of the faculty. My bias would be to argue that this is a bad thing, for the same reasons that expanding the Office of Campus Life is a bad thing: Remember the Tablecloth Colors!

The more that students do to run Williams, the better that Williams will be.

If you (Falk? the Trustees?) think that faculty are vaguely clueless academics and incompetent managers, then, obviously, you want to decrease their power. Let them focus on teaching and research. They are good at those things, and no so good at running Williams. My assumption is just the opposite:

The more that faculty do to run Williams, the better that Williams will be.

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe we need more vice presidents at Williams precisely because the faculty can not be trusted to run the College (competently) themselves. Let me start this seminar with a simple question: Do you want the Williams faculty to have more power or less?


Alignment of Senior Administration

From Adam Falk:

To the Williams Community,

I am writing to expand campus-wide a discussion I’ve begun about a topic of importance to the College: the alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.

A hallmark of Williams is the strength of its system of faculty governance. Without a doubt, this is one of its attributes that drew me here; it’s a key reason for the excellence that the College has attained. In particular, Williams has been very well served by the practice of rotating faculty into the positions of Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Dean of the College, which embeds faculty at the center of our prioritizing and planning.

Many dedicated faculty, past and present, have done great work in these roles. They’ve done so, I’ve come to realize, despite significant drawbacks to how their positions are configured. It’s critical that the faculty in these positions be focused on advancing our top academic priorities, but unfortunately they increasingly find themselves needing to burrow into detailed administrative and management duties, which in our ever more complicated world require technical knowledge and skills. These responsibilities limit, often extensively, the time needed for strategic thinking and leadership. Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions can make them less attractive to faculty, and the technical skills required of the Provost seem to limit its candidates to faculty in certain academic disciplines.

With the right realignment of responsibilities, I believe, we could re-focus these positions to recapture their original purpose — to think, plan, and see carried out our core academic mission.

Read more


Falk Update on Endowment and Spending

President Falk provides an update. I have copied the entire letter below the break because the College has a nasty habit of making these documents disappear. (Can you find similar letters written by interim President Bill Wagner on the Williams website? I can’t.) Highlights:

The return on our endowment investments for the fiscal year was 11.9%. Factoring in gifts to the endowment and spending from it, this put our total funds on July 1 at around $1.52 billion, a welcome increase over its value last year, but still more than 20% lower than this time three years ago. We project spending some 5.1% of that in the current year. Although that rate is widely considered to be unsustainable over the long run, it is part of a Board-approved plan to soften, over last year and this one, the impact on Williams of the world financial crisis.

1) This is not inconsistent with the $1.6 billion number that was mentioned in June but it is less than I expected. Did various illiquid investments come in lower than Chilton expected three months ago?

2) 5.1% of $1.52 billion is $77.5 million. That is too much spending! The College continues to not take the financial crisis seriously enough. Note that Morty claimed two years ago that the plan was to spend $70 million from the endowment in fiscal year 2011. Why isn’t Williams sticking with that plan? Because the people who run Williams don’t want to cut the budget enough. Future Williams administrators will curse their profligacy.

3) This is the first time that anyone from the college has ever admitted (realized?) that 5% endowment spending is unsustainable. I have made this point over and over and over again. Glad to see that Falk recognizes my genius. (Also, I am unaware of any other elite college that admits that, over the longterm, 5% real returns are unattainable. Pointers welcome!)

4) As usual, the College ignores its debt when discussing spending rates. Williams has a $1.5 billion endowment, but we also have around $250 million in debt. So our net financial wealth is $1.25 billion. Assuming a 3% real rate of return on that would allow for $45 million in annual spending from the endowment. Williams is spending approximately $25 million more per year than it should.

As many of you know, when the financial crisis hit, the College put two building projects on hold. I remain optimistic that we’ll be able to begin work this spring on the new Sawyer Library, which we continue to seek funds for. Meanwhile, the Weston Field project is undergoing a review to make sure it’ll provide what we need at the right price. I’m optimistic about this project, too, though on a somewhat longer timeframe.

Williams is not rich enough to be able to afford major changes at Weston for years to come. I hope that Falk and the trustees adjust to this reality. Stetson/Sawyer is a tougher case.

Full letter below the break.
Read more


Correspondents Wanted for Falk Talks

There are two main public events at which Adam Falk will be speaking tomorrow. Go to them and tell us what he says! (The overview I provided of Morty’s talks in 2008 is still one of the best guides to how he thought about his decade at Williams.)

