Williams College names Maud Mandel, dean at Brown, as new president

Maud S. Mandel, a dean at Brown University in Providence, R.I., has been named the next president of Williams College. Mandel, who will begin her tenure in July, will be the college's first woman president.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Williams College has appointed Maud S. Mandel, dean of the college and professor of history and Judaic studies at Brown University, as its 18th president.

Mandel, who will begin her tenure in July, will be the first woman president at Williams since its establishment in 1793. The college's board of trustees unanimously approved her appointment on Sunday, prior to Tuesday morning's public announcement.

"She has a distinguished record as a scholar, a teacher and an academic leader, and has demonstrated throughout her career a deep and abiding affection for the students, faculty and staff who together create a great academic enterprise," wrote Michael Eisenson ('77), chairman of both the Williams board of trustees and the college's Presidential Search Committee, in the announcement. "She embodies the values at our core and will provide outstanding leadership as we continue to pursue our shared aspirations for Williams."

In a brief phone conversation with The Eagle on Tuesday evening, Mandel said she's particularly drawn to the Williams College mission, which includes the "bold ambition: To provide the finest possible liberal arts education" and to help students gain the wisdom and skills they need to become, "rigorously self-reflective, ethically alert, and imaginatively alive."

To address becoming the first female leader of Williams, Mandel said that as "someone who champions diversity and inclusion work," she is glad to see the college and other institutions "open up to a broader spectrum of talent across the country."

In following the Williams-promoted social media hashtag "#WilliamsPresident," several Twitter followers emphasized their excitement to see a woman take the lead. Jocelyn Shadforth among those tweeted: "I never would have thought I'd be so moved by the news that @WilliamsCollege just named their first woman president. Often heard that Williams had one of the easiest transitions from all-male to coed. It's nice to see that change occurring at all levels. #WilliamsCollege #GoEphs"

Mandel said she feels "honored" to join the work of other women leaders in the New England higher education network, citing the current presidents at Connecticut, Middlebury and Amherst colleges.

Mandel will succeed Protik "Tiku" Majumder, who has served as interim president since Jan. 1. Majumder, who is still slated to preside over the June 3 commencement exercises at Williams, replaced former President Adam F. Falk.

Falk stepped down in December after eight years in the post. He announced last June that he would be leaving academia to assume the presidency for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit grant-making agency with a $1.9 billion endowment.

The Williams Presidential Search Committee convened last summer, with support from the executive search firm, Spencer Stuart. The firm has been responsible for conducting leadership searches in higher education for Ivy League universities and liberal arts colleges, and had a role in finding current Brown University President Christina Paxson, who has maintained that office since 2012.

Back in the fall, the Williams Presidential Search Committee members and Spencer Stuart representatives hosted campus meetings and conducted surveys and listening sessions leading to the posting of a five-page prospectus for the college's 18th president.

Though a college spokesperson couldn't immediately speak to whether there were any internal candidates for the role, Mandel said she was engaged by the process. 

"I have always known that Williams was an extraordinary institution, and I've had the pleasure over the last few months as I've engaged in this process to really learn much more about why Williams occupies this spot," Mandel said in Tuesday's release. "And it is in that process that I have become so deeply drawn to this opportunity. I am excited to lead this extraordinary campus into the next phase of its development."

By the end of the day on Tuesday, a YouTube video titled, "Six Questions with President Elect Maud S. Mandel," had garnered more than 2,600 views. In it, Mandel talks about attending a small liberal arts college (Oberlin) and being inspired to teach because of her experience.

As dean, Mandel established the Brown Learning Collaborative, aimed at strengthening student learning in the core competencies of a liberal arts education, including writing, reading, research, data analysis, problem-solving and public speaking, according to the release.

"The committee found Maud's passion for liberal arts education infectious and her commitment to deepening and enhancing inclusion and diversity stirring," says Ngonidzashe Munemo, Williams' associate dean for institutional diversity, associate professor of political science and member of the Presidential Search Committee.

While at Brown, Mandel has been deeply involved in efforts to advance diversity and inclusion, including promoting programs to foster retention for historically underrepresented students in the STEM fields, according to a release from the college. She also led a collaborative process with students and staff to open the First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center, the first center at any Ivy League school to be dedicated to first-generation students.

"She has a deep respect for faculty governance, with a record of collaborative leadership" says Safa Zaki, Williams' professor of psychology, chairman of the Faculty Steering Committee and member of the Presidential Search Committee. "I am particularly struck by her humility and her ability to listen. I have no doubt that she will strengthen our community."

Mandel earned a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in 1989 and completed a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1998. After coming to Brown as a visiting assistant professor in 1997, she joined the university's faculty permanently in 2001, rising to professor of history and Judaic studies in 2014. She also held leadership roles in the university's Department of History and the Program in Judaic Studies, including a term as director of the program from 2012 to 2014. She became dean of the college in 2014.

"Both inside the classroom and as a senior academic leader, Maud Mandel's impact on the undergraduate experience at Brown has been nothing short of transformative," Brown University President Christina Paxson said in the release. "Maud is a deeply knowledgeable higher education leader, a relentless champion for undergraduates and a truly inspiring colleague. We have been fortunate that she has made Brown her home for the last two decades, and I commend Williams College on its outstanding selection for its next president."

Mandel, who visited Williams a couple of weeks ago, and attended summer camp in Southern Vermont as a child, said that her husband, Steve Simon, and two children, Lev and Ava, are excited about the change, and will join her when she arrives at Williams this summer.

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.