Excellent reporting from Dartblog:

The influence of money in the admissions process has been an aspect of Dartmouth that people have wondered about for a long time. The fact that special attention is given to the children of large donors is nothing new: undergrads can confirm that proposition just by looking at the last names of many of their classmates which appear on buildings and among the members of the Board of Trustees. However, it seems that as with many other areas of the College, this arguably necessary corruption has been extended significantly in the past few years. From a tiny share of each class — say about 1% — a decade or two ago, it now appears that 4%- 5% of incoming freshman are given special admissions consideration due to large gifts to Dartmouth by their parents. In fact, longtime head of Development Carrie Pelzel used to joke aloud that her job was much easier when alumni had kids coming into the college application phase of their lives.

Read the whole thing. Comments:

1) Dartblog is excellent. It pains me to admit that they cover Dartmouth better than we cover Williams. Indeed, it is the only college blog I know of that does a better job than we do. Other candidates?

2) Williams has a similar system, as do all elite schools. Unfortunately, I don’t know nearly as much about it as I should. Does anyone? In particular, how many “spots” does Development get? Recall that there are 65 or so athletic tips in each class. If Williams were like the old Dartmouth, there would be 5 development admits. If we are like the new Dartmouth, the number would be around 25.

3) The most famous recent case of (almost certainly) development-influenced admissions involved Hollander Hall. There is a juicy story to be written about this. Why won’t the Record write it?

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Today is the last day for students to select a course for Winter Study. Here they are. I like this one. Which course would you recommend?

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This The New York Times article on special admissions programs for military veterans at elite colleges provides a good excuse for a four day review of the topic, one we have covered before at EphBlog. This is Day 4.

Carl Callender, a member of the first veteran cohort at Vassar, was working full time and attending classes at Bronx Community College when he learned about Vassar’s initiative.

“My plan was, at the time, to get my associate’s degree and then transfer to Hunter or Baruch,” he said, referring to two campuses of the City University of New York. “I was at a point where I felt that certain opportunities were no longer available to me. But then along came Posse.”

That sounds like a pretty smart plan! Is going to Vassar a much better idea? I have my doubts.

First, although there are real benefits to attending an elite school, it is not clear (to me) how many of those benefits apply to a 35 year-old like Callendar. In particular, what “certain opportunities” is he referring to? The most obvious opportunities (outside of the high quality of the education itself) that Vassar provides are:

a) Providing a network of peers and friends and potential spouses.
b) Providing an on-ramp to certain high powered careers that are largely unavailable to someone at a less elite school.

It is not clear, to say the least, that this applies to someone who is 35 at Vassar. How much can he (reasonably) hang out and befriend the teen-agers in his class? How much will recruiters like, say, Morgan Stanley or Teach for America, view him as they view other Vassar students.

Mr. Callender, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve for eight years, said that the transition to campus life was hard, but greatly eased by the presence of a group of veterans.

“I stuck out like a sore thumb,” Mr. Callender, 35, said of his first day on campus. But his fellow veterans provided social support. “I had people I knew, people I could eat with and people I could study with.”

If I were Callendar, I would do the same: study with, eat with, live with and hang out with the people I had the most in common with. But that pattern, reasonable as it is, means that other Vassar students don’t actually benefit from the presence of this “diversity.”

Even so, returning to school had been a somewhat disorienting, if positive, experience.

“It’s awkward coming here,” he said of Vassar, where he is a sophomore. “It’s almost like someone hit the reset button. Five years ago I would have been able to tell you exactly what I wanted to do. But now, I am like a kid in a candy store.”

Kids in candy stores are not famous for making smart long-term choices. So, perhaps this simile is all too accurate. We need to know more details about Callendar’s situation, but it sure sounds like he was a Marine with a plan. Working full time at age 35 is a very good idea, especially if it is giving you experience and connections in an industry that you want to be in. Taking college classes part time is smart (and cheap).

Dropping all that and going to Vassar for four years is a very different plan. Maybe it is a better one. Maybe it isn’t. But am I the only one that doesn’t completely trust Vassar to present the pros and cons of the decision accurately to Callendar?

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This The New York Times article on special admissions programs for military veterans at elite colleges provides a good excuse for a four day review of the topic, one we have covered before at EphBlog. This is Day 3.

As of this year, Vassar has successfully matriculated two veteran cohorts, bringing the number of veterans at Vassar to 21, out of 2,450 undergraduates. The hope is to continue to admit one group of veterans every year, which would mean, in two years, veterans would constitute nearly 1.5 percent of the student body, should overall enrollment remain the same.

Hmmm. “Successfully matriculated” is not the same thing as “successfully educated” or “successfully integrated into the class” or even “successfully retained.” How many of the 10 (?) veterans that came to Vassar as a part of the class of 2017 are still at Vassar? How many are glad that they came? Is there a single veteran who is unhappy with the program? Hard questions are not going to be asked or answered in this article because it is a puff piece. If I were the editor involved, I would be, at least slightly, embarrassed.

“One of the things we have been trying to do over the last decade or so is create a diverse student body,” Ms. Hill said. “This effort is part of creating that diversity.”

How about creating a “smart” or “talented” or “hard-working” student body first? Now, this is somewhat unfair to Hill. Vassar is a fine school, ranked 11th by US News, with many smart, hard-working students. But hundreds and hundreds of smarter, harder-working high school seniors turn down Vassar each year to attend better colleges. That is what Cappy Hill ought to work on.

This year, Wesleyan University followed Vassar’s lead and admitted 10 veterans to its freshman class under the Posse program.

Hmm. The fact that Wesleyan is participating in this program makes me even more suspicious. First, it is reasonable to argue that a veteran ought to choose Dartmouth over State U because of the better education and/or networks that Dartmouth provides. But that argument does not apply nearly as strongly, if at all, to Wesleyan. (Contrary arguments welcome.) Second, Wesleyan faces non-trivial budget problems. Does it find this program interesting, not because it likes veterans (this is Wesleyan, after all), but because the GI Bill makes such students “cheap” because they do not need financial aid?

“The goal,” Ms. Hill said, “is to get 10 to 12 schools in the program. With the current three cohorts in place, we will be able to converse with other schools about how they might make this program work for them.”

I am all for experimentation, but only if the results of the experiment are honestly reported. Again, Dartmouth has been matriculating veterans for at least five years. What happened to them? If Hill hasn’t tried to find out, then she is not doing her job. If she has found out and isn’t telling us, then . . .

But matriculating veterans is a complex operation. Most four-year colleges cater to students between the ages of 18 and 22. Student veterans, on the other hand, tend to be older, are sometimes married or have children, and can present challenges different to those of a typical undergraduate student.

Dan MacDonald, 50, a freshman at Dartmouth, is married and has a 10-year-old daughter. Though he was able to secure off-campus housing with help from faculty members, he will attend the first term alone, leaving his family behind on Long Island.

50?!? We are very far away from my hypothetical 20 year-old USMC lance corporal. Dartmouth can do as it wants, but I don’t think Williams should have any 50 year-old students. Williams has a hard enough job to be the best college in the world for 18 to 22 year-old young adults. Trying to incorporate someone as old as MacDonald is too hard a problem.

And this example — the best one that they could come up with for the article?!? — highlights the shallowness of Cappy Hill’s previous discussion of diversity. One can make a reasonable case for “diversity” — i.e., for affirmative action for Hispanic/black applicants — because a variety of backgrounds, when interwoven within a students four year experience at Vassar — makes for a better undergraduate experience. Fine. But that argument requires integration both in the classroom and, more importantly, in the dorm and dining hall. Most (90%?) of the benefits of diversity come outside of the classroom, in discussions and debates and conversations. But Dan MacDonald will, through no fault of his own, participate in very little of that. He won’t live in the dorms or eat (much) in the dining hall. He will come to campus to take his classes and then head back to his family, as every father with a 10 year-old daughter should.

Vassar could have a 100 veterans on campus, but if they aren’t completely integrated into undergraduate life, then they will add a trivial amount of “diversity” to the education on their non-veteran classmates.

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This The New York Times article on special admissions programs for military veterans at elite colleges provides a good excuse for a four day review of the topic, one we have covered before at EphBlog. This is Day 2.

According to school administrators, there was one undergraduate veteran attending Princeton during the 2013-14 academic year, out of 5,244 undergraduates. Harvard had four among its roughly 6,700 undergraduates. Brown had 11 out of 6,182. Dartmouth, whose former president, James Wright, is an enlisted Marine Corps veteran who encourages veterans to continue their education during his visits to military hospitals, had 18 of 4,276.

Williams, I believe, has zero. (Corrections welcome!) Previous serious discussion of this topic five years ago.

Despite all the (deserved) grief that Wright used to take from our friends at Dartblog, I am still a fan, as I am of anyone who visits the wounded in our military hospitals.

But Wright/Dartmouth have been doing this for many years now. How well has the program worked? A dozen or more ex-military students have entered and then graduated from Dartmouth. Tell us about their experiences. How many failed to graduate? How many now think that the decision to go to Dartmouth was a mistake?

The fact that these schools don’t produce and/or make public such a report makes me suspicious about how well (or poorly) the program has worked.

In response to those numbers, organizations like the Posse Foundation have turned their attention to bringing more veterans to the nation’s colleges. The foundation was started in 1989 to help underrepresented students to enter top-tier schools. Two years ago, Catharine Bond Hill, the president of Vassar College, began working with the group to apply their model — which focuses on helping exceptional community college students gain admission to elite four-year colleges — to veterans.

EphBlog loves Cappy Hill ’76, but is Vassar, as an institution, better off when its president uses college resources to support her personal (and idiosyncratic?) moral views? There are many, many groups of people who are underrepresented at Vassar. Why all the resources devoted to veterans? Why not, say, victims of domestic violence? Or orphans? Or survivors of childhood cancer? Each of these groups would benefit from the resources that Cappy Hill is devoting toward veterans. Each would add a true diversity of experience to Vassar.

A wiser president would spend her time and resources to make Vassar a better college by increasing the quality of the student body, mainly by convincing at least some of the hundreds of students who turn down Vassar each year (in order to go to higher ranked liberal arts colleges like Williams and Amherst) to choose Vassar instead.

