In my scholarly life, I am fascinated by historical continuities and discontinuities. How do people or groups evolve over time, and why? What essence persists through those changes, and how does that essence define who “we” are?
For most of my professional life I have studied how these forces played out in Jewish and Armenian communities in modern France. But my experience as a college president has given me a whole new perspective on the topic. This is especially true following the recent passing of several iconic college leaders, including former President John Chandler, former Interim President Bill Wagner and former Trustee and Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity Mike Reed ’75.
All three helped steer Williams through times of great change: John guided our transition to coeducation and a reshaped curriculum; Bill led our successful efforts to weather the 2008 recession while protecting our core mission; and Mike was a leader in increasing Williams’ commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The death of such friends and colleagues creates discontinuity. We mourn their loss and the loss of personal connections to the past. Yet these moments can remind us of significant continuities: the ways in which they helped build the Williams we have now and that we must move forward.
Here are a few examples of how this is happening: The new Center for Teaching is moving into full swing, supporting continued faculty excellence—a Williams hallmark. In October, it was named the Joseph Lee Rice III 1954 Center for Teaching in honor of Joe’s long-standing commitment to our great teaching at Williams.
Construction is underway on a major new facility for the Davis Center (formerly the Multicultural Center), opening up new possibilities for how Williams can pursue our values of inclusion and educational engagement across a vibrantly diverse community.
Another exemplary building project is the creation of a new Williams College Museum of Art, which will expand the museum’s capacity to support another Williams ideal—of the arts at the very heart of a great liberal arts curriculum.
Meanwhile, this fall is the inaugural semester of our new all-grant financial aid program—the nation’s first. A major step in our pursuit of access and affordability, the program enables students from all backgrounds to explore the full range of Williams opportunities on more equal terms.
Finally, our 2022-23 celebration of 50 years of women at Williams will honor the many ways that our earliest women graduates are helping to broaden the college’s vision of alumni as partners in our educational excellence.
Amidst change and loss, our commitment to mission, values and educational excellence provides continuity and ensures that Williams remains Williams. As we say a sad goodbye to valued friends and esteemed leaders, we express deep gratitude for what they have given us—and what we must now sustain.
As a president, as a historian and as a member of this community, I share the sense of loss and also of deep gratitude. A torch has been passed, and we must now carry it. I am honored to share that responsibility with all of you.
Maud S. Mandel