In October 1967, at the College’s 173rd convocation, President John E. Sawyer announced that Williams was launching the first center for environmental studies at a liberal arts college. “Our goal,” he said, “will be to foster the kinds of analyses, decisions, and recommendations for action that can help set in motion responses by the several levels of government and community leadership which are needed while there is still time to choose among the environmental options before us? Almost no other subject is more closely related to the central humane values of liberal learning- its concern for the conditions of quality of living for men on this earth.” Sawyer felt that a small liberal arts college had the unusual ability to contribute to the understanding of the environment because of its interdisciplinary approach, fundamental to any true understanding of the environmental dilemma.
Dr. Andrew W. Scheffey was hired as the first director for the Center and the program moved into Van Rensselear house, a former fraternity house where Sawyer Library now stands. A Rockefeller
Foundation grant supported the Center for its first 18 months. In the early years, the most popular issues were conservation of resources, preservation of species and the “population bomb.” The Center’s initial focus was directed beyond the campus, to the preservation of Berkshire County. By 1970, the college approved a coordinate curricular program in Environmental Studies.
In the spring of 1971, Andrew Scheffey resigned because of controversy with the administration over the direction of the Center and the amount of autonomy the Center should have. The future of the Center was in jeopardy. In 1971, however, a Mellon grant was obtained to start an environmental analysis lab, an environmental research facility in Hopkins Forest, and fund a full-time
librarian for the growing environmental studies library. Environmentalism flourished during the 1970’s, and so did CES at Williams College. More and more students became involved in research, the library became more systematized and well-stocked, and the number of courses offered increased dramatically.
When Van Rensselear was taken down in 1973 to provide space for Sawyer Library, CES was moved briefly to Mears House and then to Park Hall. This move provided CES with space for social functions and gatherings of townspeople. When Park Hall was closed for renovation in 1978, CES was moved to Kellogg House, which was completely renovated for its new use. In 1982, the environmental library was dedicated to Matt Cole, Williams Class of 1980, and the reading room was restored.
By the 1990’s, CES was well established on campus. Kai Lee, Director of the Center from 1991 to 1998, helped attract minority students to the program, gave a more global perspective to environmentalism and raised money for a large addition to CES that would house the growing library and a geographical information system (GIS).
Allison Jacobs (Williams Class of 2000)
Center for Environmental Studies, “CES History” file. Williams College Center for Environmental Studies.
Costley, Elizabeth R. “Center for Environmental Studies, Entering Second Quarter Century, Remains ‘As Fresh as Tomorrow,'” Williams Alumni Review, Winter 1994.
Rauscher, Marcella. A History of Matt Cole Library, An Environmental Library at the Center for Environmental Studies. Williamstown, Mass.: Williams College, 1993.