The Posse Foundation mandates that every member of a class attend a monthlong training seminar designed to prepare them for the rigors of full-time scholarship and to promote camaraderie among the members. Additionally, members must begin as first-year students, regardless of how many community college credits they have accrued.

The Posse Foundation might be the world’s most wonderful non-profit, but every institution is tempted to do things that are good for it, whether or not those things are good for its (purported) clients. How much “camaraderie” can there be among veterans who will soon attend a variety of colleges? I bet close to zero. But such a training program provides all sorts of empire-building possibilities for the Posse Foundation itself . . .

More importantly, would you advise a veteran who already had two years of college credits to start over again in Vassar instead of finishing up at his state university in just two years? Not me. At least, not until we had a thorough discussion about the costs and benefits of both choices.

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This The New York Times article on special admissions programs for military veterans at elite colleges provides a good excuse for a four day review of the topic, one we have covered before at EphBlog. This is Day 1.

As bow-tied waiters cleared plates and emptied coffee cups inside a plush meeting room at the Yale Club in Midtown Manhattan earlier this month, about 30 veterans from nearby community colleges listened to representatives from Yale, Dartmouth, Wesleyan and Vassar describe their veterans programs and answer questions about academics, financial aid and housing.

Rob Cuthbert, an enlisted Army veteran and member of the fiduciary board of the Yale Veterans Association who helped to organize the event, said the session was an attempt to address a phenomenon he referred to as an “exigent crisis”: the small numbers of veterans attending elite four-year colleges and universities.

Note the framing: “bow-tied waiters” in a “plush” meeting room. These facts have nothing to do with the substance of the story, but they do set up a narrative of elite gatekeepers and poor-but-striving veterans.

It is really a “crisis,” exigent or otherwise, that so few veterans attend elite schools? No. The vast, vast majority of US veterans have neither the ability nor the desire to attend places like Williams.

Imagine an article that claimed that it was a “crisis” that so few veterans play professional sports. (Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single veteran in the NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB. Corrections welcome.) Men with the background/ability to (potentially) play professional sports have little interest, today, in serving in the military. And that is OK! It is a free country.

But unless you ascribe to an extreme blank slatism which claims that every kind of person should be represented at places like Williams, there no more reason to worry about the lack of veterans at Williams than to worry about the lack of veterans in the NFL NBA.

[Update: Thanks to a comment below for pointing out that there are veterans in the NFL. I do not think that there are any in the NBA. Corrections welcome.]

Keep in mind that there are three separate issues:

First, should Williams discriminate on the basis of age? My answer: Yes! If you want to be the best college in the world, then you need to focus on finding/recruiting the most academically-talented, English-fluent, 18 year-olds. Might you accept a few 19/20 year-olds who wanted to take a gap year or who had to serve one year of military service in Singapore? A few 17 year-olds who skipped a grade in high school? Sure! But the primary focus in on 18 year-olds.

Second, what about the (many?) US 20 year-olds who, after a three year stint in the Marine Corps, want to go to Williams? Fine! Send in an application. Williams should (I am happy to grant) treat them the same as it would any other applicant. If they have 1500 Math/Verbal SATs with top grades in challenging high school courses then, by all means, admit them. The problem (?) is that there are very, very few (any?) such applicants.

Third, what about affirmative action for military veterans? It is true that there are very few applicants with reasonable academic credentials — say, Academic Ratings 3 and 4 on the Williams scale — but we might give such applicants a boost, just as we do with black/Hispanics/athletes. I don’t like this idea because I think that the affirmative action that the College practices with those other groups is bad for Williams and bad for the students it purports to help, i.e., the mismatch hypothesis.

But even if you put all this together — excepting applicants at 20 (so they are freshman at 21 or even 22), lowering admissions standards to go down to Academic Rating 3 or 4 — the number of potential Ephs is too small to justify the trouble.

In the real world, Williams-caliber high school students don’t enlist in the military and then seek a Williams education afterwards. They either go to Williams first and then serve or they go to a military academy or ROTC right out of high school.

More details to come over the next three days.

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Are you high school teacher who has been asked to write a recommendation letter for early decision at Williams College? In general, of course, Williams asks that you do your best, spending plenty of your own time and energy to tell us about the applicant. However, if the last name of the student is Indrakanti, don’t sweat the details this year.

Sycamore coach Mike Teets also said Deepak Indrakanti, who was also on the state champion team, has verbally committed to Williams College.

Unless you tell Williams that Indrakanti is a felon, it does not matter what you write. We have already decided to accept him, even before we looked at his application.

Just so you know.

But welcome to Deepak Indrakanti ’19, our first confirmed (?) member of the next class at Williams! Previous entries in this series here and here.

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Second part of a close reading of Record coverage by Lauren Bender about the Paresky Defacer. Start with Part I here.

Dave Boyer, director of Security, said that the College is working in tandem with WPD on the investigation of the incident. Because the investigation is ongoing, he could not reveal any details about how it is progressing. However, Boyer did say that the College has not yet determined how to classify the crime.

“Generally, an incident has to be thoroughly investigated before a determination can be made on how it’s classified as a crime,” Boyer said.

1) As discussed yesterday, if the College/WPD/FBI have not yet determined whether or not this is a “hate crime,” then the Record should not use this terminology in its article titles.

2) Boyer is a smart guy who has been around the block more than once with these sorts of incidents. He is well aware that many (25%? 50%? 75%?) of the reported hate crimes at elite schools are either hoaxes or have nothing to do with racial/religious animus per se. These quotes sure make it seem like Boyer/Williams are hedging their bets.

3) “Thoroughly investigated?” It has been a week! How much more investigation is there left to do? Paresky is open to the public, so there are not a bunch of electronic records to go through. There is also no video surveillance. (As always, campus readers are encouraged to correct these claims.) What, exactly, is Security investigating today. Did the Record ask?

4) Sure would be nice if the Record had some anonymous sources in security. I bet than rank-and-file security offices take a fairly dim view of these moral panics. If you are an aspiring first year reporter, go say Hello to the officers you see at the next campus party.

My guess: Boyer/Williams has determined that there is no there there. Either the vandalism was a hoax or it was a once-off driven by other factors. They don’t think that anyone is in danger or that this is going to happen again. But they can’t say that! So, they will string out the “investigation” until December and then drop the whole thing.

“We felt concerned about one another, more than for ourselves,” Firas Shannib ’15, a member of the Muslim Ephs, said. “I don’t think anyone felt overly fearful. It felt like a moment of strong community. People weren’t really afraid or angry … It was lovely to see everyone come together and make a show of support.”

Good stuff. Kudos to Shannib and the other Muslim Ephs for such a level-headed response.

Cesar Roman ’15, president of the Interfaith Group, said he was concerned by the student body’s seemingly ambivalent response.

“We had a meeting on the subject of how we respond to violence,” Ronan said. “As the Interfaith Group, it was important to acknowledge violence and how it doesn’t have a place here … it’s a difficult question, a difficult conversation, and people don’t necessarily want to have those conversations.”

Allow me to explain to Roman why many of his fellow students are “ambivalent.”

First, there is a good chance that the entire thing is a hoax. Until we know more, it is hard to get worked up.

Second, even if it is not a hoax, it does not seem to be a big deal. Of all the tragedies in Williamstown, much less in the wider world, a defaced poster of an alumnus, seems relatively unimportant. No worries if you want to get all worked up about it. Tastes differ! But you have no business telling me what I should be spending my time on.

Third, it is hard to take Roman et al serious when they insist on using words like “violence” for an act which was non-violent.

Fourth, I think that there are lots of “difficult conversation[s]” that we could be having at Williams, starting with affirmative action. But those probably aren’t the conversations you want to have.

According to College Council (CC) co-president Erica Moszkowski ’15, CC will hold a “Community Matters” discussion this evening on the hate crime.

Were any readers at this meeting? What happened? Discussion is good and a smart CC co-president would create an atmosphere in which students from a variety of viewpoints, including ambivalence, would feel welcome. Alas . . .

“This is about basic humanity,” Moszkowski said. “The whole idea of the ‘I am Williams’ campaign is that we are all unique and incredibly complex and fascinating individuals and we all belong here, and we can all claim Williams. This was a direct denial of that, and it should matter to every single person. So [CC] represents the entire student body and should do something active.”

“Basic humanity?” Uhhh. Really? Again, if a studio art student created a similar poster of, say, an alumnus who was the CEO of a coal mining company, and defaced it in the same way, thereby expressing her concerns about global warming, would Moszkowski be using terms like “basic humanity” and “direct denial?” I doubt it, but corrections welcome.

“[S]hould matter” and “should do something active” is perfect expression of the busy-body student goverment weenie who wants to order her fellow students around. Maybe Moszkowski, instead of spouting off to the Record about what her peers “should” do, could try talking to some students who disagree with her. She might learn something, mainly that many (most?) students find this PC scaremongering boring.

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Is “Paresky Defacer” a good name for our fall scandal? Reader suggestions are most welcome! In the meantime, below is the first part of a close reading of Record coverage by Lauren Bender.

College works to investigate hate crime

I am not sure if I like this title. (Normally, I would not blame the reporter (Lauren Bender) for the title, but, since she is the Managing Editor, some blame may be appropriate in this case.) As the article makes clear later, neither the College nor the local police have classified the defacement as a hate crime yet. Since “hate crime” has a specific legal meaning/implication, a better title would have used “vandalism” or “poster defacement” instead. Of course, this is a quibble, but I try to hold the Record to very high standards.

Also, imagine that the poster was of a white male alum — Well, actually, Williams classifies Arab students as “white” in its racial bean-counting, so a better counter-factual would be white, blond male alum — and that the same defacement occurred. Would the Record consider that vandalism a “hate crime?”

Anyway, back to the article.

On Oct. 1, Campus Safety and Security received a report from a student regarding a vandalized poster found in a service staircase in Paresky.

This is not a bad start, and I realize that space in the printed paper is limited, but there is a lot of missing information.

