Report On Class of 1971 Mini-Reunion

(Oct. 20 – 22, 2017)


Dear Classmates and Friends of ’71,

    Steve Brown and I thought we would share with you all the happenings of our wonderful Mini-Reunion Weekend in Williamstown last week.  Included  among the many highlights were: visits with several remarkable Williams students on Friday afternoon and Saturday evening,  Bob Schwed stealing laugh-lines from Pres. Adam Falk when we met with him on Friday afternoon, a fiery speech by Larry Ferraro on Saturday night about his fondness for John Untereker, Valle Schloesser biking to the top of Mt. Greylock,  Mike Rade shooting a 35 on the front nine of the Taconic ( he did not report on the back 9),  Arria Sands treating a select few returnees to grilled honeybuns for breakfast on Sunday, and a chance to renew acquaintances with members of the classes of ’68, ’69, ’70 and ’72 on a beautiful fall weekend near the peak of fall foliage season  The best part, of course, was the chance to spend time with classmates, their spouses and partners to laugh , to share memories,  and to  update one another on the experiences of life —  a good time was had by all.

 Who Was There: Returning for all  or part of the weekend from far and wide were: Craig and Elizabeth Blum, Steve and  Sue Brown, Bob and Katie Eyre,  Rob Farnham, Larry and Peggy Ferraro, John and Louise Finnerty, John and Anne MacKinnon, Joe and Joan Quattlebaum, Mike and Ellen Rade,  Mark and Sharon Ruchman, Jack and Arria Sands, Valle Schloesser, Paul and  Meg Schneider  Bob and Denise Schwed, Nick and Ann Tortorello, John and Mary Untereker, and Sey and Janet Zimmerman.  John and Mary Untereker won the long-distance award travelling all the way from Houston.

Class Meeting on Friday Afternoon : Friday afternoon we had a meeting to discuss Reunion Planning and the 50th Reunion Gift.  Fourteen Classmates attended this meeting in person with a number of others joining us by teleconference.  Rob Farnham, as our Reunion Chair,  reported that some 35 of our classmates had already volunteered to help with the reunion by contacting various classmates to encourage their attendance at the reunion or by agreeing to serve on committees associated with the reunion such as the class book and class website which they hope will go live in the first quarter of 2018. Rob and Steve said the class is planning a series of regional events (Boston, New York, LA, etc.) over the next three years so that there will be an opportunity for the class to get together in advance of the reunion. Rob said he would be reaching out to more classmates to get additional volunteers.  

 Adam Falk , the College’s President , then joined us for 40 minutes. He gave an overview of what was going on at the College, including  the status of construction on campus and the progress made to replace retiring faculty. The College has hired over 40 new professors in the last three years. In response to a question, Adam said  the policy of the College was to hire  assistant professors rather than full professors from other institutions  because it is felt that  professors need to be raised in a culture  where the emphasis is on teaching and student interactions.  He was asked whether there was any effort to determine the political leanings of the new hires. He said emphatically  there was not. He did say that there were  national studies that showed that academics are more likely to be liberal and that can be attributed,  in his view,  to the fact that people who pursue such a career are just more likely to have that disposition than someone who chose an alternative career path. He said he strongly believed that true professional educators put their personal views aside in the classroom to assure a full range of discourse and argument among the students.

He was asked several questions about political correctness on campus.  He said that Williams has become  a very diverse place with students  arriving on campus with very different backgrounds and life experiences and the College needs to have such diversity  if its graduates are  to succeed in a very diverse world. He felt that one of the greatest challenges facing the College was working with the students to help them learn how to listen to each other and to find a common language with which to really communicate with each other. He said he felt like the College was doing a good job in this regard. At this point our classmate Mike Rade  supported  Adam’s comment and told the group that in his role as a professor of surgery at his teaching hospital in Buffalo,  he had  directly supervised 15 Williams graduates  over the years.  Mike said the Williams graduates were “terrific” —  unlike many of his students from other institutions he said that these young people talk easily and without reservation or hesitation with all kinds of people – straight or gay,  white or black, conservative Muslims,  charity cases from the streets, etc.  He said the Williams students’  ability to accept these differences will help make them great doctors and able to effectively help  everyone who comes through the door.

Adam was asked whether he was worried that the campus was becoming “balkanized” by the proliferation of special interest groups associated with sports , teams, ethnic identity, etc.  Adam responded by saying that this was not something he was worried about and felt that when you have young people coming to Williams with very different backgrounds  it was understandable that they would occasionally want a place to go  where people understood their unique experiences.  For example a  student does not have to explain what it is like to be Jewish when he or she goes to the Jewish Religious Center.

