Govern the college

Governance report

The group’s scope includes:

  • Faculty governance structures
  • Decision-making dynamics among faculty, students and staff
  • Participation and engagement across campus
  • Coordination, communication, and transparency
  • Collaboration with external partners to promote the mission of higher education

Group Members

Colin Adams, Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Krista Birch, Oakley Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Ben Leary ’20, Student
Maud Mandel, Office of the President

Working Group charge (draft)

Williams College has a long tradition of shared governance and collaborative decision making. Essential work is conducted by numerous committees, and our most important decisions tend to reflect broad participation on the part of faculty, staff, students, and the Board of Trustees. While this approach has served us well in the past, the distributive nature of the process has the potential to create inefficiencies and coordination challenges.

Some of the shortcomings of our governance structure were noted in the 2018 accreditation report: “There are many aspects of distributed authority at Williams that are extremely positive, and it certainly contributes to the sense of faculty ownership. Nevertheless, […] there was a real question as to whether the balance was right in this distribution, and whether or not the extreme version of this practiced by Williams was actually serving the college well.”

This working group is charged with examining Williams’ current governance structures and recommending changes aimed at improving efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency, including:

  • Reconsidering our committee structures;
  • Improving coordination and communication of decision-making;
  • Imagining ways to build appropriate broad participation;
  • Developing protocols and norms for meaningful transparency;
  • Enhancing trust in, and respect for, our governance structures.

This working group should consider the following questions:

  • How well is our current committee structure serving the college? Could we imagine an alternative structure that would be more efficient and more effective? How often should our committee structure as a whole be reviewed for redundancy and accretion? Who should be responsible for this review?
  • What principles should govern the balance of faculty, staff, and students on our various committees? How can we ensure that all members have a voice in committee work and deliberations?
  • What might transparency look like at various levels? What is the most effective way to communicate key decisions and analyses? Who determines when it’s necessary and important to share?
  • How can we increase transparency and communication between the Board and other governance structures on campus?

Each working group will collaborate with the Office of the President on a list of resources needed for its work, including internal data sets and models from peer institutions. In addition, each working group is charged with:

  • Developing an open and inclusive process for gathering input from all sectors of the campus;
  • Developing a communications strategy throughout the fall and early spring of 2019-20;
  • Coordinating with other relevant working groups and the Coordinating Committee as necessary;
  • Recognizing that resources are limited and thinking carefully about ways to achieve programmatic change without necessarily increasing total spending;
  • Operating with the understanding that new initiatives may replace existing ones and thus an inventory of possible reductions/eliminations should be developed.