1) Who was the student who reported the poster? If CSS did not release his name, then why not? Did the Record even ask? I doubt that this student was anything other than an innocent bystander, but we need more information to be sure. In particular, why were they in a “service staircase?”

2) Where exactly was the poster found? (And when?) A current student told me that he thought the poster had been in a Paresky classroom. We need more details to make a better judgment. I don’t know the layout of Paresky as well as I should, but where is there a service staircase?

3) Where did the poster come from? In particular, was the poster already on the wall, and defaced in place, or did someone bring the poster to the stairwell. I assume that the poster had been up in this stairwell for quite some time, and that it was not the only poster in the stairwell, but clarification would be good. In particular, we are trying to figure out if this was random anti-Williams vandalism — local youths have been vandalizing things at Williams for generations — or whether this vandalism was specifically directed at this poster, presumably because of the student’s race/religion.

The photograph on the poster, part of the “I Am Williams” campaign, is a portrait of an Arab Muslim student who had already graduated when the poster was found.

Who was the student? If there was some reason why the Record did not want to publish his name, then Bender should explain that clearly. Perhaps the Record has a policy against reporting the names of “victims?” Even in that case, we should know the student’s class. Or, if the Bender does not know the student’s name, she should explain that. Did she ask Williams? What did the College say in return?

A good paper would find out and publish the name of the student in the picture, unless there was some compelling reason not to. Facts are facts, and it is Bender’s job to get the facts for her readers. Moreover, the student’s name/class is relevant because, as discussed yesterday, we readers are trying to determine if the act was directed at this student in particular or at Muslim students in general or at Williams students in general. If the student graduated in, say, 2012, there is unlikely to be anyone on campus who hates him enough to go to this trouble. If he graduated in 2014, then there might be.

The portrait’s eyes were gouged out, the throat was slit and a cross was etched onto the forehead.

We need a picture of the vandalized poster! I assume that Security took a photo of it. Did Bender ask for a copy? Was she given one? If not, then why not?

The reason this is relevant is that we now have competing descriptions of the vandalism. Bender described the eyes as being “gouged out,” which sounds like something that could be done with a pen, by repeatedly stabbing the eyes. Bolton/Klass reported that the deface included “cutting out the eyes of the picture using a sharp object.” That sounds like someone with a pen knife making careful incisions around the eyes.

Those are very different scenarios! Which is it?

I assume that Bolton/Klass are correct and that a pen would not have been a delicate enough tool for the defacement. And that provides some hints about motive (not a drunken spur-of-the-moment act) and timing.

Also, “cross was etched” (Bender) is different from “a cross was marked on the forehead of the image using something that makes a dark mark.” A pen could have etched something. But a dark mark — like the cross that Catholics put on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday? — requires material and planning.


This image is from Wikipedia. (Apologies for not getting the citation to work.) If the mark on the poster really looked like this, then this is “defacement” is looking a lot more like “speech.” (Again, the eyes/neck vandalism, make this much less likely, but that is why we need to see a photo of the poster.)

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Below the break is the second all-campus e-mail sent out with regards to last week’s poster defacement. Read the whole thing. (Apologies for the formatting and many thanks to the student who sent it to me.) I will pull out some highlights and provide my commentary.

We write to update you with some additional information regarding the events of last Wednesday night.

Have there been further e-mails about this event? (We posted the initial e-mail here.) If so, please paste them in the comments. Future historians will thank you! Also, we need a name for this controversy. Suggestions?

Now that we’ve had the opportunity to do a first round of investigation and to speak with the student whose image was defaced, we can provide further information about the defacement itself. The description that follows is very disturbing. An “I am Williams” poster depicting a recent alumnus, which included both text in Arabic and a statement that the alumnus is Muslim, was the target of
the defacement.

Which exact image was it? I can’t figure out a way to search the archive. Can you? The subject of the e-mail indicates that the poster was in Paresky, but we need some details as to its exact location. Was it in a well-trafficked hallway or in some third floor corner? Also, was it the only I am Williams poster in that area or was it one of many? (The former would suggest that the defacement might have been just (?) anti-Williams sentiment rather than specifically anti-Muslim.)

The defacement consisted of cutting out the eyes of the picture using a sharp object, and making a cut all the way across the throat in the picture, apparently using the same sharp object. In addition, a cross was marked on the forehead of the image using something that makes a dark mark. This appalling defacement appears to be both a crime and a very serious violation of our code of conduct.

1) Creepy!

2) A crime? Give me a break. I had some military posters defaced back in the day. The last thing that I would have done is to go running to the police. Moreover, it is not clear what the exact ownership is in this case. Let’s say that a student goes to the I Am Williams archive, prints out one of the images, defaces it and then hangs it in Paresky. Is that a crime? No! In fact, it is protected speech! Williams students are allowed (even encouraged) to put all sorts of posters up all over campus.

Now, more likely, the poster was already there and did not belong to the defacer, but even then it is not clear if a criminal complaint is possible, much less reasonable. Students have been writing things, often obnoxious things, on posters at Williams for decades. If the College or Williamstown has never prosecuted such cases in the past (have they?), they open themselves up to charges of selective prosecution if they were to try to do so in this case.

More importantly, the College has a sad history of over-reacting to these situations, at least in the last ten years. So, why even talk about this as a crime? The Code of Conduct provides the College with all the tools it needs to punish this act, if it should choose to do so. Leave the police out of it.

3) The painstaking nature of the defacement is very interesting. First, it makes it much less likely that this was a spur-of-the-moment (drunken or otherwise) attack. Someone had to plan this. Moreover, how many student walk around with something sharp (and pointed?) enough to for this sort of work and/or with dark material for the cross. Round numbers: None. So, someone knew that the poster was there, got the materials needed to deface it together, went to the location (when they knew (how?)) that no one would be around), and carefully did the defacement. Tricky!

Or, someone who works in that area (and thought that Williams was ignoring Muslim issues) performed the vandalism to raise awareness. Hmm. Does Williams have someone on staff who holds that view? Someone with private access to the area?

If we’re able to determine who’s responsible, they’ll be accountable to both the college code of conduct and to the law.

Who did it? As I highlighted when discussing this event on Monday, there is a good chance that this vandalism was done by a student or staff member (possibly Muslim himself) who thinks that Williams is hostile to Muslims and wanted to bring attention to the issue. That is what happened in the case of Gilbert Moore ’94 20 years ago.

A second possibility is that the act was driven by animus to someone associated with the poster and not by any animus to Muslims per se. This remains the most likely explanation for the Willy E. N-word controversy of last decade. Did someone have a beef with the student in the picture? (Doubtful, but it would be helpful to know who it was. If they graduated more than a few years ago, then this is highly unlikely.) Or was the poster part of a display on someone’s office and someone did not like that person and used defacing the poster as a way to get to them? (The Willy E. N-word case, the most likely cause was students who disliked a female first year because she ruined their parties. They attacked her race/gender, not because they were racist/misogynist, but because they thought that this was a good way to attack her. If she had been white and male, they would have attacked him just as viciously, but in some other way.

My guess: This was done by someone with no animus to Muslims who wanted to raise campus awareness. By the way, this is also the most likely explanation for the graffiti in Prospect several years ago.

This act does harm to every member of our community, and also appears to particularly target the Williams Muslim community. For many students, staff, and faculty this event also recalls other incidents of discrimination or hatred at Williams, either public or private.

Yeah, right! Williams College is just a hotbed of “discrimination or hatred.” Give me a break. Can anyone provide concrete examples of discrimination and hatred at Williams over the last few years? Is Williams a perfect place? No! But there are places in this world which can fairly be described as rife with “discrimination” and “hatred.” Williams College is not one of them. To pretend otherwise is to cheapen the experiences of those people unfortunate enough to live in much more trying circumstances.

By the way, the entire e-mail is beautifully crafted. Primary author? My money is on Steve Klass, the smoothest operator at Williams. Not that that is a bad thing!


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An all-campus e-mail from last week.

To the Williams Community,

We are appalled and saddened to report that earlier this evening a student reported to CSS that an “I Am Williams” poster of a recent Muslim graduate had been defaced in a violent manner, including with what appears to be a cross on his face. The poster was found in a remote area of Paresky.

The college notified Williamstown police and is cooperating with their investigation. Anyone with information that might aid this investigation should call the WPD at 458-5733 or CSS at 597-4444.

Chaplain Rick Spalding is in his office on the second floor of Paresky this evening and available to speak with any students in need of support. Students can also reach the dean on call through CSS.

Horrific acts of this kind have no place on our campus and are profoundly incompatible with the fundamental values of our community.

It is deeply disturbing to us that such an act would occur at Williams. As we consult with students and others on the ways we’ll respond as a community, we’ll be back in touch.

Adam Falk, President
Sarah Bolton , Dean of the College

I will post the follow up e-mail later this morning. In the meantime, some comments:

1) I hope/trust that security is looking closely at the student who reported this. People who start fires (and/or fake hate crimes) are often the first ones to report the news.

2) I am glad that Falk did not overreact in the same absurd fashion — canceling classes for the day — that he did after the Prospect House graffiti of a few years ago. Even theoretical physicists can learn from experience.


For those who don’t recall, racist graffiti — “All Niggers Must Die” — was found on the top floor of Prospect after a Saturday night party three years ago. Falk cancelled all classes and athletic practices for the following Monday.

The cynics among you might draw the lesson that the College cares much more about the feelings of African-Americans in the Williams community than it cares about the feelings of Muslims. But I am not a cynic! Instead, I hope that Falk has decided that paying too much attention to these actions will only generate more such actions in the future.

3) “defaced in a violent manner” is a strange phrase. As opposed to a non-violent, Ghandi-esque defacement?

4) “Horrific acts”? Please, a little perspective. Imagine that a student, for a Studio Art project, had done the exact same defacement to a poster of, say, former President Bush. Would the College object in any way? Of course not! (Nor should it.) Such a poster would be proudly displayed by the College on College property and as a part of a College-sanctioned showing of student work.

5) What makes these events fun, from a philosophical point of view, is the search for meaning. What was the intent of the poster-defacer? And how should his intent — and, odds are, the defacer was male — affect the College’s interpretation of the event.