In response to questions about “free speech” on campus Adam pointed out that the news media has dealt with the issue in a fragmented and sensationalist way. He said Williams has a wide range of speakers coming to campus and they have been treated with civility though often challenged with hard questions. He pointed out that Charles Murray, the speaker who was the focus of much publicized conflict at Middlebury,  had spoken on the Williams campus last year  without difficulty and that was never reported.

Reunion Gift Committees —  Next we discussed  the work of the Reunion Gift Committees. (The draft reports had been  circulated to the entire class before the mini-reunion and we will  not repeat the contents of those reports in detail here.)

Mark Ruchman presented the report on the Class of 1971 Fund for Student Summer Science Research on behalf to the contributing members to that report (Mike Rade (co-chair), Bruce Lindsey, Ken Richardson, John Finnerty, Stu Selonick, and Alan Elzerman).  The Committee proposed that our class fund an endowment that would permanently subsidize summer research internships for 36 students. This would require the class to raise $3.2 million dollars. Other members of that committee present  (Mike Rade, John Finnerty, Bob Eyre)  also spoke in favor of this proposal because : a) these internships would have the life-long impact on the students  professionally and personally and b) these internships would assure a steady supply of research assistants to participate in  cutting edge science research at the College and this  would help attract the promising young scientists to the faculty in a time of uncertain national funding for research. There was discussion of the fact that there are costs associated with student research (e.g. materials, equipment, data sets) apart from student  stipends for living expenses. As the identified need was to assist students with stipends,  it was decided that should be the focus of the proposal.

Nick Tortorello gave the report on the Class of 1971 Fund for Careers in Public Service. Nick reported that this fund would play a role similar to the role the Mead Fellowships played during our era. Nick outlined the impact the Mead Fellowship had on his own life. The purpose of this fund  is to  give students interested in careers in public service the opportunity to experience what such a career might be like. Many students lack the financial resources to take a non-paying summer job to work for a governmental entity or a non-profit . This will give those students a chance to test that interest. The students will arrange for positions in entities of their choosing and then apply to the Career Counseling Office for a grant from the Fund. The Career Counseling Office has  had very limited funds to support these type of  internships in the past and additional funding  would really help increase the number of internships.  To fully fund this proposal the Class would need to raise $1.0 million which would annually provide stipends to support 8 summer internships and 10 winter study internships plus provide money to fund  the Career Counseling Office’s new Career Trek Program which takes 20 to 25 students to Washington each year  to meet with Williams alumni who hold positions in government. We discussed  whether a student could, for example, seek support from this fund for an internship with an NGO providing medical relief or supporting a public arts program. While it is clear in the proposal,  as presented, that students from all majors can apply for a stipend,  it was the consensus of the group that the Career Counseling Office could consider proposals from students  interested in careers in non-profits broadly serving the public interest . The proposal will be revised to reflect that idea.   

Bob Schwed reported the Class of 1971 Scholarship Fund. This Fund was created at the time of our 25th Reunion. Recognizing that we were the first coed class it annually supports a scholarship for one male and one female student. Bob pointed out that over half the incoming class receives financial aid (with an average grant of $55,000). The need for scholarship support is growing as the cost of higher education has grown faster than the rate of inflation. When we entered in 1967 the cost of a Williams education (including room and board) was $3,080 and today it is approaching $68,000. [ Steve and  Sey’s note – we certainly got to the Purple Valley at the right time for a whole bunch of reasons!!]. In our class just 30% of the class received scholarships and the average grant was $1,308.   It is hoped that this Fund can be expanded to support more students though no specific goal has been established at this time.

John Ackroff reported on the Annual Fund portion of the Reunion Campaign. Gifts to the Annual Fund during the 10-year window preceding our 50th Reunion are counted as part of our Reunion Gift to the College. He reported that as of this time the class has made gifts during the reunion window of $1.075 million with a cumulative participation rate of 69.5%. He anticipates that by the time of our 50th Reunion class  gifts to the Annual Fund will exceed $2.0 million.

There was a question about whether a classmate could make a gift to more than one of the goals.  All gifts will go as designated by the giver. It is recognized that there will be classmates who have special interests important to them that are different from the class proposals.  It is not the purpose of  identifying class goals to discourage anyone from doing what is important to them.

