Good luck!

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When I finally sent in my acceptance deposit to Williams and confirmed myself as a member of the next freshman class, I was pretty anxious, which lead to feelings of ambivalence about the sorts of things others around me were excited about–dorms, friends, clubs, all that. I wasn’t sure Williams was the right place for me, but it was the best option I had, so I’d picked it; that didn’t mean I was thrilled.

But over that summer before I started at Williams, there was one thing in that sea of anxiety and ambivalence and maybe even dread that made me excited, one thing that had me actively looking forward and thinking maybe I’d be happy at this place:

Looking through the course catalog.

Every semester thereafter, looking through the course catalog continued to be a joy. I think part of me loved the idea of taking some of these classes much more than actually taking them, and always has. I’d make long spreadsheets with all the classes I was interested in, put together potential schedules, agonize over which ones I wouldn’t be able to take. Later in each semester, that joy and wonder would have dulled significantly as I got through the reality of actually doing the work, actually showing up to classes–that, I wasn’t always good at. But every time the course catalog came out, I’d be overjoyed once again at the sheer possibility it represented, all the journeys it could take me on.

It’s amusing to me, but not altogether unexpected, that even now–when I was putting together my last post about Intro to CS, which involved looking through the 2020 course catalog–I still find myself gushing over courses, falling in love with them. Picking classes is one of the things I miss most about Williams.

So, I’m curious! When you look through the course catalog, what course(s) most excite you, fill you with that yearning to sign up for a class? (If you’re a current student: aside from maybe the class you’re most excited to take that you did sign up for, what’s the class you were most excited about that you didn’t sign up for?)

For me, it might be PHIL 239, The Ethics of AI. Ethical AI is such a cool topic to me, something I thought I might want to make a career when I was in school and, heck, something I still think I might want to pursue. But I always was so much more interested in it in a philosophical sense than in the technical sense, so the fact that there’s an actual philosophy class being offered about this is really exciting to me. And Joseph Cruz is an excellent teacher (difficult, but great)–I might even email him and ask for the reading list.

But I also really regret never having taken a creative writing course at Williams. So along with the standard intro to fiction writing courses, I’m intrigued by ENGL 288, Writing as Experiment: An Introductory Poetry Lab. The course description sounds like something that would really challenge and excite me, and the professor, Franny Choi, is new to the English department and sounds so cool. She’s done a lot of work in poetry with themes of social activism, Asian American identity, and science fiction, and I’d love to learn about poetry from her.

 

How about you?

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To the Williams community,

I am pleased to report that, after consulting with the Faculty Steering Committee, I have offered Professor of Psychology Safa Zaki the position of Dean of the Faculty, and she has accepted. Safa will assume her new role on July 1.

In her 18 years at Williams, Safa has earned broad respect as a collaborative educator and leader and as an advocate for both faculty and staff. She is chair of the Cognitive Science program, a position she has held since 2018, and teaches courses including Experimentation and Statistics; Concepts: Mind, Brain, and Culture; and Great Debates in Cognition. She has also mentored numerous students who have worked with her on her research into how the mind parses the visual world into categories. Her findings have been published in journals including Psychological Science, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, and her studies have been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Committed to enhancing the life of the college, as well as the life of the mind, Safa is a member of the Committee on Appointments and Promotions, and has chaired both the Committee on Priorities and Resources and the Faculty Steering Committee. She served on the most recent Presidential Search Committee and is currently a member of two strategic planning groups: the Working Group on Faculty Staff Development, and the Strategic Academic Initiative on Technology and the Liberal Arts. After earning her bachelor’s degree from the American University in Cairo and her Ph.D. in psychology from Arizona State, she joined the Williams faculty in 2002 and was promoted to associate professor in 2005 and then full professor in 2010.

In assuming the Dean of Faculty role, Safa succeeds Denise Buell, who last fall announced her plans to return to teaching and research at the end of this academic year. Over the five years of her deanship, Denise has helped diversify the Williams faculty, expand faculty orientation and professional development offerings, pilot new selection processes for faculty service roles, and create programs to support department and program chairs, among her many contributions. In my first days at Williams, Denise did so much to help me build relationships with our faculty, for which I’m deeply grateful.

I now look forward to working equally closely with Safa. We’re fortunate that someone of her abilities and experience will continue Williams’ tradition of filling senior administrative positions from within the faculty ranks. I want to thank the many faculty members who contributed suggestions to the FSC concerning the selection of the Dean of the Faculty, and to the members of the FSC themselves for their thoughtful counsel.I hope you will join me in congratulating Safa and welcoming her to her new role, in which capacity I know she will work tirelessly to support and advance Williams’ exceptional faculty.

Maud

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I am bringing my older son to visit Williams at the end of February.  It is a college he is interested in, and he has been there before (I brought him to my 25th reunion 5 years ago, and some earlier reunions as well), but not since he has become fully invested in the college search process.  Unfortunately, the timing of our trip means we will be in Williamstown on a Saturday afternoon, and the Admissions Office appears to be closed, and no tours are offered.  So that means that yours truly is going to play the role of tour guide, and I would love to be able to provide information which is pertinent to today’s students, rather than having him be forced to listen to old war stories.

What kinds of things do current students and recent grads suggest I show him and tell him?  Presumably we can’t get into any of the dorms, but he stayed in Mission Park when we were there 5 years ago, so at least he’ll have an idea about that.  Other than it being the greatest college in the world, what makes Williams special, as compared with similar schools, that he might not get from the website?  If he gets in and decides to go, should he try to take a tutorial as a freshman?

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The new Editor-in-chief of the Williams Record is Samuel Wolf, supported by new Managing Editors Jeongyoon Han and Rebecca Tauber. How might they turn the Record into a first class college newspaper?

First, have a clear goal. Williams, as a smaller college, will never be able to support a daily paper like The Harvard Crimson or the Yale Daily News. But there is no reason why individual articles in the Record couldn’t be just as good as those in other college papers. Right now, they are far, far worse.