6) How should Falk handle this event? Ignore it. Or, rather, let Security deal with it in the most boring, bureaucratic way possible. Take down the defaced poster, put up a replacement and make a (public) description of the event in the security blotter. The President of Williams has better things to do than deal with poster vandalism on campus.

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Check out this great New Yorker article, “The Empire of Edge,” about the insider trading conviction of Matthew Martoma of SAC. Key testimony in the case came from Sid Gilman, the doctor with information about an important drug trial. The Eph connection:

One day in 2002, Gilman was contacted by a doctor named Edward Shin, who worked for a new company called the Gerson Lehrman Group. G.L.G., as it was known, served as a matchmaker between investors and experts in specialized industries who might answer their questions. “It was kind of ridiculous that the hedge-fund business got so much information by asking for favors . . . when it would certainly pay,” the company’s chief executive, Mark Gerson, told the Times.

Shin proposed that Gilman join G.L.G.’s network of experts, becoming a consultant who could earn as much as a thousand dollars an hour. Gilman was hardly alone in saying yes to such a proposal. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, by 2005, nearly ten per cent of the physicians in the U.S. had established relationships with the investment industry—a seventy-five-fold increase since 1996. The article noted that the speed and the extent of this intertwining were “likely unprecedented in the history of professional-industrial relationships.”

Gilman read the JAMA article, but disagreed that such arrangements were objectionable. In an e-mail to Shin, he explained that investors often offered him a fresh perspective on his own research: “Although remuneration provides an incentive, the most attractive feature to this relationship (at least for me) is the exchange.”

Gerson (class of 1994) created the company that put Gilman in touch with Martoma, thereby starting a chain of events that, the article makes clear, ruined both men’s lives. And Gerson got paid for doing so!

What lesson should we draw from that?

We wrote about Gerson nine years ago.

Investors want information. They are willing to pay for it. Doctors (and other technical experts) have information. They are willing to sell it. GLG and other firms bring the two together. Now, obviously, if a doctor has signed a contract promising not to reveal information about X, then she had better uphold the contract. Otherwise, she could be in a world of trouble.

Exactly right. Gilman should have read EphBlog, as should you all.

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A strange tweet/link from the Davis Center on Friday:


Did anyone else get this? What portrait was vandalized? Where? When? Details, please.

And, as always, please don’t make assumptions about the person who did this. Know your history:

[T]hree racial slurs against blacks written on pieces of notebook paper were found posted to the door of the Black Student Union’s building on the Williams College campus.

The messages were condemned by a multitude of campus voices.

The incident has created racial tension on a campus that had not seen a major act of racism since March 1990, when two black male students were assaulted by a white high school student just a few yards off campus. Of the college’s 2,100 students, 504, or 24 percent, are from minorities and 162, or 7.7 percent, are black.

The Black Student Union at first responded to the messages by blanketing the campus with posters condemning the act and challenging all students to examine themselves for racist attitudes.

Attentive readers will be curious at this stage: Has there really not been “a major act of racism since March 1990?” Depends on your point of view, I guess. This article is from The New York Times in 1993.

But the incident soon became something else: three days later, on Jan. 30, Gilbert Moore Jr., a black student, told administrators that he had posted the messages. The administration then suspended him for a semester.

Mr. Moore, a junior from Georgia, said he had posted the epithets as part of a project for a course on anarchism he was taking during winter study, a one-month term between the fall and spring semesters.

1) Where is Gilbert Moore now? Google is failing me. Did he ever return to Williams? Did he ever graduate college? Although the story is 20 years old, the Record ought to re-interview the people involved. How has Williams changes and how has it not changed in the last two decades?

2) Suspension seems a bit harsh. Perhaps there is more to the story? I would view putting up posters as, more or less, protected speech (assuming that a specific person is not being harassed and so on). After all, Mary Jane Hitler was not punished by the College. Too bad EphBlog wasn’t around in 1993 to help Moore out.

Although he acknowledged that his professor had not approved the idea, Mr. Moore said his act had been meant as a response to actual racism at Williams and that he hoped to promote more campus discourse on race relations. “There was no malicious intent behind it,” he said.

Which professor/class was it? If EphBlog does not keep track of this history, who will?

The Black Student Union at first responded to the messages by blanketing the campus with posters condemning the act and challenging all students to examine themselves for racist attitudes. Even though Mr. Moore told the group about his action soon after he told the administration, the posters remained on the walls of campus buildings for the rest of the week.

Twenty years later, and isn’t this a common attitude among BSU members? Perhaps things have changed . . .

Without specifying the student’s race, Dean Joan Edwards informed the campus in a letter on Feb. 1 that a student had taken responsibility for the messages. On Feb. 5, after a hearing before the college disciplinary committee, Mr. Moore was suspended. College officials have refused to comment on the suspension.

As the campus rumor mill churned for a week after the messages were posted, most students were not aware that a black student was responsible until Feb. 9, when The Williams Record, the campus newspaper, reported that Mr. Moore had been suspended. The newspaper also printed an editorial critical of the Black Student Union for perpetuating “an implicit lie” through silence.

Kudos to the Record!

Irene Gruenfeld, a junior from White Plains and the newspaper’s editor in chief, said, “We were bothered by the fact that the campus was left with only rumors for information, and that posters which were accusatory towards so much of the college community were left up for so long.”

Irene Gruenfeld ’94 is now a teacher in Wellesley, MA. The Record should interview her, and the other reporters that were involved in the story. How did they find out about Moore? Did they have a source on the Honor and Discipline Committee?

The Black Student Union issued a statement the day after the editorial appeared, supporting the college’s disciplinary response. “We denounce all racist activity,” the statement said. “Regardless of the intent, we did not condone the action.”

Harsh! I would have expected the BSU to stand behind Moore.

But others thought Mr. Moore’s suspension too harsh a punishment. Nathan Malloy Jr., a senior from Richmond who acted as an adviser to Mr. Moore during the college’s disciplinary proceedings, said he and about 14 other black students had contemplated walking out of the college in protest. After the college denied Mr. Moore’s request to appeal the suspension, Mr. Malloy again talked of a walkout.

Nathan Malloy ’93 is now an attorney in Baltimore. What is his take, 20 years later?

But Mr. Moore released a statement Sunday night expressing unease with that possibility. “I have advised the students who are considering to leave the school as a result of my suspension to remain in school because their efforts can be best directed from within the system,” he said. “However, I am gravely concerned because they believe the system will fail them as I believe it has failed me.”

I agree. Freedom of speech does not stop at the top of Spring Street. As long as he is not repeatedly harassing a specific student (or otherwise violating the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), there is almost nothing a Williams student could say or write or put up in a poster that should merit official punishment from Williams. (I have no problems with a Dean yelling at a student and trying to firmly show him the error of his ways but suspension is something else entirely.)

Would Moore have been suspended from Williams if he were white, if he were female (like Mary Jane Hitler), or if he were a trustee’s son? I don’t know.

Though surprised by the uproar he created and the severity of the punishment leveled against him, Mr. Moore said he thinks his action was successful in creating its desired effect. “I definitely don’t think it worsened race relations,” he said. “I think a lot more people are talking now.”

Then, and 20 years later.

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Williams is hiring two assistant professors in psychology and two in religion. This is a misallocation of resources. Instead, Williams ought to hire 4 statistics professors.


Roughly speaking, the number of professors in a department should be proportional to student enrollment. Right now, the average professor in Statistics at Williams teaches twice as many students each year as the average professor in the vast majority of departments, including, I think, Psychology and Religion. Check out this course enrollment information for the two junior faculty in statistics:

Brianna C. Heggeseth is teaching 86 students this fall.
Wendy Wang is teaching 60 students this fall.

And their teaching loads won’t fall much, if at all, in the spring. That is nuts! It is unfair to them and unfair to the students who want a Williams-appropriate amount of interactions with their professors.

Perhaps I am misreading this data? Contrary opinions welcome!

And, more importantly, the addition of the Statistics Major will mean a dramatic increase in the enrollment of upper level classes.

Statistics is the future and the sooner that Williams adjusts its hiring to recognize this fact, the better.

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Here is a listing of new faculty. Highlights:

1) Too many visitors. Williams should have fewer visitors and more permanent faculty. Of course, having visitors is very convenient for current faculty (which is why there is so much of it). First, it allows current faculty to provide a nice benefit to a friend and/or bring someone they like to campus for a year. Second, it is much easier to hire a visitor than it is to cajole/coerce current faculty to adjust their leave schedules to ensure that all required courses are taught with enough frequency to take care of majors.

How might Adam Falk fix this? Simple: Approve fewer visitors! Or, more subtly, convene a College committee to study the issue. Such a committee (if staffed appropriately) would easily discover the truth: that visitors do a (much?) worse job teaching than Williams faculty. This applies to both their regular course evaluations (which is their fault) but also to their inability (which is not really their fault) to form long-term relationships with Williams students.

2) Glad to see some new Ephs hires.

Charles Doret ’02
Brent Yorgey ’04
Seulghee Lee ‘07

I bet that they are much more likely to work out well than non-Eph professors.

3) Joseph Ellis is back. According to Wikipedia:

In June 2001 the Boston Globe revealed that Ellis had lied to his students in lectures and to the media about his role in American culture and the Vietnam War years. He claimed to have been a combat platoon leader in Vietnam, to have been active in civil rights campaigns in the south, and to have been an anti-war leader at Yale. His actual military record consisted of obtaining a graduate student deferral of service until 1969 and then teaching history at West Point until 1972. Ellis issued a public apology in August 2001 after the truth was exposed. In the ensuing controversy, Mount Holyoke suspended him without pay for a year, indefinitely suspended his status as an endowed chair, and removed him from teaching during the 2001-2002 academic year.

What lesson should Williams students learn about the importance of honesty by the College’s decision to bring Ellis to teach?

The correct lesson: Honesty is less important than having friends in the right places . . .