The first event is the Ephraim Williams breakfast in Paresky tomorrow. It starts at 7:30, but, if you show up at 8:15, you won’t miss anything. This event is, theoretically, restricted to donors of various kinds, but no one checks invitations. Just say EphBlog sent you!

The second event is the traditional presidential Q&A from 4 to 5 on Friday at Main Stage. In a better world, the College would record and distribute either video or audio from that event, but, in past years, they have not. Perhaps this year will be different.

Go and tell us what President Falk has to say!


Adam Falk: On Maverick Leadership in the Arts (1)

Falk’s opening remarks from ‘On Maverick Leadership in the Arts,’ via Williams’ YouTube.

Thanks to all who made this available; more segments soon.


Questions for President Falk at Tonight’s Boston Alumni Meeting

The Boston Alumni Society is having our annual meeting tonight. If you are an EphBlog reader, make sure to say Hello to me. I look like this. President Falk will be speaking at the meeting. What questions should we ask him? Below are two that I might. Other suggestions?
Read more


Adam Falk: On Maverick Leadership

Falk– Maverick Leadership– Opening Remarks–Brooks-Rogers, 7:30p, Thursday, April 22 (in this space soon)

Also available at– Falk– Maverick Leadership– Opening Remarks.

Listen carefully, and you will hear… oh, just listen, and tell me what you hear!  (Actually,  at this moment,  eB’s audio embed is not working,  so tell me if you hear anything at all!)

(Anyone on campus– let me know if this needs to be removed)

(NOTE: I’m using secondary– really tertiary– audio equipment and haven’t listened to this myself)


Salary freeze lifted, endowment spending limit raised

Message from the new President’s office:

Dear Faculty and Staff,

As you may know, the College has been exploring ways to build a budget for the coming year that would both meet the target for spending from endowment and provide for some level of raises.

In a bit of doubly good news, the College managed, through the efforts of many across campus, to construct a budget that met the target while providing for a raise for all continuing faculty and staff of one percent, and the Board of Trustees chose to increase the endowment spending limit in order to extend an across-the-board raise in 2010-11 to two percent.

In doing so, Trustees expressed their appreciation for the thoughtful, principled, and effective process of reorganization that the campus is engaged in, which is positioning Williams for its strongest possible future. I couldn’t agree more.

While work remains to align completely our operations with the new fiscal realities, a great deal of progress toward that goal has already been made. The Board thanks you for that as do I.

We will increase spending from endowment even further in 2010-11 to take advantage of the Early Retirement Program, which in time will save money. Some 72 percent of eligible staff and 21 percent of eligible faculty have formally expressed interest in the program. We won’t, however, know for more than a month how many will ultimately take part.

Thank you again for the impressive, collaborative way that you all are pitching in to help the College face these challenges.

Best wishes,
Adam Falk

(thanks to Vicarious ’83)


First Day at Williams

To the Williams Community,

April Fools’ Day has arrived at last, bringing the most exciting day of my professional life. I’m finally able to graduate from President-elect to President of Williams!

To be sure, there is a part of me that is sad to leave Johns Hopkins, an institution I’m very fond of and where I have colleagues and friends I admire and love. But for the past six months, I have so looked forward to joining my new community, which as you already know faces such fascinating challenges and great opportunities.

I’ve taken advantage of this time—spending a day a week on campus this spring, experiencing Claiming Williams and Winter Carnival, visiting alumni groups and individual alumni on both coasts, touring the fascinating teaching laboratory that is WCMA, watching Laurie Anderson perform in the ’62 Center, taking my sons down to Amherst to cheer our basketball teams in a hostile (but still very purple) gym. I’m starting to get a feel for this marvelous place, and to see Williams through many different eyes.

I understand that in some ways these are anxious times, as our College community—and our country—adjusts to new financial realities. But, really, I can’t think of a more interesting time to join you. The choices we make now, to creatively and collaboratively readjust how Williams operates, will set the College’s course for many years to come. That’s an exciting journey and one that I believe will leave the College stronger in the end.

As both an insider and an outsider (until yesterday!), I assure you that Williams, with its relative financial strength, its tradition of collegial governance, and its extraordinary support from alumni and parents is uniquely positioned to succeed in this effort.

