Photo of President Maud S. Mandel

One of the most challenging and fascinating aspects of being a college president is the need to focus on long-term vision and immediate needs at the same time.

As one minor example, I originally planned to publish an essay here, summarizing our great progress on strategic priorities, from All-Grant financial aid and the opening of the new Davis Center to a design for the future Williams College Museum of Art and a fresh program study on athletics and wellness.

And we’re doing all that work. You’ll see coverage throughout this issue. But devoting the column to it would have meant glossing over the current realities of nationwide campus protests.

So I’d like to explain what we’re doing at Williams. Not details of recent activism or actions—information that would be outdated before this magazine reached you—but a set of four principles we’re using to maintain our educational focus and excellence amid stormy seas.

First, the decision last fall not to issue an institutional statement about the events of October 7, while disappointing to some, has enabled us to reassert Williams’ core principles, as a place where we teach students how to think, not what to think.

Second, we’re working to introduce students to diverse views and teach them how to analyze and debate. Since October we’ve hosted Zionist historians; Palestinian scholars and poets; and Beltway policy analysts and grassroots organizers. If we’ve been doing our job well—and I think have—all students have the option to engage with some programming they relate to and some they can constructively disagree with.

Third, we’ve defined broad room for expression of those views—including protest. To quote one of my recent messages to the campus community, “I see the president’s primary job as ensuring educational opportunities that equip all students to study, explore and take constructive action. They must have ample room to express their ideas as part of that process.”

Finally, we’re requiring any protesters to operate within the guardrails of our Code of Conduct. We’ve been clear that we’ll enforce those rules, reliably and evenhandedly, to ensure student safety and prevent harassment.

There have been moments when we haven’t lived these principles as neatly as I’ve described them here. But, as a framework, they’re helping us sustain our educational focus and our sense of community at a time when many campuses are deeply torn. Unfortunately, given the geopolitical outlook, I don’t think we’ll be done discussing these challenges anytime soon. In the meantime, please know that as president I’m continuing to think with our colleagues about the Williams community’s long- and short-term interests, with the goals of ensuring academic vigor, a shared sense of belonging and sustained excellence for Williams.

Maud S. Mandel


Read President Mandel’s recent messages to the campus community.