My views haven’t changed from 11 (!) years ago:

[M]y main concern is that Williams, by the very act of inviting Ellis to speak, honors him. The money is a secondary concern. By honoring Ellis, Williams implies that lying to undergraduates — or perhaps lying in general — is no big deal. I think that this is not a good message to send to either undergraduates or to the larger community.

Surely there was an honest and responsible scholar who could have lectured in Ellis’s place . . .

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Anyone have a good source for SAT scores at Williams over the last 30 years or so? I don’t. HWC provides this information about Swarthmore.

I can’t give you Williams’ historic SAT scores, but I can give you Swarthmore’s, which are a reasonable proxy.

These are combined median math and median verbal from this PDF table:

1970: 1357

1995: 1350 (un-recentered)
1995: 1400 (re-centered)

2009: 1440

There was a mild increase from 1995 to 2000, but nothing terribly significant. I would argue that most of the change has come from more test prep, multiple sittings, and super-scoring. In 1970, widespread test prep was not common. We did a couple of practice tests and were scolded to bring extra #2 pencils in my prep school. I just took SATs one time. In fact, I took the SATs on a Saturday morning and three SAT II tests the same afternoon in one grueling day. People didn’t take the tests over and over as is common today.

Data for Williams? One source would be the annual US News articles, which started in the early 80s. I think that they provide SAT data. Another would be the “Report from Admissions” — that is not the correct title, but it is something like that — which the Admissions Office writes (wrote?) every year. I read some of these a few years ago in the library and they were quite detailed, similar to these Amherst reports.

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Four years ago, Henry Bass ’57 wrote:

I do think Ephdom has a problem with excessive decorem. Perhaps considerable decorem is necessary to get faculty particiapation in this blog. I only hope the faculty will allow a little more controversy than they find really comfortable.

Some will, and some won’t.

Years ago I wrote the Willliams administration saying they should allow a little more controversy in trustee elections by allowing long campaign statements such as those in Harvard elections. I got a polite letter back telling me that, “Harvard grads may run for the office overseer, but that Williams grads stood for office of trustee.”

A great line! There is something to be said for the Williams tradition of decorum and — Dare I say it? — gentlemanly behavior. This tradition is one reason that the Williams campus is less riven by ideological disputes than other elite colleges. Still, we ought to at least allow trustee candidates to tell us what they think! Back to Henry:

Williams once did have a candidate with deep beliefs, Herbert Lehman, who ran for the US Senate in New York and was elected several times on very liberal platforms. And his family gave Williams lots of money. But, Williams was so offended by his brashness and liberal beliefs that it never even gave him an honorary degree.

True story? There is a great history thesis to be written about Williams and the Lehman family. Who will write it?

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Loved this story:

Who’s the best public speaker at Williams College? It’s a contentious question, but regardless of whom you ask, Professor Steven Fix’s name is likely to be in the mix.

Among his colleagues, he is known for timing his lectures down to the second— literally. He once told a beginning English professor, “That was an excellent lecture, but you’re running twenty-three seconds too long.” Among his students, Fix is known for delivering such moving lectures as to reduce students to tears, even when those lectures concern authors as obscure as Samuel Johnson—one of his personal favorites.

Besides his speaking engagements in the English department, Fix is also the college’s Phi Beta Kappa Chapter Historian, and it falls to him to deliver the history of the Society at Williams each year, on the day before graduation. So, on June 7, 2014, Professor Fix delivered a rousing rendition of the history of Phi Beta Kappa, much to the delight of the audience who, having been awakened for the 8:30 a.m. event, needed some rousing.

“The history of Phi Beta Kappa at Williams is a history filled with jealousy, intrigue, suspicion, and, alternately, triumph!” Fix began, intoning dramatically. The audience laughed along with him, but as his speech continued, it became clear that the history of Phi Beta Kappa at Williams actually was filled with all of those things and more, focused centrally around an educational rivalry between the two oldest colleges in Massachusetts—Harvard and Williams.

According to Fix, Phi Beta Kappa was originally a fraternity. “Unfortunately, Williams College banned fraternities years ago, so as members of Phi Beta Kappa, you’re all expelled,” he said. “That’s it. Congratulations. This ought to significantly shorten tomorrow’s ceremony…”

In all seriousness, though, Phi Beta Kappa was originally formed as a secret society at Williams and Mary, and it had all the attractions of one—rites of initiation, secret signs known only to members, and lots of swearing of oaths. Today, Phi Beta Kappa retains all of these features. However, the initiation is a public one, the sign of membership is the well-known key, and there is but one oath of loyalty, not to a fraternity, but to philosophy—to the love learning and wisdom. Clearly, the mission of Phi Beta Kappa has changed drastically since its inception. “So I suppose you’re all safe,” Fix said.

“At any rate, William and Mary, as the original location of Phi Beta Kappa, was vested with the power to establish new chapters, and the college chose to bestow chapters upon Harvard and Yale, along with the power to approve or veto new charters for schools in their respective states,” Fix said. And that’s where the drama really took off and how it came to be that despite being the second-oldest college in Massachusetts, Williams was the 17th chapter of Phi Beta Kappa to be established.

“Now why would that be?” Fix asked. “Well, we would have had a chapter earlier, but for the jealousy of Harvard…” According to Fix, Harvard was worried about bequests—essentially, about who would get the money left to the state for education. In a successful bid to delay the founding of Williams College, Harvard’s board of overseers wrote to the colonial government, “It cannot be thought that the means of education at another college will be near as good as at our college…”

And so it was that Williams’ founding was delayed until 1792, when the trustees of Williams College struck back at the overseers of Harvard. The Williams trustees petitioned the colonial government for a charter on the grounds that Williamstown, being an “enclosed place,” would not expose students to the kind of “temptations and allurements peculiar to seaport towns [e.g. Boston].” Williamstown was cast as an institution that would civilize the frontier and turn out moral citizens—something that held great weight for a government that was terrified by the news of rebel uprisings, as in the French Revolution and Shay’s Rebellion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the relationship between Williams and Harvard remained prickly after Williams obtained its school charter. Recall now that Harvard controlled which Massachusetts colleges could have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, so in order to found a chapter at Williams College, Williams had to send Harvard an application. Harvard responded predictably—issuing a pocket veto, refusing to vote one way or another, and thereby leaving Williams to wait indefinitely.

Eventually, though, in 1833, the stalemate was broken. Williams’ then-president, Ed Griffin told two students to go over the New York-Massachusetts border to Union College [in Albany, NY] to ask them for a charter instead. Union College replied that they didn’t have the authority to establish a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa outside of their own state, but they could issue other charters, so the Williams students came home with a charter to start a fraternity called “Kappa Alpha.” “The president saw ‘Kappa’ on a piece of paper and heartily congratulated the students on their success,” Fix reported.

But inevitably, the difference was realized, and in 1861, Williams tried again to found a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, reopening negotiations with Harvard. Finally, Harvard relented. “And as the Civil War raged, a society founded in the Revolutionary War had its inauguration at Williams College,” said Fix.

Today, only one remnant of this dramatic power struggle between Harvard and Williams over Phi Beta Kappa remains. It is on the founding document for Williams’ chapter, where the words, “Harvard University,” the chapter-granting authority, appear fourteen times larger than “Williams College.”

“So remember that Williams College struggled to have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and honor that struggle by taking seriously your commitment to a lifelong love of philosophy,” Fix said, finishing at exactly twenty minutes, on the dot, to resounding applause.

Fleshing out that history would make for a great senior thesis. Who will write it?

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Tenth (and final!) installment in our two-week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

In order to bring a little historical context to this discussion, I was digging through the Williams archives and came across this statement from an alumnus from the late 1800s.

Nothing like another blasphemous claim that Men are descendant from Apes to encourage good feelings among the students and alumni of Williams!*

It must have been tough to have been a good Christian gentleman toward the end of the 19th century, to have been raised from birth to believe in the Gospel, and then to confront the scientific fact of evolution. Many, of course, could then (and today!) combine Christian Faith with a recognition of the reality of evolution. But, for any individual, the transition must have been jarring.

Or you ready for a similar jarring? Consider this comment from the start of our series.

Nothing like an umpteen-part discourse on how poor people are too genetically inferior to attend Williams to build good will for the relaunch of Ephblog!

First, the rhetoric here is lazy. No one believes that “inferiority” is a relevant term. I don’t consider my children to be “genetically inferior” — in general terms — to the children of much taller, more athletic men. But the genes are what they are. Neither my children nor my grand children will ever play in the NBA because they lack the minimum genetic gifts for doing so. And that is OK! It certainly does not make them “inferior.”

And the same harsh truth applies to other people when it comes to the genetics for success in academics. Consider:

Many genomic elements in humans are associated with behavior, including educational attainment. In a genome-wide association study including more than 100,000 samples, Rietveld et al. (p. 1467, published online 30 May; see the Perspective by Flint and Munafò) looked for genes related to educational attainment in Caucasians. Small genetic effects at three loci appeared to impact educational attainment.

The specific loci are: rs9320913, rs11584700, rs4851266. That has the harsh ring of science, doesn’t it? Here is some more science:

We identify common genetic variants associated with cognitive performance using a two-stage approach, which we call the proxy-phenotype method. First, we conduct a genome-wide association study of educational attainment in a large sample (n = 106,736), which produces a set of 69 education-associated SNPs. Second, using independent samples (n = 24,189), we measure the association of these education-associated SNPs with cognitive performance. Three SNPs (rs1487441, rs7923609, and rs2721173) are significantly associated with cognitive performance after correction for multiple hypothesis testing.

There are probably several thousand genes which, together, explain a large percentage of the variance in academic success, both in K-12 leading up to Williams and at Williams itself. Does that mean that people with the wrong settings for rs1487441 et al are genetically inferior? No! No more than my descendants are genetically inferior because they lack the (undiscovered) genes which help to explain basketball success.

Yet the reality of genetic (partial) explanations of success and failure is as inevitable as the triumph of evolution in our understanding of human origins. And, as we identify these genes, we will soon discover that their distribution is not uniform, that some groups of people have more of these genetic advantages that cause (not just correlate!) with academic success and some groups of people have fewer.

