The Lawrentian: I’ll begin by asking you the first thing we ask all profile subjects.Rik Warch: Okay.
TL: To the extent that there is one, what is a typical day at the office?
RW: What is a typical day at the office? Well, I guess there is no such thing. It depends on the day. There’s always the email, there’s always the surface mail, there’s always the telephone, there’s always people dropping in to say one thing or another. So, I guess I would say the typical day is varied in the kind of issues that come across the plate, the kinds of things I have to deal with. Much of it is spent writing letters or working on something like that, so it really depends on what’s coming up next that I need to tend to. For example, a typical day during the next week will be spent working on Honors Day. It will also be spent working on remarks for the faculty for this Friday, it will be spent at some point working on commencement, reunion weekend, things like that. So, I guess I can’t give you a typical answer, except to say that there’s a lot of things that happen during the course of the day.
TL: How have the typical – or atypical – duties of the presidency changed in the last 25 years. You mentioned email. That must add a lot –
RW: It does. I think that email, I think that not only email – but also the computer – has changed the way we do business, specifically the way I do business. I mean, I’ve always written my own stuff. But when I was writing it on typewriter, and then had to white it out or redo an entire page or what have you – now it’s all done on the word processor. And the email simply means I get a lot of junk I delete without even reading it, but I also – you know, hearing from colleagues regularly. So I think the pace of the job has picked up over the last 25 years.
TL: What parts of the job still keep you going, invigorate you, and what will be left with good riddance?
RW: [laughter] Well, what I’ve really enjoyed the most about the job, to go back to the first question, is, well, I’ve enjoyed the variety, the opportunity to deal with students, and faculty and staff and fellow administrators, alumni and trustees, all the people that I’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know and work with during the last 25 years. And I know I’ll also miss the opportunity to write and speak from Lawrence. And although I hope I can continue to have opportunities to do some writing when I retire, it won’t be the same as writing a matriculation address or an annual report or things of that sort. So those are the things I think I’ll miss the most. What are the things I’ll say good riddance too? Well, I suppose that would be the politics, I won’t go there, but, uh…
RW: [laughter] Clearly, in a job like this, there are moments and issues that are vexing, and it will be nice, at times, I think, not to be vexed, and to not wake up at four in the morning with things Lawrentian on my mind all the time.
TL: Well-played. Is another administrative post at this point out of the question? Could you be coaxed back into the classroom?
RW: I think I can be coaxed back into the classroom at some point. Mark Breesmen has been kind enough to invite me to teach a course at Bjorklunden at some point and I would welcome this opportunity, if not this year then some future year. You know, it’s been 25 years – really probably 27 years -since I’ve been engaged in my field, to the extent that my field was American history and American studies, and if I were to get into the classroom in the way in which it – there would be an awful lot of gearing up to do. It’s not something I could just tumble out of bed some morning and do. I did have the chance, as you may know, to co-teach Freshman Studies with Peter Peregrine, and I very much enjoyed that opportunity, now whether that would ever come to pass at some point in the future years… But another administrative post, I think, is out of the question. I mean, I’ve spent 25 years worrying about this place, promoting this place, learning its people, getting to know its alumni… I’m not eager to get to meet somebody else’s alumni and deal with someone else’s issues.
TL: Let’s talk about your pre-Lawrence years. Where did you grow up and what led you to Williams?
RW: Well, I grew up in a little town called Ho-Ho-Kus. Capital “H,” “O,” dash, capital “H,” “O,” dash, capital “K,” “U,” “S.” Right there [gestures to The Lawarchian, sitting atop a pile of newspapers on a table]. Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, which was essentially a bedroom community for New York. My dad commuted into New York. I went to elementary school in Ho-Ho-Kus and I went to high school in Ridgeland – Ho-Ho-Kus was not big enough to have its own high school. And I got to Williams – actually have to credit my father with that. He was a Princeton graduate, and I think there was a long sense that that’s where I was to go among friends. He’s the one who took me on my college tour, I can’t remember if I was a junior or senior in high school. We went to Amherst, Williams, Dartmouth, and Princeton, and I narrowed it down to Dartmouth, Princeton, and Williams, and then chose Williams. It just felt right to me. It was a college – then it was single-sex, all-male, and so to the extent that there was a social life, that meant getting in the car and going to one of the all women’s colleges nearby, or having women come to Williams for weekends or something… not entirely wholesome, I will confess. But Williams was an important moment for me, and I think more in retrospect than perhaps at the time, because I think I tend to appreciate the broader nature of liberal education now that I’ve been here for 25 years in one form or fashion, and that is that the educational experience at a place like this really is communal, it really does involve close relationships with one’s fellow students and fellow faculty. And a lot of learning goes on outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom. That was certainly the case for me at Williams. And so, once I made the decision that higher education was going to be the area or arena in which I would pursue a career, and as I started that career at Yale, I wanted to get to a place like Lawrence.