Second, institute beats for individual reporters/teams. The Crimson and YDN — like every (?) professional paper — use “beats,” defined areas of focus for a given reporter. The Record should do the same. Admissions would be one beat, Administration another. Others might include the Endowment, Local News, Student Organizations and Faculty. With more reporters, we might add beats for each individual class. The Arts and Sports reporters at the Record already do a reasonable job, not least because, over time, they develop expertise on their topics. The same model should apply elsewhere.

Third, recruit more students. To be fair, the Record does try to recruit. But, if the new leadership wants to turn it into a first class paper, they need to try harder, not least by appealing to students’ self-interest. The pitch is:

So, you want to go into finance? Cool! How are you going to learn about the finance world? How are you going to demonstrate your expertise to future employers? Simple! Become a reporter for the Record and write (almost) every week about the endowment. This will force you to become an expert on the Williams endowment specifically and on college endowments, and institutional investing, in general. Even better: After a few years, you will have a collection of articles to catch the interest of Wall Street firms.

The same sort of pitch applies in other areas:

So, you want to go into consulting/business? Cool! How are you going to learn about the business world? How are you going to demonstrate your expertise to future employers? Simple! Become a reporter for the Record and write (almost) every week about the Williams budget. This will force you to become an expert on Williams spending specifically and on the management of elite colleges, and other large organizations, in general. Even better: After a few years, you will have a collection of articles to catch the interest of consulting firms.

Nothing impresses a potential employer more than demonstrated expertise on a real world topic, gained outside of class. A similar pitch could be given to students with other interests.

Fourth, annualize the coverage. The yearly rhythms of the College provide a simple structure around which to organize coverage. Each year, there should be an article about endowment returns, each of the 4 trustee meetings, early admissions, regular admissions, First Days, Claiming Williams and so on. This might appear repetitive, but Williams, like all multi-century institutions, has a heartbeat, one which can be used to structure your reporting. An annualized coverage also allows for the development, over time, of real expertise. If you write about endowment returns each year then, eventually, you will start to ask some hard questions.

Fifth, talk to critics. The single most embarrassing thing about today’s Record is that it almost never talks to critics of the College. (Compare that behavior to how the Crimson and the YDN operate.) Many articles are simple rehashings of Williams press releases.

Consider this article about former President Morty Schapiro, this article about outgoing Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass and this article about outgoing Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell. Not a single critic is quoted. (And the last two articles were written by then-editor-in-chief Goldrosen!) I suspect that not a single critic was even spoken with. The student reporters for my local middle school are more serious.

Senior administrators always have critics. It is simply pathetic for a newspaper “reporter” — and I use the term loosely — to only discuss one side of the story. Morty Schapiro is wonderful! Yeah! But to write an entire article without even mentioning (or knowing about?) Neighborhood Housing — the biggest controversy of Morty’s era and the biggest failure in administration policy in 20 years — is embarrassing.

The Record could be a great paper. Will Samuel Wolf make it so?

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Dear faculty, staff and students,

The Williams Board of Trustees held their January meeting last Friday and Saturday. I’m pleased to summarize for you some of the topics and votes. Reports from past meetings are always available on the News from the Board website.

Last week’s agenda included the following:

  • On Thursday evening, before the meeting, Trustees joined students for dinner in Mission Park Dining Hall, as part of their continuing efforts to learn about people’s experiences at Williams.
  • On Friday, I provided the board with an overview of the strategic planning process. This included a few early observations from the working groups, as they draft their reports. The completed drafts will be made available to our whole community for consideration in February. I also talked with the Board about key directions that will likely feature in the Strategic Plan itself, which I’ll be developing in the spring.
  • I also gave a routine update on campus matters, including a summary of the statement on inquiry and inclusion, the search for our next Dean of the Faculty, and the ongoing reorganization of offices prompted by Steve Klass’s planned retirement in the summer of 2020.
  • Provost Dukes Love and Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Fred Puddester discussed approaches for funding emerging ideas in the strategic planning process through the annual budget process and fundraising efforts.
  • Dukes, along with Class of ’56 Director of the Williams College Museum of Art Pam Franks and a team from architectural consultants Deborah Berke Partners talked with the Trustees about developing a plan for a potential new art museum, as well as the ways in which such an effort might intersect with other emerging arts initiatives. This conversation remains hypothetical for now, since the Board will only vote on whether and how to move forward with a building project once all the programming issues have been fully studied. These include questions about the range of opportunities in the arts, connections between a potential Williams arts project and our partners and arts organizations in the region, as well as about the relationship between such a potential project and our overall strategic planning priorities.
  • Associate Vice President for Finance Matt Sheehy and Chief Information Officer Barron Koralesky led an annual update on the college’s risk management efforts, including recent work on business continuity and regulatory compliance. Information Security Officer Andy Powell also presented about our efforts to improve the college’s information security program and better protect our data. Among other news, Barron and Andy reported that we have achieved 100% participation in dual-factor email authentication among students and staff, and 79% among faculty. Before this effort, we logged an average of four compromised accounts per month, whereas since then we haven’t seen anyone compromised. I want to thank everyone who took this important step to help protect yourselves and all of us.
  • Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische introduced Audrey Francis and Jesse Reed, partners from the firms Elastic Strategy and Order, who are helping us update the college’s identity and publications. Audrey and Jesse then described for the Trustees some of the considerations that emerged from their research at Williams last fall.
  • The board confirmed the promotion of six Williams faculty members to associate professor with tenure as of July 1, 2019. See the recent press release for details. Congratulations to our faculty colleagues on their promotions.
  • The board approved the proposal to rename the Center for Development Economics to the “Henry J. Bruton Center for Development Economics.” The naming honors the late Professor Henry Bruton, who served as John J. Gibson Professor of Economics from 1962 until his retirement in 2004.
  • The board approved the granting of honorary degrees during the June 2020 Commencement. As always, the honorees will be announced in March.
  • Chief Investment Officer Collette Chilton reported on our endowment value and returns for the fiscal year to date. She also reported on the college’s impact investing activities, and the Investment Office’s plans to meet the Board’s impact investment goals. The office’s 2019 and prior annual reports are available on their website.
  • Vice President for College Relations Megan Morey reported on fundraising results since the successful July 1 conclusion of our Teach It Forward campaign. One highlight of Megan’s report was news about our new Women’s Giving Society, which is demonstrating philanthropic leadership among Williams alumnae and others.
  • The Trustees also heard updates on college finances and capital projects from Fred Puddester, including early thinking about Davis Center renovations and his report that construction of the North Building of the Science Center remains on schedule and within budget. Fred and our Planning, Design and Construction team will continue carefully managing that project to completion.
Once again, the Board committees did much fine work, as well. You’ll find information about them on the Committees page of the Board website.
I look forward to reporting on our next Board meeting this spring. In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy Winter Study, and winter at Williams generally!
Sincerely,

Maud

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Johns Hopkins had ended admissions preferences for legacies. Let’s spend 3 days going through it. Day 3.