Prediction: Sample 1,000 rich people and 1,000 poor people in the US. Many more rich people than poor people will have the “preferred” settings for rs9320913 and friends. And that means that the more of the children of rich people than of poor people will have these same settings. And that will explain, at least partially, why there are more students at Williams from rich families than from poor families.

You read it first at EphBlog.

* OK, OK. I made up that quote about Apes. Sue me! Experts in Williams history can surely help me come up with something appropriate. Or I could just go with something from Summer for the Gods . . .

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Ninth installment in our two-week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

From The New York Times article we discussed yesterday:

Kids at the most selective colleges often struggle academically, but they are capable of doing the work. The real key is whether they feel comfortable going to professors to ask for help or teaming up with other students in study groups and to manage the workload.

“Capable of doing the work” covers a lot of sins. The question is not: How capable is a poor student with 1300 Math/Reading SATs? With those scores, she is in the 90th percentile nationally. Very smart! But, at Williams (pdf), she is in the 20th (or maybe the 10th?) percentile in her class. Not so smart, at least compared to her classmates.

And that is, potentially, OK. Someone has got to have the lowest SAT scores in the class. The key is whether or not Williams is honest with applicants about just what scores like that suggest about her likely future at Williams.

Consider a concrete example: How many math majors at Williams have a Math SAT score at 650 or below? I bet that, round numbers, it is close to zero. But that means that, if she wants to be a math teacher someday, our hypothetical applicant would be much better off going to her state university (where she would be as smart as most of the math majors) than she would be going to Williams (where her odds of successfully completing the math major are very low). At the very least, Williams owes its applicants the truth about the reality of academic life at elite colleges. Bromides and tripe about how “capable” every is? Spare us the sanctimony.

Want to believe that, at 1350, a student — especially one from a not-so-good high school — will be capable of doing the work at Williams, even on the math major or pre-med track? Fine. I don’t want to disabuse your sweet dreams. But those aren’t the worst cases. Consider:


Is Williams doing those students (approximately 30 in each class) with SAT scores below 600 any favors by admitting them?
I have my doubts. (And that fact that the College never tells us what happens to those students while they are at Williams speaks volumes about the hidden truth.)

Consider simple question: The Williams 6-year graduation rate is 95%. Pretty good! But that is for the class as a whole. What is the 6-year graduation rate for a student with at Math/Reading SAT below 1200. You can bet that it is much worse than 95%. Call it 70%. Is it really such a tragedy if such students decide to go to a school at which they will be academically well-matched with their peers?

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Eighth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

And at a narrower, more elite group of 28 private colleges and universities, including all eight Ivy League members, researchers at Vassar and Williams Colleges found that from 2001 to 2009, a period of major increases in financial aid at those schools, enrollment of students from the bottom 40 percent of family incomes increased from just 10 percent to 11 percent.

Even with the best intentions, tapping the pool of high-performing low-income students can be hard. Studies point to many reasons poorer students with good credentials do not apply to competitive colleges, like lack of encouragement at home and at school, thinking (correctly or not) that they cannot afford it or believing they would be out of place, academically or socially.

First, let’s change the title of this article from “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” to “Generation Later, Children of Short People Are Still Rare in the NBA.” Does that still seem surprising, or even problematic? Short people have, on average, short children. And being short dramatically decreases your odds of making the NBA. Of course, these (true) empirical claims are just averages. It is possible for short parents to have a tall child and/or for a short person to make it in the NBA. But no one should be surprised that it is rare.

Similarly, poverty is correlated with lower intelligence and work ethic and these traits, like height, are partially genetic. So, it is hardly surprising that a child of poor parents is less likely than a child of rich parents to have the sort of academic credentials that Williams wants.

Second, is the concern about being “out of place” something we should dismiss out of hand? Don’t many poor students, especially those from far away, feel out of place at Williams? In fact, they do, at least if you believe The New York Times:

When lower-income students start college, they often struggle to finish for many reasons, but social isolation and alienation can be big factors.

But once those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds arrive on campus, it’s often the subtler things, the signifiers of who they are and where they come from, that cause the most trouble, challenging their very identity, comfort and right to be on that campus. The more elite the school, the wider that gap.

To stay four years and graduate, students have to come to terms with the unspoken transaction: exchanging your old world for a new world, one that doesn’t seem to value where you came from.

Being young, I didn’t understand, believing myself immune to the idea that any gain might entail a corresponding loss. I was keen to exchange my Western hardscrabble life for the chance to be a New York City middle-class museumgoer. I’ve paid a price in estrangement from my own people, but I was willing. Not every 18-year-old will make that same choice, especially when race is factored in as well as class.

But how can we help our students prepare for the tug of war in their souls?

We can be honest. The fact that Cappy Hill, Tony Marx, Morty Schapiro and the rest of the Cathedral are not honest with these students is the single most infuriating thing about socio-economic affirmative action. For example, consider a non-rich senior from an average high school with 1300 Reading/Math SATs. Such a student, before accepting an offer of admissions from Williams, would like to know his odds of graduating in 4 years. But Williams won’t tell him! Williams refuses to reveal data that would help admitted students to better judge whether or not attending Williams is a wise decision.

Of course, we should do everything we can to alleviate feelings of out-of-placedness among all students at Williams, but we should not pretend that they don’t exist. Moreover, we shouldn’t mislead poor students about the challenges that await them at a place like Williams, especially poor students who we admit with academic credentials significantly below their peers.

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Seventh installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

Harvard, Princeton, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill eliminated early admission programs that were seen as favoring affluent students.

How clueless is Perez-Pena? As I explained 8 (!) years ago, the programs themselves did not meaningfully favor rich students:

First, note that reference to “early admissions programs” in general rather than to Harvard’s early action program specifically. Not all programs provide such an advantages. MIT and Caltech, for example, both offer early admissions programs that provide the same odds of admissions to applicants as they would receive in regular admissions. Applying early to Harvard improves your odds of acceptance. Applying early to MIT does not. Bok’s quote only applies to programs, like Harvard, which as a matter of conscious policy give an advantage to early applicants. Harvard could have kept early action and just made it fair, held early applicants to the same standards as regular applicants. It didn’t do that because its goal is not to be fair. Harvard’s goal is to change the structure of elite admissions.

Back to the article:

Some colleges stopped including loans in financial aid packages, so that all aid came in the form of grants. Others lowered prices for all but affluent families, not requiring any contribution from parents below a certain income threshold, like $65,000.

But the colleges that ended early admissions reinstated them within a few years, after other elite schools declined to follow their lead, putting them at a disadvantage in drawing top students.

Moral preening is only really fun if it doesn’t cost you anything. Once it does, it ends.

Recall our discussion from 2006

There is almost no chance that Williams will make a change now. It has too much to lose. It also stands the potential of making some non-trivial gains. First, students who, in the past, would have applied early to and gotten accepted by Harvard/Princeton, will now be tempted by early decision at Williams. Isn’t the appeal of having the whole process done by December 15th as great now as it was 25 years ago? Second, those students will need to apply to other schools regular decision, including Williams. Many will be accepted and some will fall in love with Williams. They will end up at Williams because Harvard and Princeton no longer provide an early admissions option.

Will either effect be large? Tough to know. But if even 25 kids, who would have gone to H/P, end up at Williams instead, that would be important to the overall quality of the Williams student body.

I predicted that this would happen:

[L]ots of schools have no interest in following Harvard’s lead because EA/ED (early action/early decision) are useful programs (for them). Of course, Harvard doesn’t care what lesser schools do, but if Yale/Stanford/Princeton don’t follow suit, EA will be back in two years.

In the end, it took longer than two years, but Harvard re-instated early action just as I foresaw. Harvard can put up with many things, but losing top students to its competitors is not one of them.

All of which gives the lie to the moral preening of 2006.

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Sixth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

“If you come from a family and a neighborhood where no one has gone to a fancy college, you have no way of knowing that’s even a possibility,” said Anthony W. Marx, president of the New York Public Library, and a former president of Amherst. “And if you go on their website, the first thing you’re going to look for is the sticker price. End of conversation.”

Does anyone else find Tony Marx as annoying as I do? Doubtful! After all, his main societal function is to be the courtier for the plutocrats who fund the New York Public Library, a gig for which he gets paid almost $800,000 per year. (Who knew that librarians did so well?)

And, of course, I am sad that Marx is no longer president of Amherst since he seemed well on his way to making Amherst a much less formidable competitor (here and here).

But the real sleaze here is Marx and others like him misleading poor students about the actual costs and benefits of elite colleges.

But even top private colleges with similar sticker prices differ enormously in net prices, related to how wealthy they are, so a family can find that an elite education is either dauntingly expensive or surprisingly affordable. In 2011-12, net prices paid by families with incomes under $48,000 averaged less than $4,000 at Harvard, which has the nation’s largest endowment, for example, and more than $27,000 at New York University, according to data compiled by the Department of Education.

Marx is concerned that poor students go to the NYU website and get scared by the tuition. I, on the other hand, am glad! To a large extent, NYU is a sleazy deal, especially if you are a poor student. The fact that people like Marx won’t even discuss these issues, won’t even mention that not all “fancy colleges” are created equal, makes me angry.

If you are poor, and you get in to Harvard (or Williams), then, obviously, you should go. It is free! But borrowing $100,000 (27k times 4 years plus tuition raises) to attend a “fancy college” like NYU is a very, very dicey proposition. Why doesn’t Marx tell poor students the truth?

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It has been 11 years since Williams last capital campaign. Time for another! It would be natural to announce the next one tonight, amid the Convocation festivities and dedication of the new Sawyer Library. Is that on the agenda? (I have the vaguest memory that the last campaign was also announced on Convocation week-end, in the fall of 2003, but can’t find a link.) Surely at least one of our readers are in the know. Background on the last campaign here. Questions include:

1) What will the campaign be called? Last one was “The Williams Campaign,” which had the virtue of being descriptive and easy to remember. Nothing wrong with using that name again, but Director of College Relations John Malcolm ’86 was inventive guy back in the day. Maybe he has come up with something better.

