The Michigan Daily: You started teaching in 1970. How do you think the culture of Ann Arbor has changed from when you first got here?
RW: Mostly in ways which in so far as the University and its constituents are concerned, there are very many positive changes. When I came, the faculty was much less diverse than it is now. The student body, while more diverse than when I was at Cornell, was much less diverse than it is now. The shift in the University in those ways, not only in demographics, but in the general sense that there is a University goal to have here as faculty and student body – that is a goal it seems to me is much more emphatically and forthrightly a goal. And for myself, that meets my wish profoundly. One of what I call Old Williams’ Maxims, of which there are about 613, this one is in the top ten: We can’t live what we can’t imagaine, and unless we have here folks who are drawn from all those segments of our society, how can you imagine a common future and therefore have a commitment to our common future? We simply won’t make it and there is a wider sense of that at the University now.
TMD: With the recent budget cuts that are facing the University, do you think that will affect the University’s ability to get the best professors and resources?
RW: We’re going to need to be extremely agile in achieving both of those goals. In fact, the idea of drawing here creative, thoughtful, distinguished investigating minds – students and faculty – is not alone a matter of financial resources, though that counts deeply. One of the things about the best people on the faculty is that you can draw them almost anywhere in the world where intellectual excitement (meets) good social goals and financial support will be on their minds, but it won’t be the first thing on their minds. The task of those who know best how to deploy those resources is to make possible that coming and to try to make the conditions for the most exciting intellectual adventure possible here. Yes, it will surely make an impact, but Michigan can still be the place where people find their lives defined by intellectual richness, by artistic richness. That can be done.
TMD: With so many forms of media available today for people to choose, do you think the classics are being forgotten?
RW: Time goes on and more and more works of really extraordinary value are being produced. Even an English major here is not required to take the Shakespeare course before graduation. In an open market, Shakespeare is going to fare very well. On the other hand, there are others whose works I think need to be read if one is to (consider) himself as humanely literate in this century. If it should happen that a student escapes out of English evading me somehow and hasn’t read Shakespeare but has read Toni Morrison, that’s all right. Certain of those which we’ll call classics may not be read as much but others which future centuries will think of as classics and have not yet found that stage amongst us yet