Johns Hopkins President Daniels:

And of course now we’re at 3.5 percent of the class is legacy, and we’ve fully extinguished any legacy benefit in our admissions program.

The subtle point which no one discusses: Do legacies do “better” than non-legacies of equivalent high school qualifications? If so, then we should give legacies an admissions advantage!

How to measure “better”? I am flexible. Academics is one measure: GPA, taking tutorials, taking more advanced classes outside your major, writing a thesis, impressing professors. Extra-curriculars are another. (I think Williams has done some (secret!) research into factors associated with “thriving” at Williams. A third measure is student satisfaction.

I bet that AR 2 students who are legacies are happier at Williams than AR 2 students who are not legacies. If that is true, shouldn’t we give preference to legacy AR 2s over non-legacy AR 2s?

So far, what are some of the effects of this change, good or bad?

Phillips. What that affords us to do is have the flexibility to greatly change the composition of our incoming class. It’s much more diverse, much more high achieving than it had been previously. We’ve had significant increases in the proportion of first-generation students in our class, female engineers; the racial composition has changed.

David Phillips is Hopkins’s vice provost for admissions and financial aid. Is he naive or does he think we are stupid?

1) How “greatly” can you change the composition of the class with just a 8.5% switch? They still have legacies, just not as many as at the peak. (And note how the graph only goes back to 2009. You can be sure they have older data. Can you guess why they don’t show it? I can!)

2) Legacies are not just legacies, they also overlap with all sorts of other categories of students. If you now reject an African-American legacy who you would have accepted, you can either replace her with a different African-American applicant or you can decrease the percentage of African-Americans.

3) Every elite college in the country is more “diverse” than it was, including places like Williams and Harvard which still give legacy preferences. Is Hopkins more diverse than they are? Not that I can see. (And note that Hopkins makes it harder to find their Common Data Sets than any other elite college. I can’t find them! Can you?)

And so on.

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Johns Hopkins had ended admissions preferences for legacies. Let’s spend 3 days going through it. Day 2.

Might Johns Hopkins be lying? Sure! Elite colleges lie all the time about admissions issues. Consider President Daniels:

“But we know that the dream of equal opportunity is more elusive than ever for many in contemporary America,” he said. “To take one sobering statistic, most of the top universities in the country enroll more students from the top 1 percent of the income spectrum than from the bottom 60 percent.”

One of the most pernicious drivers of such inequity is legacy admissions, Daniels said.

There is zero evidence for this claim!

1) When Hopkins rejects a marginally qualified legacy, she doesn’t become a plumber. She goes to Duke. Assuming that Hopkins is not radically different from Williams — and why would it be? — the average legacy student, even back in the evil old days of 2009 — had a higher SAT than the average non-legacy. (Now, there are reasons that this is not a fair comparison, but it is absurd to claim that Hopkins legacies were somehow materially less qualified than the students they are being replaced with.)

2) Note the lack of transparency from Hopkins about who they are replacing the legacies with. If they reject a rich legacy with 1450 SATs and replace her with a rich non-legacy with 1460 SATs, then, it is true that they have removed the legacy advantage and, perhaps, served the cause of “justice.” But they have done nothing about wealth or income inequality. For all we know, Hopkins is just replacing moderately rich legacies with the scions of billionaires! Hard to spin that as a decrease in “inequity.”

3) How will Daniels ever know if we have achieved the “dream of equal opportunity?” Sure seems like his measuring stick is based in equal outcomes. Does the NBA provide “equal opportunity?” Sure seems like it does to me! And yet the racial (and gender!) breakdown of the NBA hardly matches that of the country as a whole.

4) Legacy admissions and top 1% income admissions are very different things. But note how easily Daniels conflates them. Indeed, for all we know Johns Hopkins has increased the percentage of its class which comes from top 1% income families. Perhaps some (many? most?) of the legacies that Hopkins now rejects were from middle income homes. Lots of Hopkins alumni become teachers, after all.

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Johns Hopkins had ended admissions preferences for legacies. Let’s spend 3 days going through it. Day 1.

Key chart:

Entire article is below the break. Comments:

1) This looks to be the real deal. How else to explain the dramatic change in the chart above?

2) This movement will spread:

a) The zeitgeist makes privilege, of any type, difficult to defend.

b) More importantly, elite colleges don’t really care all that much about giving advantages to alumni in general. Whether or not Susie Hopkins gives $1,000 per year just does not matter that much. (They care a huge amount about development admissions. You can bet that Mike Bloomberg’s grand-daughter will be treated very differently in the Hopkins admissions process than your grand-daughter.)

c) Do the very woke faculty/administration of elite colleges even like their alumni all that much? I am not so sure . . . No longer giving preferences to the children of people you don’t like or respect is more feature than bug.

d) Will Williams follow? I bet “Yes.” Then again, as the most “conservative” of the elite LACs, we might be among the last to go.

(more…)

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A few emails I’ve been negligent in posting. If anyone want to know what day they were sent, comment and ask (they aren’t in any sort of order). Also, the last one is a Daily Message I thought was interesting.

(more…)

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From the announcement:

We are excited to announce our plans for the Promoting Inclusion in Economic Research (PIER) 2020 conference! This conference will bring together undergraduate students at Williams College to share their research and engage in networking and mentoring activities.