At the same time, we (and I love finally being able to use the word “we”) have been well served by the many thoughtful decisions made this year under the careful and steady leadership of Bill Wagner and the wise counsel of the Board of Trustees. I am deeply grateful to Bill and the Board for stewarding Williams so effectively and for making my transition so seamless and pleasant. We have also benefited during this time from the contributions of Acting Dean of the Faculty Andrea Danyluk.

My family also looks forward to being here, which won’t happen until the end of the school year. Like any father, I remain committed to attending as many of their weekend school and sports activities as possible, so I’ll be back in Baltimore many weekends for the rest of the spring. Both volleyball and lacrosse seasons are in full swing. But Karen, Briauna, David, and Alex will soon be here, where they’re ready to dive into the life of the campus, Williamstown, and the Berkshires.

Over these months, I’ve benefited from meeting a great many Williams people—here in Williamstown and far afield—and the warmth of your welcome has been extraordinary.

I’m looking forward now to getting to know the rest of you and, even more, to the learning, work, and fun we will all share as we roll up our sleeves in the months and years to come, and together make this very special college the even more remarkable institution that we aspire for it to be.

With my best wishes to you all,

Adam Falk


Meet President Falk in San Diego

Any readers in San Diego? Attend this event! From the Alumni Society.

[A] special reception with Interim President Bill Wagner,
President-elect Adam Falk, and Chair of the Board of Trustees Greg Avis ’80

DATE Friday, January 29 TIME 6:00 p.m. Reception
6:45 p.m. Conversation with Interim President Bill Wagner and President-elect Adam Falk, moderated by Greg Avis ’80

According to JG, you will learn a lot. If the issue of connecting alumni to current students/faculty comes up, make sure to ask about EphBlog!


“Constructive Loyalty” or hors d’oeuvres with the Presidents

Last night (Wednesday), I joined approximately 150-200 of my fellow alumni, parents, and friends of the NorCal Alumni Chapter to listen to Chair of the Trustees Greg Avis ’80, interim President Bill Wagner, and incoming President Adam Falk.  I came away from the evening more impressed by each of them than I had been previously.  Before I go any further, I should thank Chapter Prez Shannon Walsh ’03 for pulling together the inaugural edition of this roadshow they’ll be shopping around the country to other chapters.  I know they were in LA tonight, will be in San Diego tomorrow (Friday) and in DC on Feb. 22nd, but I haven’t a clue when they’ll be elsewhere.  This is a good reason to check out the events calendar on the alumni page and/or subscribe to your regional alumni email list.

And now on to the event…(you’ll have to go below the fold for the juicy details) Read more


Administrative Matters

from: Adam Falk
date: Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 2:08 PM
subject: Administrative Announcement

To the Williams Community,

Greetings from Baltimore. As the fall term winds down and April 1 approaches, I’m eager to be with you more regularly. As the next step, I’ll be focused on Williams matters generally one day a week, often in Williamstown, from January through March.

In other transition news, I’m pleased to update you on the terms of service of the faculty’s senior administrators.

Karen Merrill has decided that her term as Dean of the College should end as planned this June 30th. I’m impressed by the dedication and care that she’s brought to this position. She certainly can return to fulltime teaching and research with a deep sense of satisfaction. I’ll be consulting with the Faculty Steering Committee on selecting her successor.

Following consultation with the Committee, I’ve asked Bill Wagner and Bill Lenhart to serve as Dean of the Faculty and Provost, respectively, through the 2010-11 academic year, and they have agreed. I hope you’ll join me in thanking them for the distinguished service they’ll continue to provide to the Williams community in these roles, and in the case of Bill Wagner for his exceptional and ongoing responsibilities as Interim President.

Andrea Danyluk will remain Acting Dean of the Faculty until Bill Wagner resumes those duties April 1. To her, as well, we are all grateful.

Williams is fortunate to have faculty willing and able to fill these important and demanding roles. It’s one of the many reasons why I’m so looking forward to joining this remarkable community.

Adam Falk

(thanks to ’10 for posting)


Falk on Dennett Graffiti

A message from incoming President Falk:

Dear Tracey and Michael,

Thank you for including me in the conversation about this terrible incident and the campus’s response to it. The vandalism was a hateful and horrible thing, and I am so sorry that the students in the entry, as well as the entire campus, have had to endure it. To say that such behavior is unacceptable is simply to scratch the surface of the outrage that I feel.

