The Faculty History Project documents faculty members who have been associated with the University of Michigan since 1837. Key in this effort is to celebrate the intellectual life of the University. This Faculty History Website is intended as a component of the effort to document the extraordinary academic achievements of Michigan’s faculty in building and sustaining one of the world’s great universities. It provides access to a comprehensive database of information concerning the thousands of faculty members who have served the University of Michigan.
Find out more.

The Bentley Historical Library serves as the official archives for the University.


William L. Williams
LSA Minutes


William L. Williams, professor of physics and associate dean for Research in LS&A, was at the peak of his career as scientist and administrator when he died at the age of 49 in the aftermath of an airplane accident on 11 November, 1986.

He received his undergraduate education at Rice University, his M.S. at Dartmouth College, and his Ph.D. at Yale. Bill, whose dissertation research on the isotropy of gravitational mass has been recognized by a prize from the Gravity Foundation, joined the Michigan faculty in 1965. Here he started an ambitious series of experiments to measure the fundamental properties of atomic hydrogen and helium, experiments that culminated in a major undertaking to measure the effects of parity violation in atomic hydrogen. He had also done astrophysical research on the polarization of light from white dwarf stars, and he was just starting a new collaboration in a particle physics experiment.

From the very beginning Professor Williams was a vigorous, creative member of his department and his university. He rose quickly through the ranks, becoming associate professor in 1969 and full professor in 1976. He served in the department as associate chairman, and in 1985 he was named associate dean for research in LS&A.

He had a wide range of interest outside of physics. As a person with an understanding of history and a strong sense of fairness, he spoke clearly on social justice and on arms control. As an eclectic musician he played chamber music and had a fondness for opera that led him to learn Italian; he also played folk guitar, notably as lead in an old-time gospel quartet, with an authenticity derived from his childhood years in Oklahoma. As an athlete he was known for his ferocious game of squash and for his skill as a sailor. As an aviator and enthusiastic leader in the Michigan Flyers, Bill was generous in sharing his love of the sky with countless others.

Above all, Bill had a remarkable talent for warm relationships with people. Tb work with him was to be drawn into a circle of friendship that included distinguished professors, younger faculty colleagues, graduate students, instrument makers, secretaries, pilots, and many others. We are fortunate to have had him on our faculty for 21 of his 49 years.

Jens Zorn