This conference will be held at Williams College on Sunday, April 18, 2020.

The conference aims to promote economic research by and professional development of undergraduate students whose identities or life experiences are under-represented in the field of economics.

1) Kudos to the organizers — Williams Professors Sara LaLumia, Sarah Jacobson and Tara Watson — for putting this together! The more that Williams students/faculty engage with the wider intellectual world, the better. One weird thing about academia is that so much of the work is, strictly speaking, optional. These professors won’t be paid anything extra for all the additional work they are putting in to make this happen. Many (most?) of their colleagues in the department don’t contribute as much as these three to the quality of undergraduate education at Williams.

2) Is it fair to say that Sarah Jacobson is the most woke economist at Williams? Nothing wrong with being woke, of course! Some of my best friends . . .

3) Thoughts on the evolution of this conference from being something focused on women in economics to its current incarnation as concerned with “underrep identities?” Why do this? Is it a good thing? Honestly curious! There are only so many spots, so much funding to go around. Every male who now attends, regardless of the extent to which his identity is underrepresented, is one less female.

4) Who, precisely, counts as someone whose “identities or life experiences are under-represented in the field of economics?” Honestly curious! Evangelical Christians are, relative to their share of the population, dramatically underrepresented in economics. However, I bet that Sarah Jacobson won’t look too positively on such claims. What about military veterans? Maybe. Trump voter? Hah!

5) Note that two of the invited speakers are of recent African descent, presumably either immigrants themselves are the children of immigrants from places like Ghana and Nigeria. Nothing wrong with immigrants, of course! But am I the only one reminded of the ADOS movement:

A spirited debate is playing out in black communities across America over the degree to which identity ought to be defined by African heritage — or whether ancestral links to slavery are what should count most of all.

Tensions between black Americans who descended from slavery and black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean are not new, but a group of online agitators is trying to turn those disagreements into a political movement.

They want colleges, employers and the federal government to prioritize black Americans whose ancestors toiled in bondage, and they argue that affirmative action policies originally designed to help the descendants of slavery in America have largely been used to benefit other groups, including immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.

Sarah Jacobson couldn’t find any African-Americans whose ancestors were enslaved to speak at the conference?

6) What will this conference look like in 10 years? Again, honestly curious! Perhaps we could have predicted a few years ago that the ineluctable logic of the Diversity Regime would put pressure on an event which only preferenced women. (Alas, I did not predict this.) But then where will this logic lead us in the future?

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It may be a bit presumptuous to offer unsolicited advice about romance but since DDF did it in his annual post, I thought I would add my two cents. Some of the best advice in this area comes from Matt Damon’s character in “We bought a Zoo.”

You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

– Matt Damon, We Bought A Zoo

This is the advice Matt’s character gives to his son about approaching a girl that he likes. It reminds me a lot of the emotions I had as a young man in the dating arena. I never really mustered the 20 seconds of courage while at Williams. If I hadn’t found it the year after graduation and ended up with the best woman in the world, that lack of courage at Williams would be one of my biggest regrets.

Here is hoping you find the courage at the right time to change your life for the better!

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…unless you want a job in software engineering, might want to major in CS, or are genuinely just interested in computer science.

But wait, you might ask! What other reasons are there?

I’m thinking about the comments I’ve seen on here (and other places!), largely from people a generation or two above mine, saying that “you need to have a solid understanding of computers,” and that “employers want to see that you know a little bit about programming,” so therefore everyone should take CS 134.

To me–a CS grad currently working in tech–this is about the same as saying “employers want to see you know how to write, so you have to take a 300-level tutorial in philosophy.” The initial statement is true–it is very important to understand computers and a bit of programming, and it is important to know how to write,” but just as a 300-level philosophy tutorial won’t be appropriate for every student and certainly isn’t necessary in achieving that goal, nor is it the only or even best way to achieve it.

Yet so many people believe that taking intro to CS is absolutely critical that hundreds and hundreds of students sign up for CS 134 (Intro to Computer Science, for those who don’t know). Looking at the CS course availabilities for this upcoming semester is absolutely bonkers: there are 3 lectures with a limit of 90 students each for 270 students total in intro CS during the spring 2020 semester, with a corresponding 6 lab sections of 18 students each (…is it just me, or does the math not add up there?)

Looking quickly through other departments, I can’t find any other intro course this semester that is in quite so heavy demand. Econ 110 is 3 sections limit 40 = 120 students. Stats 101 is 2 sections limit 50 = 100 students. Psych 101 has no limit but expects 160. Semester two of intro to Art History is cancelled (…wait, what? anyone know more about that?)

Having been a TA for CS 134 only a few semesters ago, I can say with a good amount of confidence that a lot of the students in 134 did not need to be there, and regretted it.

I’m obviously not talking about the students who really think they want to major in CS, or who want to be “employable” in the sense that they really think they might want a career in software development, or even those who are just vaguely interested in mathy stuff and thought CS might be fun–or even those who weren’t sure what they were getting into, but who, in the spirit of the liberal arts, thought they’d try out something totally foreign to them. (I was one of the latter kind of students who signed up for CS 134, and look at me now!)

I’m talking about those who’ve been told how critical CS is to “the workforce,” who sign up for a CS class because they feel like they should and they feel like it’ll make them more “employable,” and for no other reason.

You know what they find out? That CS is a lot more about the science of computers than it is about the hot things like app development and startups and web design and big data. Certainly, you won’t touch on those things in CS 134. 134 is about building a theoretical and practical foundation for CS–so you’re learning about things like object oriented abstractions, and recursion, and the basics of data structures, and the underlying mechanics of computers. I, and many others, found those things incredibly fascinating and went on to study them in a whole lot more depth. Many of the students I TA’d found them totally pointless and not at all “useful” towards whatever they were hoping to get out of a CS class, because they didn’t understand what a CS class actually was.

I absolutely love CS, but please–if you’re just taking it because you feel like you “should,” because some older folks tell you that you need to “know computers,” you might end up really regretting it.