I agree completely that, especially in the aftermath of this incident, students and administration must come together around the critical purpose of eliminating from the Williams campus homophobia and other forms of discrimination against the many varieties of sexual expression. As it is with all expressions of bigotry, this is neither an easy task nor a quick one. I understand that you have started a productive conversation with the current College leadership about steps that could be taken in pursuit of this goal. I support that process fully, and look forward to becoming engaged in the dialog myself when I arrive on campus in April.

For now, let me just say again how appalled I am at what happened in Mills-Dennett 1 last weekend. I know that this is hardly representative of the views, or behavior, of the marvelous Williams student body. But as true as that may be, it does not diminish the importance of taking this opportunity to acknowledge and address the very real homophobia that does exist on campus. And to do so now.

I look forward to meeting you and your colleagues in the spring, hopefully under somewhat happier circumstances.

With my best regards,
Adam Falk

Adam F. Falk
Williams College

1) Seems like a reasonable statement, if a little overwrought for my tastes. Good to see that Falk is already involving himself in Williams affairs. (My total guess is that the College wanted him to start on January 1 but that Falk’s family would have preferred June 30, and so we ended with an April 1 compromise.)

2) Is it officially “Adam F. Falk?” The College had some sort of standard for referring to Morty which always include, in official communications, his middle name and/or initial. Does Falk want us to not forget the “F”? If I were President of Willams, I would want a cool, friendly e-mail address like Maybe someday if I suck up enough to my friend in OIT enough!

3) I think that framing this as mainly an issue of “homophobia” is absurd. Would these actions be any less objectionable if the same vandalism occurred but the word “fags” was replaced by “losers” or “mother-f**kers?” No. Is there any evidence that the vandals were actually motivated by anti-homosexual feeling? No. In fact, all the evidence we have suggests that this event was caused by personality conflicts with no connection to anyone’s sexuality.

Perhaps it would be better if Williams vandals were taught to use “mother-f**kers” instead of “fags” since the later makes more people more upset than the former. But, keep in mind that the vandals wanted to make more people more upset! The more that the Williams Administration makes a big deal of this event, the more likely future vandals will draw the (in)correct lesson about word choice.

4) Are the grammar pendants among our readers going to mock Falk’s use of “hopefully?” Give him a break! He is a physicist . . .


Video of Adam Falk’s introduction

UPDATE: Video of Falk’s speech is now available here

Post originally published Sep. 29:

President Elect Adam F. Falk will be introduced to the campus community on Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 4:00 PM ET.

Beginning just before 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, a live webcast of President Elect Falk’s introduction will appear on this page. Mark your calendars.

For previous discussion of the Falk selection, see this post which broke the news and the official confirmation


Eph Soapbox – Falk

I know this community of readers often dislikes to see soapboxing; follow me below the fold for a piece about our new President and a particular reaction I keep getting around campus. Read more


Adam Falk, 17th President of Williams College

To the Williams Community,

On a great day for Williams, I am pleased to report that the Board of Trustees has with tremendous enthusiasm chosen as the College’s 17th President Adam Falk, Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins. Click here for the full announcement about this exciting new leader for Williams.

Greg Avis ‘80
Chair of the Board of Trustees and of
The 2009 Presidential Search Committee

Record Article:


President Adam Falk?

An anonymous tipster David Kane tells us that Adam Falk of Johns Hopkins will be the new President of Williams College. I have no idea whatsoever if this is true.
From the JHU website:

Adam F. Falk became James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences on Feb. 1, 2006. He had served in the position on an interim basis since January 2005.

Under his leadership, Falk said, the Krieger School’s goal remains what it has always been: “To be and remain the best small, research-intensive school of arts and sciences in the country; faculty member for faculty member and student for student, to be second to no other.”

Falk, a member of the Johns Hopkins physics faculty since 1994, was promoted to associate professor after only three years at Johns Hopkins and to full professor just three years later, in 2000. In 2002, he was appointed the Krieger School’s vice dean of faculty, a title that was changed to dean of faculty in 2004. He was instrumental in those positions in the formulation of the school’s strategic plan and in a comprehensive reform of appointment, promotion and tenure policies in the Krieger School.

Falk is a high-energy physicist whose research focuses on elementary particle physics and quantum field theory, particularly the interactions and decay of heavy quarks. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a winner of the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award. Early in his career, he won prestigious national young investigator awards from both the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department.

He graduated with highest distinction from the University of North Carolina in 1987 and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1991, winning six awards for excellence in undergraduate teaching while a graduate student. He held post-doctoral appointments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and the University of California, San Diego, before coming to Johns Hopkins.


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