What Sawyer Said

What Sawyer SaidYour article on Jack Sawyer ’39 (spring 2013) reminded me of a vignette about him and his leadership style. On a beautiful spring day shortly after the Cambodian bombing in 1970, Dick Berg ’71 and I were lounging on the bench at the head of Spring Street, contemplating the weather and life. Shortly after lunch, as President Sawyer walked from his home to Hopkins Hall, he passed by and we waved. Dick and I were still perched on the bench when Jack emerged from Hopkins later that day, and we invited him to sit with us. He took off his jacket, and we chatted. We told him that we and our fellow students were up in arms about Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings. Big things were going to happen. Jack admitted that he wasn’t aware of the student uprising, told us he would check around with various constituencies and thanked us before leaving. He subsequently steered the college through the historic campus “town meeting” and college strike of 1970. Our chat at the top of Spring Street was a quintessential Williams moment.

—Matty Mathieson ‘71, Burke, Va.

Reading “What Sawyer Said,” I was reminded of Sawyer’s first speech as president, given at his induction on Oct. 8, 1961. Two years out of Williams and as a North Adams Transcript reporter covering the ceremony before 1,000 people in Chapin Hall, I was intrigued by something newsy he said. Warning against “the overly rigid reliance on standardized tests and grading systems which fail to uncover certain traits of excellence,” he announced “an experiment in which we would admit a designated fraction of the entering class who might not ordinarily have been admitted on prevailing formal criteria.” These people would not be “weaker students but candidates … with a flair, a forte, a strength of character that would enrich the student population and the college … in recognition of the fact that occasionally a weak academic record merely shows that sometimes the most gifted or the most thoroughly reflective balk first at the treadmill of graded requirements.”

Taking chances in the non-traditional, gifted, even oddball thinker was a principle that spread among many colleges. Just as well. The treadmill of grades in the competitive world seems more like a mountain today. I assume over the decades Williams and its students have been the better for Sawyer’s experiment.

—Ernest F. Imhoff ’59, Baltimore, Md.

Papacy in Perspective

Pope Benedict XVIAfter reflecting on President Oakley’s “A Perspective on the Papacy” (spring 2013)  and following the first weeks of the new pontificate, I believe that Benedict XVI’s resignation may in fact add to “the mystification of the papacy.” By stepping aside, he sends a clear message to his successors: “You’d better be ready to travel the world (several times over), post, tweet and be followed, as well as entertain and worship with 3.5 million young adults at a time.” The current pope seems to be only adding to this mystification and super-priest status of the office. Taking the name of the Church’s most beloved saint and being the first ethnically Italian pope in 34 years, he has set the Eternal City into a frenzy. His preferences and servile nature anoint him to be the one to obey the words of Christ, “Rebuild my Church,” as St. Francis did. But the most important contribution of this papacy might actually contradict the final point President Oakley makes. Far from making it a more administrative job, Pope Francis seeks to further the evangelizing role of the papacy. In an interview, the then-Cardinal Bergoglio said it is a temptation to view the pastoral care of souls as an administrative post. He wants to form, from the most senior of prelates to us newly ordained priests, into “real agents of the New Evangelization.” Look for this goal to be a positive outcome of his new eight-cardinal commission to reform the Roman Curia.

—Father Mike Sheehan ’03, Roxbury, Mass.

Band of Brothers

Band Of BrothersI read with interest Robert Seidman’s ’63 article “Band of Brothers” (spring 2013) and reflected on the ripple effect of his actions in 1961, one washing over me in 1962 as a high school senior. I had my heart set on Northwestern but found off-putting the dominance of the Greek system during a visit in November. A few years before, the Kansas City public schools had banned entrenched fraternities and sororities partly because of the harmful effect on those excluded, an experience I had witnessed close to home.

In December Director of Admission Fred Copeland ’35 interviewed me in Kansas City, winning me over not only with Polaroid snapshots of campus but the chance to be involved in the transition from fraternities to a yet-to-be-formulated residential housing system. (OK, I wasn’t likely going to play sports in the Big Ten…) Perhaps a unique perspective but a compelling one, and I came to Williams in 1963 in large part because of the change set in motion by Seidman, et. al. (and got to play baseball for four years with Coach Bobby Coombs).

—Ron Bodinson ‘67, Madison, Conn.

Regardless of Robert Seidman’s ’63 impressive credentials, an attack on Alpha Delta Phi is an attack on my friends. I pledged Alpha Delta Phi at Stanford, Class of 1958, a chapter in which I served in several capacities, including president. I transferred to Williams and to the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, Class of 1961. I lived in an apartment rented to me by President Sawyer during my junior year. In my senior year, I moved into the fraternity. Joe Low ’61 and Bill Penny ’61 accepted me as a roommate. To dismiss these fine men out of hand because they belonged to a cruel, discriminatory (Seidman’s view) fraternity is intellectually dishonest. I personally liked Bruce Grinnell ’62. I did not share his vision, but admired his integrity. Ending fraternities rather than reforming them, however, was a great loss for the college.

—Robert Marrin ’61, Kansas City, Mo.

More Magazine Praise

More Magazine PraiseThe format, styling, color, photos, etc., of the magazine are all great! One of the most attractive magazines of any kind I have seen. You are doing a great job. Thank you.

—Charles Dunkel ’59, Santa Rosa, Calif.