A few weeks ago I began talking with an alumna (class of 2010) about our experiences at Williams and the ways in which our campus has changed from her time to mine. Though we are only separated by five years, there have been a surprising amount of changes. Some are commonly known such as the addition of Sawyer-Stetson and the subtraction of Greylock and Dodd dining halls, while lesser known differences include Mission as a primarily sophomore dorm and Lehman as a freshmen entry. The biggest topic of discussion however was on the last two presidents of the college. In my talks with the alumna, it became clear the office of the President was nothing like it is now under Adam Falk.
Morton Schapiro began his time in the Purple Bubble in 1980 as an economics professor and became the 16th President of Williams in 2000, a position he held for nine years. Not only did he serve as President, but remained a professor as well, continuing to teach economics. Though there is much to say about the changes he implemented while serving as President, it appears his most revered achievement was being a presence for the student body. Students and faculty alike dropped the niceties commonly saved for the President and affectionately referred to him as Morty. He knew the students, and the students knew him. Here are a few quotes from students and faculty in a 2009 Record article on Schapiro’s departure:
“He reenergized the College. His energy was infectious and inspired alumni to contribute to support the place because they were so confident about his leadership.”
-Will Dudley, Professor of Philosophy
“I’ll remember a friendship that allows me to dress up as an awkward economist to make fun of his profession and him to poke fun of my age and my English in class.”
-Rachel Ko, ‘09
“Since we were the underdogs at NESCACs for the first time in seven years, Morty drove down to Wesleyan and watched the entire meet and was definitely one of the loudest Williams supporters in the stands.
-Jordan Hollander, ‘10
“Morty makes himself remarkably available – to the point when you wonder if he’s been cloned. Whether it’s being present at every sporting event, every alumni event, administrative meetings, lectures, dinners, entry snacks, or any of the hundreds of events he hosts in his home, he’s there. “
-Steve Klass, Vice President for Campus Life
Though being well-known sounds like a small achievement, the same identification cannot be extended to our current fearless leader. In my four years here, I can count the number of times I’ve had an interaction with President Falk on one hand. Two of those instances were in forums about hate-crimes. Of course my experience does not represent the entire student body’s, so I went around and asked people a simple question to better gauge how much of a presence President Falk has been to the student body. The following reactions were not scripted:
Note that only one of the previous responses included a personal interaction with Falk. Other than that, all we can gather from Falk as a presence to the student body is that he likes to walk. For the most part however, people struggle to recall the last time they’ve seen Adam Falk. As another student once put it, “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Adam Falk’s poodle more than I’ve seen Adam Falk.” It’s clear not just from my testimony but from several other student’s statements as well that Falk is just not around all that much. What’s more is that Falk doesn’t even live in the President’s house anymore. Though this is apparently for the sake of his family, Falk’s presence (or lack thereof) on campus both metaphorically and physically leaves a poor impression on the student body.
Now I’m not asking that he attend every Varsity sporting event or teach a class (which he was supposed to offer starting my sophomore year once he had “eased into” the position), nor am I asking him to become a carbon copy of Schapiro. Different people have different styles of leadership. All I’m asking is for him to maybe stop once or twice during one of those infamous walks of his and greet the students he passes instead of hurriedly shuffling to his next meeting. We all know his name. Now it’s time for him to learn ours.