2) Got any good jokes for Adam Falk to use tonight at the big donor event? How about: “I hope you all got a tour of the new Sawyer Library this afternoon. Isn’t it beautiful? We spent $75 million of borrowed money to build it. Now, please, take out your checkbooks . . .”

3) What will the campaign target be? Last time, the official goal was $400 million, but the final result was $500 million. (Corrections welcome to these or any other data points.) You want a goal that is aggressive, so that people like new Chair of the Board of Trustees Mike Eisenson ’77 write huge (and not just big) checks — and get their friends to do the same. But you also want a goal that you can reach. I hope that the College is aggressive and goes for $1 billion, but more forecast would be for something more like $800 million.

Maybe some of our Williamstown residents can provide us with the inside scoop . . .

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Fifth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

But admissions officers can visit only a small fraction of the nation’s 26,000 high schools, so they rarely see those stellar-but-isolated candidates who need to be encouraged to apply. The top schools that have managed to raise low-income enrollment say that an important factor has been collaborating with some of the nonprofit groups, like QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation, that are devoted to identifying hidden prospects, working with them in high school and connecting them to top colleges.

“stellar-but-isolated?” Give me a break. As we reviewed yesterday, the actual number of such students is de minimus, unless you (absurdly) define “stellar” as 1400 math/reading SAT scores. At Williams, scores like that are defined as “below average” for the class as a whole and “rejection worthy” for any applicant without a special attribute, mainly either black/hispanic or athletic tip.

Consider Questbridge’s own data. They included 4,773 National College Match Finalists last year. (An impressive number. Questbridge has grown into a big organization in the last decade.) But only 18% of those students had SAT scores above 1400.

Still, Questbridge is clearly playing a much larger role in the Williams admissions process. More than 12% (!) of the students admitted in to the class of 2018 were “affiliated” with Questbridge.

Does this mean I am against Questbridge? No! I love Questbridge. Any program that, at reasonable cost, brings Williams high quality applicants, especially applicants that might not have known about Williams before, is a good program. Recall our congratulations to Jonathan Wosen ’13 five years ago. Wosen was (is!) exactly the kind of student that Williams needs more of. He went on to succeed at Williams, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. (And I hope he loved his time at the College as well!) If Questbridge can bring us more applicants like Wosen, then Questbridge is worth the money.

My complaint is with those who claim that there are thousands and thousands of Jonathan Wosens out there, just waiting to be discovered and brought to Williams. There are a few. And we should try to find them. But having admission officers drive around the country to every below average high school would be a huge waste of time. And, lest you accuse me of stone heartedness, keep in mind that Williams makes very few (any) to the 50% of US high schools with student bodies who average below 1,000 on the Math/Reading SAT.

And just a cynical thought on a Friday morning: At what point does Questbridge go from being a moral cause to being a sleazy racket? Back in the day, lots of poor kids applied to Williams and many were accepted . . . and no other organization took a cut of the action. Questbridge, however, now takes a cut, standing as a toll collector between Williams and its applicants. Even if someone would have applied to Williams (and been accepted) in the absence of Questbridge, if they now sign up for the service, then Williams pays Questbridge a bunch of money. (How much is unclear to me, but I vaguely recall a number like $5,000. Does anyone know?)

Again, the more AR 1 applicants who apply (and attend!) Williams, the better, whether they be rich or poor. Admissions has a budget and if Questbridge brings us such students at a reasonable price, then we should pay them. But there is a reason that Harvard doesn’t participate in Questbridge, and it isn’t because they lack the money to do so . . . or an interest in applicants like Jonathan Wosen.

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Fourth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

“You can make big statements about being accessible, and have need-blind admissions and really low net prices for low-income kids, but still enroll very few of those low-income kids, by doing minimal outreach,” said Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College. “There has to be a commitment to go out and find them.”

Since when did every college president decide that coolness requires three names? Cappy Hill, or in more formal settings, Catharine Hill, was happily associated with Williams for 20+ years without anyone ever using her middle name. But now we have to include “Bond?” Weird. And Morty Schapiro seemed to do the same for a while, with his regular reminders that his middle name is Owen. Anyway, back to the article . . .

EphBlog loves Cappy Hill ’76 something fierce
, but this is misleading. Hill is implying that there are hundreds (thousands?) of low-income students with Williams-caliber credentials who don’t apply to Williams or places like it because of ignorance. But there aren’t! This is a pleasant fantasy of those who like to believe that parental wealth and student academic achievement are not as correlated as, in fact, they are. Consider the flaws in Hill’s research (pdf):

First, “high ability” is defined as 1420 or above combined math/reading SAT scores. Recall that Williams uses a system of academic ratings (AR) and that ratings below 2 are automatically rejected unless they have some special attribute like race or athletics. From Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 thesis, here are the relevant definitions:

AR 1: “Valedictorian/top or close to top”, A record, “Exceeding most demanding program, evidence of deep intellectual curiosity, passionate interest in particular discipline”, Exceptional, Exceptional, 770–800, 750–800, 1520 — 1600, 750–800, 35–36, mostly 5s

AR 2: Top 5%, Mostly A record, “Most demanding program, many AP and Honors courses, highly significant intellectual curiosity”, Outstanding, Outstanding, 730–770, 720–750, 1450–1520, 720–770, 33-34, 4s and 5s

In other words, lots of the students (SAT 1420 to 1450) that Hill describes as “high ability” are pretty much automatic rejects at Williams (leaving aside whatever affirmative action Williams places on socio-ec diversity). Moreover, lots of the other students with SAT >= 1450 lack the grades and other scores that put them in AR 2. So, Hill is (purposely?) overestimating the pool of potential applicants.

Second, even such high ability applicants are not (meaningfully) under-represented! Hill reports that these high ability, low income students make up 10% of elite schools but 12.8% of the population. Not a big enough difference to get worked up about, I think. And certainly not enough to make me think that the returns to more “outreach” are particularly high.

Third, Hill does not control for the desires of the students. Imagine two students in Georgia, both with Academic Rating 1 students (on the Williams scale), both admitted to Williams and to the University of Georgia. Both won free rides at UGA via merit scholarships. One is student is poor and one is rich. I bet that the the poor student is much more likely to choose UGA. This preference, alone, might be enough to explain why poor students are slightly under-represented at elite schools.

Fourth, Hill does not seem to recognize that a poor student, even if as academically accomplished as the rich student, might be better off at an (excellent) state school rather than a (2nd tier?) liberal arts college like Vassar. Leave the details of this debate for another day, but it is indicative of the attitude of people like Hill that they would, in most cases, think that a student choosing UGA over Vassar is making a mistake.

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Third installment in our two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

But critics contend that on the whole, elite colleges are too worried about harming their finances and rankings to match their rhetoric about wanting economic diversity with action.

“It’s not clear to me that universities are hungry for that,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who studies college diversity. “What happens if low-income students start calling the bluff of selective universities, and do start applying in much larger numbers? Will the doors be open?”

Kahlenberg has had a nice career regurgitating the Cathedral’s wisdom and making himself available to New York Times reporters. Unfortunately, he has been very wrong about several important items in his area of (alleged) expertise.

First, his initial claim to fame was to propose affirmative action based on class as a replacement for affirmative action based on race. Alas, he lacked the social science chops to understand that the massive number of poor, but academically successful, Asian Americans meant that, were a place like Williams to use class instead of race, its proportion of African American students would go toward zero very quickly. In fact, for virtually every African American student who enrolls at Williams then are 10 (100? 1000?) or more Asian Americans who come from poorer families but had better high school records.

Second, he edited a whole book decrying legacy admissions without realizing that, among elite schools like Williams, legacy status plays a minimal role in admissions, and that role is diminishing every year. See these posts for details. But the intuition is obvious enough:

In the 80′s, there were 500 academically accomplished students per class. Judging/guessing from what we see at reunions, the total number of children of a typical class is at least 500. But only 75 or so find spots at Williams! Do the other 425 go to Stanford? Nope. And the same harsh mathematics apply to the children of other elite schools. Since smart people have smart children, the pool of legacies that the College has to choose from is very impressive. So, it does not need to meaningfully lower standards to find 75 good ones.

Does Kahlenberg continue his stupidity here? You bet he does! Consider the quote:

What happens if low-income students start calling the bluff of selective universities, and do start applying in much larger numbers?

It all depends on which sort of low-income students we are talking about. If 10,000 poor kids with lousy SAT scores and bad high school grades were to apply to Williams, then Williams would reject them all, just as it rejects thousands of rich kids with poor scores/grades. If lots of poor students with amazing scores/grades started applying, then Williams would accept them, as would other elite colleges.

But the truth, which Kahlenberg either doesn’t know or is too slippery to admit, is that the main issue is poor students with less impressive academic credentials than the non-poor students Williams currently admits/enrolls. If Williams has to choose between poor kids with 1350 SAT scores and rich kids with 1550 (and similar differences in high school grades), then it will (should!) choose the rich kids. If it doesn’t, it won’t be an elite school for long.

No bluff calling is required.

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Second installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

Getting low-income students onto elite campuses is seen as a vital engine of social mobility.

Yet as Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, put it, “Higher education has become a powerful force for reinforcing advantage and passing it on through generations.”

People like Carnevale don’t seem to think clearly about the empirical claims that they are making. Imagine a perfect world, one without nasty institutions, like Williams, “reinforcing advantage,” a world in which every child is treated exactly the same. Is there correlation between parent and child outcomes in this world?

Of course there is! Consider basketball and height. Tall people have a huge advantage in playing basketball and height is around 70% genetic. So, even in a world in which every child has free basketball lessons from birth, success in basketball — whether measured as relative ability in 8th grade gym class or starting in the NBA — will be passed “on through generations” because of genetics. NBA players will be much more likely to come from families in which parents were in the top 10% of basketball ability because a major component of success is genetic.

In fact, the more that you equalize environment, the greater the relative importance of genes.

In a parallel fashion, the things that make you successful as a high school student — intelligence, hard work and conformity — are the same things that help you to earn a high income. And these traits have a genetic component as well. So, even in a world with perfect equality in terms of child-rearing, parents with high income (meaning, on average, hard-working, intelligent, conformist parents) will have successful students because these traits have a genetic component.

