Williams College President 1973-1985
Read John Chandler’s 2016 autobiography, A Special Kind of Boarding School: Growing Up in an Orphanage During the Great Depression.
John W. Chandler assumed the office of president on July 1, 1973, after serving as president of Hamilton College since 1968.
Chandler was born in Mars Hill, N.C. on Sept. 5,1923. He attended Wake Forest College, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and received his B.A. in 1945.
He received a B.D. from Duke University in 1952 and earned his Ph.D., also from Duke, in 1954. Sixteen colleges and universities, including Williams, have awarded him honorary doctorates.
Under Chandler’s leadership, Williams completed a 10-year transition in which the college phased out its fraternity system and became coeducational. In 1980 the college successfully completed a $50 million capital campaign, the first of that magnitude for a college its size. During his presidency, alumni participation in annual financial support set new records. At the same time, the college’s endowment grew substantially. While Chandler was president, the college completed construction of a new library; built a new art museum, music center and theater; and began construction of a major athletic facility. He also initiated the purchase of the buildings and the cooperative arrangement with Exeter College that make it possible for approximately twenty-five Williams students annually to spend a year at Oxford University.
Chandler’s teaching career began at Wake Forest in 1948 as an instructor in philosophy. He was named assistant professor in 1954. He came to Williams in 1955 as an assistant professor of religion; from 1960 to 1965 he was associate professor of religion and also chaired the department. In 1965 he was named the Cluett Professor of Religion.
Chandler served as acting provost in 1965-66 and then as the college’s first dean of the faculty from 1966 to 1968. He chaired the committee that proposed the Williams curriculum adopted by the faculty in 1966. It includes the innovative month-long Winter Study Program that separates the two semesters.
In 1969, Chandler was elected a permanent member of the Williams Board of Trustees. He served on a number of college committees, including the one that led to Williams becoming coeducational.
After serving for 12 years as president of Williams, Chandler became president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, whose programs and publications promote liberal arts education. During his leadership of this Washington-based organization from 1985 to 1990, its membership grew substantially, along with its financial resources, publications, and programs.
For more than a decade, beginning in 1990, Chandler assisted the trustees and search committees of approximately 40 colleges and universities that were seeking new presidential leadership. He has served as a trustee of Duke, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and the Phillips Gallery. Duke, where he served as board chair and as chair of its presidential search committee, recognized him with its highest award, the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service, and awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.
In 2001, Chandler and his wife, Florence Gordon Chandler, moved back to Williamstown. The Williams trustees named him the Class of 1948 Distinguished Visiting Professor of Leadership Studies. In that capacity he taught semester courses in the Leadership Studies Program for two years and continued to offer Winter Study courses for several additional years.
Sixty years after their marriage, his wife Florence died in 2008. He is now married to Joyce Lazarus. From his first marriage he has four children, Alison ’76, John, Jennifer, and Patricia.