(What should you do instead to “know computers” and increase your “employability”? Well, there are tons of things, but I swear that if I’ve learned anything from entering the workforce, it’s that no matter what industry you go into, holy shit is knowing Excel helpful. Even just knowing a few basic commands and formulas and, oh boy, macros??? is enough to convince everyone that you are an absolute master of computers. There, just saved you the misery of getting through CS 134 if you went into it for employability.)

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The College announced yesterday that 7 faculty members had been awarded tenure:

Michelle Apotsos, art;

Corinna Campbell, music;

Charles Doret, physics;

Susan Godlonton, economics;

Leo Goldmakher, mathematics;

Pamela Harris, mathematics;

Greg Phelan, economics

Being awarded tenure as a faculty member at any U.S. college or university is quite an achievement.  It is even more impressive at a place like Williams.  Kudos to each of the new tenured faculty.

In browsing through the individual links above, I noticed an interesting mix of backgrounds for newly tenured professors, including one born in South Africa, a Mexican-American mathematician, and an economics professor who spent three years as a proprietary trader for D.E. Shaw LLC.  Also, Prof. Doret is a Williams grad (Class of 2002).  I’m hopeful that this group will bring an good mixture of thoughts and perspectives to the Williams community during their (hopefully long) time in the Purple Valley.

Have any readers had any of these Professors, or know anything about them?

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What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are blessed to know now. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make magna cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 32 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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I really liked my post last week: Holiday Feelings and Fond Memories. I was hoping that it might inspire some great stories about Williams Professors. Also, I was hoping to get an answer to the question: Do Williams Professors still line up “outside” the West College Gate and applaud the graduates as they walk through?

Unfortunately, the only response I got was about how one fails out of Williams.

Therefore, I am posting last week’s post again and hoping to hear some wonderful stories.

I would like to return to the warmth of the holiday spirit and expand on my recent post, “One of the best things about Williams…” I wanted to share a favorite memory of a beloved professor: It was my graduation day, a day that was not always guaranteed to occur for me. As we walked through the gates by West College, the professors lined the walk and applauded us.* I was humbly making my way through the parallel lines when Professor Mac Brown sought me out and shook my hand. I had taken many classes from Professor Brown and he had seen me at my worst and at my best as a student. The fact that he made the effort to find me and shake my hand meant more than I can convey. It is a memory that I cherish to this day.

What memory of a professor do you cherish to this day?

*Does this (unbelievable) tradition still occur?

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As students enjoy the last few days of winter break before returning to campus for winter study, I’m curious: what were all of your favorite parts of winter study?

I generally enjoyed the classes I took. In particular, I loved the one travel course I took, because how could I not? It was fully paid for by the college–which was a major reason I signed up for that one in particular, since I didn’t feel economically able to do many of the others, even after financial aid would help. But, for some reason, the college was offering this course for the low price of $0, so I couldn’t not try to get in. The fact that it was a course in a tropical location during the month of January was a pretty great bonus, too. Educationally, I’d say it was only moderately successful–I wouldn’t say I got much out of it as far as the stated purpose of the course went, and that I more benefitted from just the opportunities to go to places and meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise, which is more of a general travel benefit than a course benefit, but, again–free.

As far as my on-campus classes went, I definitely got something valuable out of them: all were artistic and skills-based, so even if I didn’t always love the classes themselves, I appreciate the skills I got out of them.

My favorite part of winter study was probably the fact that my main extracurricular group was very active during winter study. We put on big events and shows over winter study, and had the time and capacity to host parties and get-togethers, as well. Planning those sorts of events with my favorite people on campus probably makes up many of my favorite memories of winter study.

I realize now that this post is pretty vague, only because I am a recent grad and the exact courses and groups I was in are fairly self-identifying for some students who might be on campus now. But, for those who are willing to be more liberal with sharing their experience, I’d love to hear: what are your favorite experiences and memories from winter study?

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  Like most (I think) Williams students, I have never been in Williamstown for New Year’s Eve.  The dorms were almost always closed over the holiday break.  I wonder what kinds of public activities (if any) there are.  Can any local Ephs tell us what is fun to do to ring in the New Year in Williamstown?

I saw that the Williams Inn has a New Year’s Eve package.  Could be fun, I suppose.  Has anyone eaten at the The Barn Kitchen & Bar? The menu looks decent.  Here is the description of the package:

There’s nothing better than ringing in the New Year in the Berkshires! The Williams Inn is offering the ideal getaway for those looking to start 2020 in a relaxing and refreshed way. This package includes a 3-course prix fixe dinner for two at The Barn Kitchen & Bar, an in-room sound machine for a good night’s sleep, breakfast for two at The Barn Kitchen & Bar, and late checkout to allow for a relaxing morning at the inn.

Is the Williams Inn so noisy that a sound machine is necessary to sleep?  That is surprising to me, but maybe it shouldn’t be.

Happy New Year to all Ephs and EphBlog readers!  Best wishes for 2020!

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abl writes:

I’m going to add my voice to all of the calls to please keep JCD out of this. There is room for interesting and important discussion on these points. Invoking (summoning?) JCD into the discussion is not a productive first step towards reaching any greater understanding of these issues. Nor, especially, is demanding that some of our most thoughtful contributors apologize to JCD over points that they have made in the past that are only indirectly implicated by this discussion–and definitely do not require apologies. JCD leaving this blog was one of the best things to happen to it in recent times; please do not drag him back in.

Is there no spirit of Christian forgiveness among the EphBlog community? Must we be defined by our sins forevermore?

My purpose is not to defend everything that JCD has ever done or said. I disagree with much of it. Some of his statement/actions in the past have been, as the kids say today, “problematic.”

But I believe in redemption, in forgiveness, in the possibility of rebirth for every Eph, no matter the sins of their past. Do you?

And I like to think that that faith has been justified, at least in the case of JCD. After joining EphBlog as an author, he authored several posts, each with a direct connection to Williams. Each is a perfect example of what we need more of at EphBlog. I don’t agree with every word, but that is all to the good! And, if you think JCD focuses too much on Williams mentions in the conservative media, then step up and write some posts about Williams mentions from the other side of the media aisle.

