Taking the Long View

Williams is committed to sustainability in all its many dimensions.


President Adam Falk

That Williams has been around since 1793 and will flourish for hundreds of years yet puts everything we do today in important perspective. When we make a decision about the college, we always have to take the long view. That basic fact was driven home to me by two major announcements earlier this fall: the public launch of the Teach It Forward campaign and our response to the global crisis of climate change. Each speaks to the sustainability of Williams.

The extraordinary generosity of alumni and parents has nourished Williams for two centuries. Knowing we can count on that support is essential to the continuity of our programs and to our ability to evolve and grow. Teach It Forward will give us the opportunity, through annual giving and major gifts, to make new investments in financial aid, faculty, science and critical student experiences beyond the classroom. At the same time, running the college year after year relies primarily on return from our endowment, a corpus that reflects the past contributions of generations of loyal Ephs.

And it’s not just the financial resources of our alumni that sustain us; it’s also their deep love for and multifaceted connections to the college. That’s why Teach It Forward has equally important fundraising and engagement goals. We aim to raise $650 million—far surpassing any previous efforts the college has undertaken—and to engage 85 percent of alumni in the campaign by inspiring them to give, attend events, volunteer or join us through our website and via social media.

We’ve set new, ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (35 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and carbon neutrality soon after that), for purchase of regionally sourced renewable electricity and for investments that conserve energy in our local communities. We’re pursuing Living Building certification for the Class of 1966 Environmental Center. We’re initiating a process, led by students, faculty and staff on the Campus Environmental Action Committee, to examine our own behaviors, policies and procedures and suggest changes to make them more sustainable. And we’re making investments in our academic mission, with new faculty to be hired in the science and policy of climate change. A campus-wide program, Confronting Climate Change, is planned for 2016-17.To contribute to Williams is to believe in the importance of our mission and to know that our future is long and very bright. To realize that future, it’s essential that we make Williams a campus that will nestle sustainably in our New England valley for centuries. This is the spirit behind our announcement about the college’s response to climate change. We must lead by example and use our most powerful weapon against such a formidable challenge—the education we provide our students—to create alumni who are inspired and prepared to take on this urgent, global crisis.

These actions have both practical and symbolic significance. Symbolism is certainly important, because it can motivate concrete action. We hope that many other institutions of higher education will join us in taking similar steps. In fact, we’ll be doing some of this work, such as purchasing renewable electricity, in collaboration with Amherst, Smith and other colleges in Massachusetts. Further, these are actions by which we at Williams can take direct responsibility for addressing climate change, by using our resources and our collective will.

Williams is committed to sustainability in all its many dimensions. In the next few years, we’ll be taking on the challenge of sustaining Williams for the many decades to come. And that’s taking the long view.

Image credit: Mark McCarty