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Teachers College, Columbia University
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A Believer in High-Stakes Education

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A Believer in High-Stakes Education

Chris Williams photograph by dennis connors

“Education is critical to the survival of our economy and our country,” says financier Chris Williams, whose firm, Williams Capital, is among the most active underwriters of corporate debt.
Clearly the economy is also critical to the survival of education—and thus, as the U.S. financial markets verged on chaos this past fall, Williams—a TC Trustee who has been hailed by Fortune and Crain’s New York Business as one of the nation’s most powerful minority business people—found his two abiding concerns squarely in the cross-hairs.
 
“All parts of the economy are intertwined,” he said, reached by phone in September shortly before Congress approved a $700 billion rescue package. “I respect the concerns of many that we not simply write a blank check with no means of monitoring how the money is deployed.”
 
Williams, who earlier in his career spent nine years at Lehman Brothers, the global finance firm that was a major casualty of the crisis, says he believes the financial meltdown was the result of “lax regulation born of equal parts greed and inability to understand financial products and their inherent risks” and that “taxpayers should be protected and receive upside potential,” including continued investment in education.
 
“I’ve participated in the Principal for a Day program in New York City, and I’ve seen the challenges schools face, and are likely to continue to face with the coming budget cuts,” says Williams, a public school graduate who attended Howard University and earned his M.B.A. at Dartmouth’s Amos Tuck School of Business. “So many young students are bright, curious and engaged when they first enter the system, but as they become older, they become subject to environmental influences such as unstable neighborhoods and lack of family structure. Over time, a decline in student engagement is inevitable. These circumstances run the risk of creating a mass of adults who are unable to be productive participants in society.”
 
One key, he believes, is to improve teacher education so that every classroom is run by “someone with a real commitment to reaching children and a real ability to do so. Thus his involvement with TC’s Board: “TC not only trains excellent teachers and works to improve the local community, it also serves as a thought leader in the improvement and development of education nationally,” he says. “From where I sit, there’s no mission of greater importance.”
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