Talks with 3 Remarkable Students: For the last 30 minutes of our meeting, we were joined by three students: a Class of 1971 Scholar, a Mathematics  Honors Student who had a  science internship last summer, and a leader in the Student Forum, a student run group that brings speakers to campus. Our Jack Sands and Michael Gordon , the president of the Student Forum, discussed the partnering efforts between this group and the Class of 1971 Speaker Fund. The Student Forum was founded two years ago by students who attended Williams at Oxford and became impressed with the debate format of the Oxford Union. The purpose of this group is to encourage debate on campus on issues of  student interest and importance. Jack described his efforts to find a way to tie our 25th Reunion Gift with a student run initiative because he believed that the purposes of our gift would be better served with strong student involvement. He described a very positive confluence of events: the formation of the Student Forum, the College’s appointment of a “superstar” young faculty member to head the faculty committee for on campus speakers and the placement of a very helpful person in the administrative office charged with arranging speakers.  With these elements in place Jack is hopeful that the effectiveness of our fund is assured.  The Student Forum has good leadership and an expanding membership which will hopefully assure its continuity. At Jack’s urging the College has agreed to give the Student Forum $5000  from the Class of 1971 Fund  in the beginning of each  year for the next 3 years to be used as seed money to permit the group to pay reservation fees for speakers before having to make a request for  full funding of the speaker cost.  This will help them get the speakers they want on the schedule they think is best. There was a discussion of the types of programs the Student Forum sponsors. The next significant program will be on November 30 which is to be a debate on whether there should be a free market in body organs where the pro speaker will be from the American Enterprise Institute and the con speaker will be from the major voluntary organ donation organization.  Gordon said they were planning debates for the spring. Their preferred format is to have one professor and one student debate another professor and one student. Gordon also talked about his summer internship with a US Senator and how much he learned from the experience.  He said he was fortunate because he could afford to take such a position without financial support but  this would not have been an option for most of his classmates.

The Class of 1971 Scholar told of her path as a first generation college student from a town on the Mexico – Arizona border to Williams. She talked poignantly about the concerns of her tight-knit family and the efforts the College had made to allay the fears of her family and to smooth her transition into College life. Among other things her parents worried how going to Williams would help her find a job — not an uncommon worry.  She said the adjustment was hard because she felt her background  and prior educational experiences (very few people in her high school go to college and most of those who do go to community college) were so different from that of many students at the College. The weather was also a challenge. She said her professors and the Writing Center had been very helpful She said she was very appreciative of the opportunity and was working hard at her studies.  She is a sophomore now and while she has not decided on a major she is leaning toward sociology.  

The final student speaker was a senior working on an Honors Thesis in Mathematics  based on her summer internship studying plant pollination patterns on an island in Lake Michigan. She is endeavoring  to develop  a mathematical model which can be used to describe those patterns. Half her summer was spent on the island and half her summer was spent in Williamstown. She talked about how invaluable the experiences was to her and how she was using the research to apply for a Fulbright Fellowship to expand her study to pollination patterns  by birds in New Zealand.

The meeting was followed by a reception and dinner at the Williams Inn with other classes in the five year window preceding their 50th Reunion.  Classmates  who had not made the afternoon meeting joined us, along with a good number of spouses and friends.  After dinner some of us retired to the bar in the  Faculty House for further conversation. 

Saturday activities –The next morning dawned as another beautiful fall day.  The college offered an interesting lecture given by a young psychology professor on the perils of eye witness identification in criminal prosecutions. She detailed her very interesting research on that issue to a large audience in the ‘62 Center. Some your classmates went to the lecture and some chose other activities. Some went to the Clark Art Institute. Some went to MassMoca which has been almost doubled in size with  the opening of its expansion space earlier this year. Some went to the Women’s soccer game. We  won 3-0 to remain undefeated. 

We lost the football game against Tufts 22-13.  We had our chances but couldn’t make a play when we needed it as Tufts controlled the ball for most of the fourth quarter.  Williams is now 4 -2 for the season. The Ephs are starting eleven freshmen and the future is bright.

That night we had a class dinner under a tent at the Taconic Golf Course which lasted over three hours as everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves . The highlights were impromptu and humorous speeches by Brownie, John Untereker, and Larry Ferraro.

We think the mini-reunion was a great success and we hope that the Mini-Reunion next October will see even more of our classmates in attendance.

Sey Zimmerman and Steve Brown