Williams Honors the Legacy of President Jack Sawyer

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: Noelle.Lemoine@williams.edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., March 8, 2013—On April 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Chapin Hall, Williams College President Adam Falk will moderate a panel discussion honoring former president John E. Sawyer ’39 and exploring the transformational changes that occurred during his tenure. A reception will follow in the Great Hall of the Paresky Center at 9 p.m. The discussion and reception are free and open to the public.

Friday’s panel discussion, part of a two-day celebration called Daring Change, features three educational leaders who knew Sawyer well and/or who experienced the college’s evolution in the decades since his presidency: Vassar College President Catharine Bond Hill ’76, Stephen R. Lewis, Jr. ’60, longtime Williams professor and former provost who served as president of Carlton College; and Francis C. Oakley, Williams president emeritus, Edward Dorr Griffin Professor of the History of Ideas Emeritus, and Senior Oakley Fellow.

A half-century ago, Sawyer, who served as president from 1961 to 1973, led the college through a series of changes that set it on a course to become the Williams of today. During Sawyer’s tenure, the college phased out fraternities; admitted women and set out to diversify the student body, faculty, and board of trustees; introduced non-Western studies to the curriculum; and launched Winter Study, environmental studies, and the graduate program in art history. The college also did away with compulsory chapel, built a science center, and completed a fundraising campaign eight times the size of the one before it.

Hill entered Williams in the fall of 1972 as a member of only the second class to have women in it all four years. She returned as a member of the economics department faculty in 1985, and went on to chair the department and the Center for Development Economics and to serve as provost from 1999 to 2006, when she became president of Vassar. Her scholarly work focuses on higher education affordability and access (issues on which she has developed a national voice), as well as on economic development and reform in Africa. Under her leadership, Vassar has reinstated need-blind admissions and replaced loans with grants for low-income families. She continues to teach an advanced-level seminar at Vassar on the economics of higher education.

A graduate of the Class of 1960, Lewis returned to Williams as a member of the economics department faculty in 1966. In the first of his two terms as provost, he worked as closely with Jack Sawyer as did anyone, and he has often testified that the lessons he learned from that relationship informed much of his subsequent career. That includes the 15 years he served as president of Carleton College, where, with the support of Williams classmate Fay Vincent, he established the John E. Sawyer Professorship of Liberal Learning. Under Lewis’ leadership, Carleton completed its most successful fundraising campaign, added extensively to its educational infrastructure, diversified its student body, faculty, and staff, and experienced record increases in applications.

Oakley joined the Williams history department in 1961—the year that Jack Sawyer began his presidency. Oakley served as dean of the faculty from 1977 to 1984, and as president from 1985 to 1993. As president, he led the Third Century Campaign to a successful conclusion and was instrumental in establishing tutorial courses, doubling the minority student population, building the Jewish Religious Center, and founding the Bolin Fellowships, the Center for Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and the Multicultural Center (now Davis Center). He has written 14 books, co-edited three others, and has frequently contributed articles, translations, and book reviews to journals on topics in medieval and early modern intellectual and religious history and on American higher education. His publications include Community of Learning: The American College and the Liberal Arts Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1992). A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Medieval Academy of America, he is also an Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Please visit http://www.williams.edu/daring-change/for more information.

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