JCD, being a good person, has voluntarily taken a break from EphBlog for 6 months. Is EphBlog a better or worse place without him?

David, you need to work on tempering what seems to be an innate desire for controversy.

A majority of the (smart! hard-working!) people in Hopkins Hall would define “controversy” as any negative news story about Williams. Is that your definition? Do you not think that I should write about, say, athletic admissions, Bernard Moore, sexual assault or any of the dozen topics that Williams, as an institution, would rather were never discussed? I hope not!

I suspect, however, that you like — or at least don’t object to — my posts on those topics. That sort of “controversy” is fine for you. Indeed, this is one of, perhaps even the main, reason that you read and contribute to EphBlog. Cool!

Instead, what you mean is that my “innate desire for controversy” is fine if I write about controversies you are interested in but less fine if I write about other sorts of controversies. Or am I being unfair?

You have a good nose for Williams-related issues and, combined with your focus on and commitment to the College, you can make a real contribution to the college community. Ephblog often comes close to being a really wonderful resource for both Williams alums and those interested in the college more generally (like PTC).

“Comes close?” Compared to what? Your Platonic ideal of the perfect college blog? Does any such creature exist in this fallen world?

EphBlog is the best college blog in the world. (If you disagree, suggest one that is better.)

But you continually shoot yourself in the foot by taking things just one step too far or by making points inflammatory that really shouldn’t be.

One Eph’s “inflammatory” is another Eph’s “punchy writing.”

This is a good example of this. You’ve done a nice job finding Professor Maroja’s blog and tying it into a broader discussion that is happening at Williams–one that has national relevance. And you’ve done a good job in recognizing that there are nuances to these issues that those on all sides of this gloss over–including Professor Maroja specifically.

Thanks! Compliments from discerning readers are always appreciated.

But you really stumble with your entirely unnecessary bit re JCD.

Perhaps. Mistakes will be made. Feedback is always welcome.

Ephblog could be a forum for intelligent like-minded individuals with an important shared connection to consider many important issues.

“Could be?” Again, compared to what? There is no more intelligent forum (devoted to a single institution of higher education) in the world. (Contrary pointers welcome.) Even something as excellent as Dartblog in its heyday never allowed comments.

Ephblog is at its worst when it devolves into trolling and troll-baiting.

Again, I have been yelled at (not an exaggeration!) by a trustee (in public!) about my posts on athletic admissions. He viewed any discussion of admissions advantages for athletes as “trolling,” although, back in 2007, I am sure he would have used different terminology.

I’d like to think that we, as a community of Williams alums, are better than that–but I’m not sure we always are. As the de facto (official?) leader of Ephblog, you can and should and do play a big role in setting the tone for these discussions. You do so many things so well in this regard, it’s infuriating when you just can’t resist adding some poke or snark at the end. So often the result is to derail what otherwise might be a thoughtful discussion of an important issue.

Point taken! I will aim to do better in the future. Happy New Year!

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I would like to return to the warmth of the holiday spirit and expand on my recent post, “One of the best things about Williams…” I wanted to share a favorite memory of a beloved professor: It was my graduation day, a day that was not always guaranteed to occur for me. As we walked through the gates by West College, the professors lined the walk and applauded us.* I was humbly making my way through the parallel lines when Professor Mac Brown sought me out and shook my hand. I had taken many classes from Professor Brown and he had seen me at my worst and at my best as a student. The fact that he made the effort to find me and shake my hand meant more than I can convey. It is a memory that I cherish to this day.

What memory of a professor do you cherish to this day?

*Does this (unbelievable) tradition still occur?

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Oren Cass ’05, the most important policy intellectual on the right (and the left?), writes in First Things:

So while liberals pursued ever-larger programs to stem the tide and continued to argue that ­redoubling their efforts would work where merely doubling them had not, conservatives arrived at different conclusions. Yes, material poverty is a problem. And certainly, the widespread racial discrimination in mid-twentieth-century America required redress. But what ultimately determines the success or failure of an individual, the strength of his family, the health of his community, comes down to people’s decisions. Dropping out of high school, dropping out of the labor force, having children outside of marriage, committing crimes, and abusing drugs and ­alcohol—those things matter much more than dollars and cents. And data show that these kinds of bad ­decisions have become more prevalent even as material well-being has improved. This leads to the conclusion that something else, something in people’s values and beliefs and thus their decision-making, must be the culprit.

Cass is of the right, and not the alt-right, because he never discusses genetics. “Committing crimes,” and almost everything else, is heavily influenced by your genes. Blood will tell. Does Cass not know about this literature? Does he really think that it all comes down to “values and beliefs?” Or does he know and disagree? Or does he agree and, yet, for reasons of prudence and cowardice, refuse to mention the role of genes in outcomes?

Perhaps mentioning the unmentionable is why we have EphBlog?!

Read the whole thing.

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grading

Merry Christmas to all! EphBlog hopes that the world is looking prettier to Ephs far and wide.

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I am with my wife’s family for Christmas Eve and Christmas. This will be the 27th year in a row that I have done this, more than half of my life.  Given that I went for the first 23 years of my life without ever really being involved in Christmas events (save for going to Midnight Mass one year at the Vatican with the Pope presiding) and spent many Christmas Day’s either skiing, going to the movies, or eating Chinese food (or some combination thereof), its been surprising to me how I have embraced the family traditions of wife’s family for this holiday.  There is the Christmas Eve meal shared with anywhere from 18-25 people, with a variation on the 12 fishes for dinner (we usually end up with lots of different shrimp dishes, lobster tails, and crab legs), and the opening of some gifts on Christmas Eve.  The reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and the reading of the family Christmas poem written by my wife (she has done it for almost 30 years, but we have copies of the poem going all the way back to 1969) are also a highlight.  In recent years, its also become a tradition to see one of my best friends from Williams at Christmas, as he comes to Long Island to be with his family as well.  Some years we’ve seen movies, and some years we have lunch.

