The Choices Ahead

Williams Colllege President Adam Falk sits on a stool, arms crossed on his chest, looking at the camera and smiling. After eight years as president, I’ll be leaving Williams in December. And while I’m looking ahead to my future at the Sloan Foundation, I’m also looking back on what we as a community have accomplished together.

I see much to be proud of. We’re moving toward completion of a sophisticated new Science Center. Recruiting a new generation of faculty to continue our renowned commitment to teaching. Frequenting a vibrant new college bookstore. Welcoming extremely diverse and academically excellent students—including many who couldn’t enroll without your support. Investing in our community, attracting global acclaim, and ambitiously reaching to fulfill a $650 million campaign.

Williams is thriving. And yet few of us, regardless of what we think about politics, would say the future feels secure. It seems to me that our continued thriving will depend on our ability to carry out two types of work, each captured in the pages of this issue.

First, we need to teach students to study and make sense of the world. Our existence and thriving depends on this work. One must start by considering the broadest range of ideas and facts with an open, questioning mind. The article “Data Collection” illustrates the ways Williams is teaching students to draw on unusual sources—in this case, data about the artworks in our museum collection—to reach unexpected insights.

While I’m looking ahead to my future … I’m also looking back on what we as a community have accomplished together.

Then, upon analyzing the world, we need to decide what matters to us—and do something about it. One of the wonderful things about a Williams experience is the vast range of opportunities we can offer. And one of the lessons students learn when faced with all these choices is that you can’t prioritize everything at once. A Williams education involves learning to make choices. In this spirit, “The Value of Waste” captures a provocative conversation among three outstanding Williams professors who each in their own way are studying what communities or societies choose to value or discard—and how those choices shape culture, economics, politics and, increasingly, our natural environment.

Technology has made it easy to express ourselves and act on our opinions in an instant. The central stories in this issue depict how Williams is teaching students the hard work that comes before self-expression: the research, analysis and reasoning that we need in order to make wise choices and contribute to the world in considered, constructive ways.

Williams is the product of 200-plus years of such choices. One of them made a tremendous difference in my own life: the moment when you selected me as your 17th president. I thank you for the privilege of serving Williams for the past eight years, and I look forward to the choices still ahead of us.
—Adam Falk, President