After 46 years at the University, the past 28 spent as administrator for English, our much admired Department Administrator Susan Williams has chosen to retire. All of the English Department chairs with whom she has worked—Dick Dunn, Tom Lockwood, Shawn Wong, and Gary Handwerk—recognize how immeasurably our department has benefited from her exceptional service. Each of us recalls that the first question we had when offered the position as chair was whether she would be continuing as administrator. Less for personal reasons (though with an element of that, to be sure) than for the departmental ones; her knowledge and skill have been indispensable in countless ways in managing this large and complex department’s budgets, and in dealing with personnel matters for hundreds of faculty, staff, and student employees. Quarter after quarter, she has excelled in this central and unusually demanding role. No other departmental administrative, faculty, or staff position on campus requires such a quantity of work and range of competencies—managerial, fiscal, interpersonal, therapeutic. This host of roles includes assisting the Chair on matters practical and tactical, supervising more than a dozen staff employees, and overseeing budgets that total millions of dollars. Amid these myriad duties, Susan has displayed consistent grace and remarkable patience. Readily accessible, she is as patient in working with a student employee on a small payroll issue as in assisting a faculty member with arcane aspects of University regulations and policies.
Over the years, Susan acquired remarkable experiential knowledge of how the University works and how to get things done. These have been years of significant change, from far-reaching programmatic changes to expansive cooperative endeavors with other departments and programs, and now involve much greater outreach to a larger public, particularly to public schools. Despite reductions in funding, Susan’s wise stewardship has enabled the Department to derive the maximum benefit from the generosity of its alumni and friends, particularly in managing numerous new endowments that directly support crucial student and faculty endeavors.
When asked what she most appreciated about her experiences as Department Administrator, Susan unhesitatingly declared that she has always felt that she was taken seriously and collegially. We who have worked with her daily well recognize that her success has been far beyond what such terms as “efficiency” and “competence” can capture; we respect Susan as a person who possesses enormous wisdom about people and about life. Both wisdom and kindness are evident in her interactions with employees, students, and even the most occasional visitors to our campus. Endowed with both discretion and tact, she is a valuable counselor, particularly when highly agitated people arrive in her office needing to have some document immediately processed, or some glitch in the bureaucratic system resolved. In such cases she is a serene, careful listener, often able to calm the most excited, encourage the most despondent, redirect the most infuriated of individuals.
It is a direct tribute to Susan that over the past thirty years the English Department has been widely acknowledged throughout the Arts and Sciences as one of its best-staffed departments. She hires excellent people, trains them effectively, assigns and shifts their tasks with care and consideration. The length of service of our key departmental staff has been high in a context where retention is a frequent concern; they appreciate working for and with Susan.
For these reasons, and more others than we could begin to say, we wish Susan success and satisfaction in an active retirement.