What does this have to do with “All Things Eph”?  I can’t remember when I first started reading EphBlog.  My best guess is that it was sometime in the 2002-2004 time frame.  But over the years, it has become one of my traditions, and one of the ways I interact most regularly with other Ephs.  When I was asked to be a regular contributor this past year, I agreed not because I am a prolific blogger, but because I value the connection that EphBlog offers to the College, and I want it to thrive as a place for Ephs to meet and interact (ideally in a civil and interesting way).  It turns out that trying to blog on a regular basis (even once a week) is not easy.  It makes the effort that DDF and others have put in to Ephblog even more impressive.

In any event, best wishes to all Ephs and Ephblog readers for 2020 and beyond!  I am looking forward to continuing the conversation.

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Last week, I told the tale of the Ghost of EphBlog Past. Read that stave or continue no further. Today: A visit from the Ghost of EphBlog Present.

Touch my robe and away we go!

For anyone who remembers our humble beginning, the EphBlog of today is an amazing place. There were 187 posts in January 2010 by at least 18 different authors: Norman Birnbaum ’46, Dick Swart ’56, Jeff Thaler ’74, David Kane ’88, Derek Charles Catsam ’93, Ken Thomas ’93, Wendy Shalit ’97, Jeff Zeeman ’97, JG ’03, Rory ’03, Lowell Jacobson ’03, Ben Fleming ’04, Diana Davis ’07, Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07, Andrew Goldston ’09, Torrey Taussig ’10, tinydancer ’11 and PTC.

Also note these contributions from Williams officials: Wayne G. Hammond, librarian at the Chapin Library of Rare Books, an anonymous faculty member, Professor Gabriela Vainsenche, Tyng Administrator Jeff Thaler ’74 and Professor Peter Just. Note that all of these were just in January! If we looked at 2009 as a whole, we would find contributions from a dozen or more current Williams faculty/staff. We have even been retweeted by a trustee!

Several of our authors posted only once or twice during the month, but the diversity of contributions — including spectrum-spanning politics and a 65 year range of graduating classes — make EphBlog the most successful independent (alumni/student/parent) college website in the world. There were 2,388 comments during the month, from dozens of readers. None of the similar student/alumni blogs at Dartmouth, Middlebury, Amherst or Wesleyan come anywhere near this level of participation. Although readership is hard to measure, we had over 1,000 visitors a day in January, with at least 200 from the Williamstown area. Although the vast majority of students/faculty do not read EphBlog, many of those most concerned with the past, present and future of Williams as an institution do. I write for them, and for my father.

Alas, EphBlog is not without its critics. Consider this Williams professor:

But let’s look back over the last few weeks (or the last few years for that matter) and think about what DDF has been saying about Williams and the Williams faculty. We’re racists. We’re intolerant. We’re sleazy (indeed, any of you who know Bill Wagner will understand just how bizarre it is to use that adjective in connection to him). This list goes on and on and on, with depressing and debilitating regularity and continuity.

There is an ineluctable fact to all internet commentary: No matter how many wonderful things you write about a person, no matter how many things you both agree on, no matter how polite and open-minded you are in discussion, if you challenge someone’s deepest beliefs, they will often despise you.

And this is all the more true if you do so from the “inside.” I disagree with many professors and administrators about what is best for Williams. And that should be OK! Discussion and debate are at the heart of a Williams education. But because I do so with credentials of an elite education (Harvard Ph.D.) and Williams College insider (Winter Study adjunct instructor, knowledgeable alumni volunteer), I am a danger. And so is EphBlog.

And this is not just about one Williams professor, nor is it just about debates over financial aid policy. He is not an outlier. His opinion is common, even majority, among our faculty and administrator readership. They do not like EphBlog when it criticizes the College or its faculty. They do not like me. When they read a description of the College’s affirmative action policy or complaints about the lack of ideological diversity among the faculty, they see an unfair attack. I am accused of calling the Williams faculty “racists” or “intolerant,” when my only sin is to have a different view of policy at Williams from him and most of his faculty colleagues.

Yet the conflict between reform and stability, between outsider and insider, is as old as Williams itself. Henry Bass ’57 tells a story about Professor Robert Gaudino:

Knowing how radical Gaudino was, I knew early in the fall of ’55 there was only an amount of time, before there would be a public confrontation between Gaudino and President Baxter. Lively discussions of campus issues then took place in the new Baxter Hall. We did not have long to wait. I don’t remember what the argument was about. I do remember that it was quite heated and that Phinney soon showed signs of losing his temper. And acrimonious debates with the president of Williams did not happen in those days.

Nor today. What is most interesting about the complaint about me is how it conflates two criticisms of Williams: 1) Wagner is sleazy and 2) Wagner did a sleazy thing. We all agree that Bill Wagner is a good man and excellent professor. Indeed, he has been answering my questions (for publication on EphBlog) for many years. But even the very best Ephs among us occasionally do sleazy things. I am not without sin. Are you?

And, if EphBlog is not that place at which Williams students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff might come together to discuss College policy, then where is that place?

Gaudino is one of my two Williams heroes because he was not afraid to get in a public fight with the president of Williams. Nor am I.

What is especially annoying about these complaints is that they try to delegitimize the many voices of criticism at EphBlog by calling it “KaneBlog.” Ronit replies:

I think it’s nice that Will and Sam use the term Kaneblog to refer to this site, when Kane does not own the site, does not own the domain, does not own the server, does not run the site, does not have any kind of final editorial authority, and is not on the board. That is really fucking respectful to all the dozens of other commenters and authors who participate here and who have contributed to the site over the years. I’m glad the opinions of people like Henry Bass and Aidan Finley can be dismissed simply because they’re posted on EphBlog (I’m sorry, “KaneBlog”) and they happen to disagree with the latest sacred (purple?) cows.

Indeed. Yet note that the discussion that we have fostered at EphBlog for almost eight years includes more than just College policy. We also seek to engage in broader discussions, about both student life and alumni lives. Rory notes (correctly) that this makes me and other EphBlog authors unusual:

i still find it weird that an alum from the 80s reads wso posts. … I doubt any of the many professors I interact with at Williams and at my current institution read forums like wso. they certainly don’t copy and paste from them.

