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World of Work

What are your impressions of Professor Marlene Sandstrom’s thoughts on her new role as Dean of the College?

As Dean of the College, Sandstrom will work with President Falk on big-picture challenges. “One of the biggest challenges is that the world of work is changing. Career means something different now than it meant 25 or even 10 years ago,” Sandstrom said.

Gibberish. There is no evidence that the career paths — or whatever ill-defined meaning of “career” Sandstrom has in mind — of Williams graduates will be any different for the class of 2016 than they were for the classes of 2006 or 1991. People have been observing, for decades, that most Ephs will have a variety of “careers” and that, we hope, a liberal arts education would help to prepare them to walk that path. Here is an example from Commencement 8 years ago.

Francis Oakley hit on similar themes in his induction address more than 30 years ago. The world was changing very fast, even back in 1985, and Oakley argued that a Williams liberal arts education was the best possible preparation for that world. I am glad that Dean Sandstrom agrees with Oakley, but embarrassed (for her) that she thinks any of this is new.

“Dean Bolton initiated some really positive changes to our first-year advising system, and it is much stronger now,” she said. “There may be ways to make it even more effective. The advising relationship has the potential to be a very powerful one for students, especially if it gets off to a good start from the outset.”

Hmmm. First, precisely what changes did Bolton initiate? I have my doubts that anything substantive has been done, but informed commentary is welcome. Second, is there any evidence at all that first-year advising is “much stronger now?” Not that I have seen. (And, yes, it is pathetic that the Record never asks a skeptical question in these interviews.) Third, none of this is necessarily Bolton’s fault. First-year advising has been broken for at least 30 years, not because the Williams administration is incompetent but because it is a hard problem. Connect a first year with a faculty member and the latter will not know the answer to 90% of the questions that the former has. I have, of course, a partial solution to this problem, which the margins of this blog post are too narrow to contain . . .

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Sandstrom new Dean of the College

Professor Marlene Sandstrom will be the new Dean of the College, replacing Sarah Bolton on July 1. Falk’s entire e-mail is below the break. See here for Record coverage and here for the Berkshire Eagle.

1) Note Sandstrom’s 2010 New York Times opinion piece on cyberbullying. She isn’t explicitly anti-free speech, but, if I were a Williams student with controversial opinions, opinions likely to cause other students to complain, I would be worried.

2) I think that Sandstrom is the first Dean (first senior administrator?) to be married to another member of the faculty, in her case Professor Noah Sandstrom. Not sure what bearing, in any, that fact has on her appointment or will have on her performance.

3) How did Sandstrom get the job? Good question! Informed gossip is always welcome. My guess is that Falk has been a Sandstrom fan for awhile. He awarded her (and her husband) the directorship of Williams-Exeter two years ago, a position for which there is a fair amount of competition among the faculty.

4) Is it weird for me to wonder if the Sandstroms have any children? My prejudice would be that a Dean with children is more likely to be sympathetic to students and their problems, but perhaps that is unfair to the childless.

5) I am pleased to see that Sandstrom served on the Honor Committee, as every faculty member interested in being Dean of the College should.

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