A specialty in Imperial Russian and early Soviet history might seem an odd credential for an interim college president. Leadership transitions in Russia during those periods were nothing to emulate (they often were pretty bloody, in fact), and I doubt the Board of Trustees hoped I would prove to be another Romanov or Lenin.
I find myself in this position not because of my academic interests but because of Williams’ system, unique in American higher education, of filling the positions of Dean of the Faculty, Provost and Dean of the College with members of our own faculty, who serve typically for three to six years before returning to full-time teaching and research.
Colleagues at other schools often look on this system quizzically, but I am more convinced than ever that it is part of what gives Williams its special character.
The learning curve can be steep at the beginning of an administrative term, but Williams faculty are nothing if not quick learners. Meanwhile, surveys have confirmed my long-held sense of there being less division between faculty and administrators here than at peer institutions. At least part of the explanation must surely be our singular system of governance.
The most recent example of this effect has come in discussions of how to respond at Williams to our sudden and dramatic economic challenges. These many, complex conversations have been marked by a broad sense of cooperation and community that clearly has benefited the institution.
This system, I believe, serves the College particularly well during a time of presidential change by ensuring among senior administrators an ongoing understanding of academic matters—the heart of what Williams is about.
I can assure you that Stalin would not have liked it. Collegiality was not his strong suit. But in the list of things that make Williams exceptional, it is worth noting, especially at a point of transition, that this system certainly is one.
– Bill Wagner, interim president