The difference between Rory’s friends on the Williams faculty and me — and the many other EphBlog authors, alumni and students both, who quote from WSO — is that we care about the opinions of Williams undergraduates. They, judging from Rory’s testimony, do not or, at least, they only care about those opinions when they are paid to, in the context of either classroom discussion or papers assigned for a Williams course.

And that is OK! My point here is not to criticize or praise the choices made by individual Williams faculty members. I just want to make clear that I seek to intellectually engage with Williams undergraduates. The first step in doing so is to consider their arguments and observations, to read their prose, to comment on their ideas, to present them with my own positions. The electronic log has room for all of us.

Jeff writes:

But I think students are perfectly capable of finding their own ways when it comes to their day-to-day lives in college. Indeed, I find it ironic that you find it so troubling (and I agree) when the administration tries to entangle itself too intimately in arenas best reserved for students to find their own way (and even occasionally screw up, as 19 year olds are prone to doing), yet you seem perfectly willing to insert yourself in much the same fashion.

Indeed. Key here is the meaning of “insert.” Consider the second of my Williams heroes, David Dudley Field, class of 1825, and, in the words of Williams professor Fred Rudolph ’39, a “instrument of interference” in the affairs of the College.

Field is the patron saint of alumni trouble-makers, an Eph who believed that “The only men who make any lasting impression on the world are fighters.” As a student, he was thrown out of Williams over a dispute with the faculty. As an alum, he led the way, both in fund-raising for Williams and in inserting himself into college affairs. (See this overview on the Field family (pdf) by Russ Carpenter ’54.) Field argued passionately that Williams should require military drills of all students during the Civil War, admit women and abolish fraternities. He won some of those battles, lost others and was vindicated by history on the most important questions. He inserted himself in the debate over the future of Williams 150 years ago just as I, and other EphBlog authors, do today.

Although Gaudino and Dudley are no longer with us, I feel certain that they are looking down on EphBlog and smiling. We are an agent of interference, engaged in public confrontation and acrimonious debates about what is best for Williams.

Would a Williams professor in the tradition of Gaudino and Dudley have it any other way?

Originally published in 2010.

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Dear college community,

I write to share recent developments from the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI) and the Davis Center. I will follow this message up with more details early in the new year.

This fall, OIDEI and the Davis Center have continued working on updating our vision. To support our vision, the Davis Center will lead our campus efforts to build inclusive learning and living environments, where all students, staff and faculty can thrive and feel a strong sense of belonging. We have also begun implementing changes to help prepare the Center for this expanded role, in sync with the planning phase of our Davis Center building project; the Committee on Diversity and Community’s multi-year study of classroom climate; college-wide strategic planning efforts relating to DEI; and the appointment of two Assistant Vice Presidents to support this work.

We’re now searching for a new Davis Center director, a program coordinator, and a dialogue facilitator as part of our plan. The dialogue facilitator (a new position) will work with colleagues to introduce and integrate restorative practices on campus. The overall restructuring, along with the advent of new staff, also requires us to rethink how existing positions are defined. I’ve already met with the current OIDEI and Center staff to discuss the possibilities and will continue working with them throughout the process.

During this time of change for OIDEI and the Davis Center, as we work to make Williams as inclusive as it can be, we’re grateful for the deep investment many of you feel in OIDEI and the Davis Center. I hope you’ll take every available opportunity to meet with the Davis Center building project architects, to share our job postings with promising candidates, and to support our work and Williams. My door is always open, too. I welcome your continued partnership in these endeavors.

Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’99
Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

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Useful Twitter thread about the Chad Topaz brouhaha.

From the American Council of Trustees and Alumni: “ACTA President Michael Poliakoff wrote an op-ed in Forbes titled ‘Can Storied Williams College Be Saved From Itself?‘ which commented on the erosion of reasoned discourse at the elite liberal arts college. An individual reached out with thoughtful questions about the piece, and agreed to let ACTA anonymously publish their email exchange with Dr. Poliakoff.”

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Here is the holiday message from the new President at USC.

To be honest, I think it is better than Maud’s. Of course, Williams’ marching band can’t really compete with USC’s. But as ABL says, I think both are “nice.”

Which one do you like better?

BTW – I received the one from Maud, so my guess is every alum got it.

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From the New York Times:

President Trump plans to sign an executive order on Wednesday targeting what he sees as anti-Semitism on college campuses by threatening to withhold federal money from educational institutions that fail to combat discrimination, three administration officials said on Tuesday.

The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students. In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — or B.D.S. — movement against Israel has roiled some campuses, leaving some Jewish students feeling unwelcome or attacked.

The move was part of a broader campaign by Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and her civil rights chief, Kenneth L. Marcus, to go after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education.

Will this matter at Williams? I don’t think so, but informed commentary is always welcome.

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Maud sent me (and every other class agent? every alum? every Eph including students/staff/faculty?) this card:

In the e-mail, the card is animated and features Maud’s signature at the bottom. Sadly, I could not recreate those effects in this post. Comments:

1) Have Williams presidents traditionally sent out such e-mails? I assume that they have, but I can’t recall any specifics. We should gather some up!

2) The card does not mention “Christmas,” which I assume has been the case for 20 years or more. (Indeed, it is almost a quarter century since Williams had a non-Jewish president.) When was the last time “Christmas” appeared on such card?

3) This card does not even mention “Happy Holidays,” which is the traditional replacement on such institutional communications for the older “Merry Christmas.” Is that intentional? Happy Holidays was (is?) considered more inclusive since it encompasses both Christians/Christmas and Jews/Hanukah. But other faiths do not have (major?) holidays in late December. So, is “Happy Holidays” now considered rude? Honest question!

4) “Happy New Year” is no more controversial today than “Merry Christmas” was 50 years ago. Will that always be true? Other people have their own traditions for when the new year starts. Will our desire to avoid offense cause us to remove/replace this traditional greeting? I assume not. The Western calendar is so universal that Williams presidents will continue to write “Happy New Year” for decades to come.

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