Now, it is certainly the case that parents, and institutions, have an effect beyond their genetics, but by failing to even discuss (or understand?) the genetic component of inherited success, Carnevale and others make it hard to take their claims seriously.

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First installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

Why two weeks? Because my little bother, Stephen Field ’37, thinks this is a topic worth discussing in depth!

As the shaded quadrangles of the nation’s elite campuses stir to life for the start of the academic year, they remain bastions of privilege. Amid promises to admit more poor students, top colleges educate roughly the same percentage of them as they did a generation ago. This is despite the fact that there are many high school seniors from low-income homes with top grades and scores: twice the percentage in the general population as at elite colleges.

First, always begin by asking “What is the New York Times choosing not to write about?” In this context, the answer is: All the other metrics that 18 year-olds (and their families) differ on but which colleges, and the New York Times, don’t care about. For example, I would bet that high school students with parents that served in the military or scored about average on their SATs or currently attend Baptists congregations or are divorced are dramatically less likely than other students to apply to, be accepted by, or attend elite colleges. Does the Cathedral care? No. The Cathedral — elite academia and the prestige press — cares about race and money and gender, and maybe a few other things. Being the son of a divorced Baptist veteran of average intelligence counts for nothing, no matter how few of you there are at Williams.

Second, read the whole article. Note how constricted the range of views are: running from the left to the far left. No one who thinks, as I do — that there is nothing surprising in the under-representation of poor students, that there is little that could plausibly be done about it and that attempts to do anything are just as likely to hurt as to help — is interviewed. Does Perez-Pena know that we are out here? Does he care? Or does he view his job as weaving a cushy cocoon of ignorance for Times readers? You don’t have to agree with, say, Charles Murray or Bryan Caplan, to think that a news article ought to mention that they exist.

Ten to 15 years ago, when some elite colleges got more serious about economic diversity, there was a view that increasing financial aid could turn the dial, but “I think we were a little naïve,” said Morton O. Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, a former president of Williams College and, like Dr. Hill at Vassar, an economist specializing in the economics of higher education.

Cost remains a barrier, but so does perception, he said, adding, “It’s a psychology and sociology thing, as well as a pricing thing.”

Who is the “we” you speak of Morty? I wasn’t naive. Here is what I was writing 8 years ago:

People who see tilts and other injustices in elite admissions have a highly naive view of the possibilities once a student hits 17. These modern day Marxists have a (stupid) a priori belief that the abilities which lead to academic success at Amherst are uniformly distributed across the population. Alas, these abilities — high IQ, a love of learning, disciplined work habits — are very non-uniformly distributed. The children of people in the top half of the income distribution are much more likely to have these abilities than the children of people in the bottom half. This effect is magnified in the top and bottom income deciles.

Smart people have smart children because intelligence like height is largely inherited. People who love learning have children who love learning because they teach them to do the same, both directly and via example. You can bet that children who are read to by their parents each day are much more likely to end up at Amherst than children who are not so fortunate. Hard-working people have hard-working children because these parents make their children work hard, thereby teaching them the value of hard work, of ambition and striving.

Now, it turns out that high IQ, a love of learning and hard work — for shorthand, let’s call these attributes “merit” — are also correlated with wealth. Or, rather, it is unlikely that someone blessed with these three attributes will end up in the bottom 25% of the income distribution.

But people like Marx seem blind to this reality. They really want to believe that there are thousands of undiscovered gems lying in the bottom income quartile, just waiting for open-minded souls (like Marx) to discover them and, Professor Higgins-like, transform them into polished stones.

Tony Marx was the president of Amherst at the time. He, and other naifs like Morty and Cappy Hill ’76, thought that they could meaningfully increase the percentage of poor students at places like Williams without meaningfully decreasing the quality of the student body. Alas, you can’t.

It isn’t a “psychology and sociology thing”, much less a “pricing thing.” It is a reality thing.

If you are upset that I haven’t provided enough evidence for these claims, have no worries! I have nine more days of posts all queued up . . .

In case it disappears from the web, the entire article is below the break.


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Let me try again to explain what Stephen Pinker gets wrong about admissions at places like Harvard and Williams. Outside of academics (grades/scores), sports (that the college plays and recruits for), race (mostly black but also Hispanic) and wealth (mostly being poor but also some super-wealthy), virtually nothing else matters to elite college admissions. This is the central thing that is wrong with Pinker’s description — with its talk of “the arts, charity, activism, travel” — and even with the understanding of sophisticated observers like Eric Rasmusen and Stephen Hsu. Consider Hsu:

Some have quibbled with Pinker’s assertion that only 5 or 10% of the Harvard class is chosen with academic merit as the sole criterion. They note the overall high scores of Harvard students as evidence against this claim. But a simple calculation makes it obvious that the top 2000 or so high school seniors (including international students, who would eagerly attend Harvard if given the opportunity), ranked by brainpower alone, would be much stronger intellectually than the typical student admitted to Harvard today.

First, it is somewhat rude of Hsu to use the phrasing “some” when I (I think) have been the only one to make this argument explicitly.

Second, by “quibbled,” I think Hsu means “demonstrated.” Where, exactly, is the flaw in the argument? A 1590 Math/Reading SAT score is far into the 99th percentile (pdf). (Exactly how far is unclear to me.) Here (pdf) is data from 2008 that uses all three sections and here (pdf) from 2013. The total number of perfect scores is in the hundreds not thousands. I realize that I am playing fast and loose here, that I began by looking at Math + Reading, that these tables use all three sections and that summing percentiles is not the same as looking at the percentiles of the distribution of summed scores. But the basic numbers make clear that there are not nearly as many high scoring students at Hsu naively assumes.

Imagine that the height of the 75th percentile male student at Harvard were in the 99th percentile of the overall distribution. That would be about 6’4”. If 1/4 of the men at Harvard were above 6’4” would you doubt that height was the central factor in admissions? There is no way to get so many tall men if you are selecting on other factors that are not heavily correlated with height.

Third, Hsu admits in the comments that his “simple calculation” is off by an order of magnitude! This is the nice thing about being a theoretical, rather than experimental, physicist! Getting the answer within one or two orders of magnitude is close enough! ;-)

There are not 2,000 high schools students that are much stronger than the typical Harvard student, there are 200. And someone has to go to Yale!

Fourth, Hsu uses phrases like “ranked by brainpower alone” (by which he means a heavily g-loaded IQ test) and implies that this is the same thing that we (me and Pinker) are talking about when we discuss “academic merit.” But it isn’t. “Academic merit” means the highest grades in the most rigorous high school classes along with top teacher recommendations and extreme standardized test scores. This is what Harvard (and Williams) care about. You can be a genius but, if you blow off high school classes that you find boring and stupid, Harvard/Williams don’t want you.

The central issue here is not: What should Harvard/Williams select for? (I expect that Hsu and I would see eye-to-eye on that.) The issue is: What do Harvard/Williams select for? I am trying to explain that Harvard/Williams do not care nearly as much about “extracurricular” activities — at least things like “the arts, charity, activism, travel” — as Pinker/Rasmusen/Hsu think they do. The data demonstrate this because there is no way for Harvard to have such extreme SAT scores and, simultaneously, place much/any emphasis on these other factors. If it did, then, almost by definition, the SAT score distribution would be shifted lower.

To be concrete: Harvard admitted 2,000 high school students out of the 35,000 who applied last year. Imagine that we kept fixed the things that I say matter (academic merit, race, wealth and recruited athlete status) and randomize the things that Pinker/Hsu think matter (arts, charity, activism, travel). That is, Applicant X keeps the attributes that I assert Harvard cares about but then is randomly assigned the extracurricular activities of some other applicant. How different would the admissions decisions be?

Almost indistinguishable! Harvard would let is at least 1,500, and probably more like 1,900 of the 2,000 students it did, in fact, admit even if they were assigned a random set of extracurricular activities from among the pool of applicants, and for all the reasons that I gave in my previous post. These facts turn Pinker’s claim on its head. It is not 5% of the class that is selected on the basis of academic merit. It is 5% that is selected on something other than academic merit, once we control for race/wealth/athletics.

Again, if Pinker had just said that race/wealth/athletics play a big role, and stopped there, I would have no complaint. They do! But Pinker misleads his readers, and people like Hsu/Rasmussen with his talk of “arts, charity, activism, travel.” That stuff plays no material role. In fact, one reason Harvard likes to act like those things matter is so that it can hide the big influence of race/wealth/athletics behind a patina of “We care about great violin players too!”

How to convince Pinker/Hsu/Rasmusen of this fact? Consider Caltech. Hsu suggests (and I agree) that Caltech bases its admissions standards almost completely on “academic merit.” Consider the 75th percentile of its score distribution (pdf):


Now Harvard (pdf):


At 75th percentile of the SAT/ACT, Caltech (800/800/790 and 35/36/35) is indistinguishable from Harvard (790/800/790 and 35/35/35). If we assume that Caltech admits on the basis of “academic merit” (it does!), then it must be the case that Harvard uses, more or less, the same criteria (at least for 25% of its class), otherwise, it would not have the same extreme distribution of scores. (And even the tiny advantage to Caltech is probably explained by Harvard putting more emphasis on the high grades portion of academic merit than Caltech does, not on the (imaginary!) extra bump that Harvard gives to excellent sculptors who score 2390 over average sculptors who score 2400.)

Now, obviously, below the 75th percentile, things change. But that is not because Harvard cares about the arts, it is because Harvard cares about race/wealth/athletics. Key statistics:

Black students: Harvard (7.0%) and Caltech (1.6%)
Pell Grant Eligible students: Harvard (17%) and Caltech (11%)
Division 1a caliber athletes: Harvard (12%) and Caltech (<1% ?)

I lack the energy/data to go through the argument that these factors alone explain the differences in the 25th percentile but they almost certainly do. But, before going further, can we at least agree that I have demonstrated that, at least for 25% of the class, Harvard is at least as focused on “academic merit” as Caltech is? In other words, Pinker’s estimate of 5% or 10% is off by at least a factor of 2.5 to 5. Once we agree on that, we can move on to other portions of the score distribution.

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