(AMHERST and WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 1, 2023) – Amherst and Williams Colleges announced this morning that the two highly-regarded Massachusetts schools will merge operations effective tomorrow, April 2, 2023.
Leaders from the two schools say the merger offers a unique opportunity to combine the strengths of two of the nation’s venerable colleges into a unified educational powerhouse: one of the largest and most resourced “pure liberal arts institutions” in the world.
In a joint statement, Amherst President Michael A. Elliott and Williams President Maud S. Mandel said, “Neither of us came to our respective roles imagining such a move. Over time, as we worked together, we recognized how deeply our schools were in sync: our missions, priorities and educational philosophies had so much in common. Our school colors even used the same purple. Of course, there are also real differences, and we’ve long been rivals in varsity athletics. But given that Amherst was founded two hundred years ago by a group of faculty and students from Williams, in many ways this feels less like a merger and more like a family reunion.”
While the merger officially begins tomorrow, the list of details yet to be resolved is staggering—starting with the new institution’s name. A joint naming task force has reached the short-list phase, with leading possibilities including Amilliams, Willherst (consistent with current practice, the “h” would be silent), and current fan favorite Wamherst. Whatever the choice, the presidents are reassuring their communities that each campus will maintain its unique identity within the larger “brand family.”
Senior faculty hailed the merger as an educational quantum leap. Speaking to reporters, Williams physicist Bill Wootters and Amherst counterpart Jagu Jagganathan said, “Eighty-eight years ago, Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen identified the phenomenon known as quantum entanglement, in which two particles—or, in our context, two liberal arts colleges—can be so closely related that the state of one can’t be described independently of the state of the other. Such connections persist across great distances. Even the Mass Pike is no barrier.”
Some observers have questioned whether the merger can overcome the challenge of geography, with the two campuses separated by mountain ranges, rivers and—by New England standards—a dearth of Dunkin’ Donuts. Generations of both schools’ alumni refer to the connecting stretch of Route 2 the “Dunkin’ Desert.”
But the energized Wamherst team regards these challenges as a source of new opportunities. Earlier today, for example, athletic co-directors Lisa Melendy and Don Faulstick announced plans to convert the intervening Deerfield River Valley into a single, 58-mile-long Ultimate Frisbee field. “Students who can sustain a downfield play for more than 50 miles at a time epitomize our shared liberal arts commitment to athletic excellence, leadership and grit,” said the co-ADs. “And what better place to show off those skills, since Ultimate was largely invented at Amherst?”
Meanwhile, sources report that plans are afoot to reconfigure the Deerfield River itself as one long, lazy river. Students will be encouraged to tube home for school breaks as part of the merged institution’s doubled-down commitment to sustainability.
Administratively, the project offers potential for efficiencies and economies of scale, too. Amherst CFAO Mike “Michael” Thomas and Williams Vice President for Finance and Operations Michael “Mike” Wagner project an estimated $7M in annual savings from the bulk purchasing of purple apparel, and a further $1M per year from expected decreases in purchase of vowels for logos and lockups. The two campus libraries will also join forces—an ironic twist, since Williams alleges the Amherst library was founded with books stolen from their collection.
The big question on many minds is: What will post-merger life be like for students? The answer: Busy. As part of today’s announcement, Co-Presidents Elliott and Mandel unveiled plans for a donor-funded hyperloop to transport students and faculty from one campus to the other within the 10 minutes between classes.
“Students may find it a little challenging to get to their classes on time at first,” said co-spokespersons Sandy Genelius and Jim Reische. “But having to manage a 61-mile commute in ten minutes or less is a wonderful way to learn time management.” Riders will be offered co-branded neck pillows and blankets to promote healthy sleep habits en route. Genelius and Reische also described plans to infuse the trip itself with educational value through a series of “three-minute lectures” by faculty on topics suited to brevity, including Kantian epistemology, proteomics and art and politics in the Global South.
Even with all these offerings, students sounded a note of caution. One senior, who asked to remain anonymous, summed it up this way: “Differences in access to restaurants, variations in driving distance to ski areas… This is not a marriage of equals.” Some Amherst cynics have taken to quoting their school’s founder and first president, Zephanaiah Swift Moore, a former Williams faculty member, who reportedly described Williams’ mountainous setting as “an impediment to both rational thought and the construction of a decent Trader Joe’s.”
Skeptics aside, however, most members of the Wamherst community welcomed the merger as logical and even natural. In a joint statement, geoscientists José Constantine (Williams) and Tekla Harms (Amherst) celebrated the decision: “Given the inexorable motion of plates, our two campuses, located 60 miles apart—mere millimeters in geological terms—were eventually going to wind up in the same place anyway,” they said. “To take such geological inevitability and turn it into an enrollment management opportunity is nothing short of brilliant.”
Amherst College prepares students to use ideas to make a difference in the world. Since its founding, in 1821 in Western Massachusetts, Amherst has demonstrated steadfast confidence in the value of the liberal arts and the importance of critical thinking. Today, its financial aid program is among the most substantial in the nation, and its student body is among the most diverse. Small classes, an open curriculum, and a singular focus on undergraduate education ensure that leading scholars engage daily with talented, curious students, equipping them for leadership in an increasingly global and complex world.
Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s approximately 2,000 undergraduate students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. The college is also home to roughly 100 master’s students enrolled in its renowned graduate programs in Development Economics and the History of Art (the latter offered in collaboration with the Clark Art Institute). Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.
Published April 1, 2023