Former Williams College President John E. Sawyer works at his desk in a photo taken in 1970.
Former Williams College President John E. Sawyer works at his desk in a photo taken in 1970. (Eagle archives)

WILLIAMSTOWN -- On Friday 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 ways he transformed the college.

A half-century ago, under Sawyer's eye, Williams 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 and built a science center.

Friday's panel discussion, part of a two-day celebration called Daring Change, gathers three educational leaders who knew Sawyer and have carried on his work: Vassar College President Catharine Bond Hill ‘76; Stephen R. Lewis, Jr. ‘60, longtime Williams professor and former provost; and Francis C. Oakley, Williams president emeritus.

Under Hill's leadership, Vassar has reinstated need-blind admissions and replaced loans with grants for low-income families.

Lewis served for 15 years as president of Carleton College, where he established the John E. Sawyer Professorship of Liberal Learning.

Oakley joined the Williams history department in 1961 -- the year that Sawyer began his presidency. In his own presiency, Oakley 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). For more information, visit www.williams.edu.