Ahha! I knew that if I ranted long enough about a large enough variety of topics, someone, somewhere would respond. And, sure enough, George Tolley has risen to the occasion. George writes:

Oh, Dave. I take issue with the recent comments you make here and here regarding Williams’ “success” as an institution (which on one level, I imagine, is precisely the effect you seek).

You are concerned about Williams measuring success “by ethnic box-checking.” However, you also consider “relative yield” to be a valid measure of Williams’ success. These are not compatible positions.

First, I agree that relative yield might be a good yardstick by which to measure Williams as an institution — although I dislike the emphasis that you seem to place on that statistic (it appears that you’d stake the success or failure of Morty’s tenure as College President on his ability to increase that lone statistic — insert your favorite Enron/stock price analogy here). Any measure of the success or failure of an institution as complex as a college must be multivariate, so as to take into account the multitude of educational and other goals commonly found within any entering freshman class, and I’m not convinced that relative yield adequately captures that
complexity (but it’s a nice measure).

Also, using relative yield as a measure of success requires certain assumptions about a competitive marketplace and rational decisionmaking which do not actually apply to the market for higher education in America. Barriers to entry into the marketplace reduce the incentive for colleges to innovate, and frankly, there is the dubious rationality of the decisionmaking of high school seniors, whose motives in selecting a college certainly do not match those that an almost forty-something parent might attribute to them. Also, “it helps to be rich, connected and/or famous.”

Nevertheless, I also submit to you that increasing the diversity of the student body contributes to an increase in relative yield — I can’t prove that, but I would cite the arguments in the much-publicized (and yet-to-be-decided) University of Michigan admissions cases, including the argument of the U.S. military in favor of considering race in admissions — you don’t take issue with the position of the military, do you Dave?

If a diverse student body is a priori an asset in higher education, then it follows “ethnic box-checking” or whatever you want to call it logically will increase relative yield, given a rational market for college admissions — all other things being equal, entering freshmen will choose a diverse school over a non-diverse school, so that they can grow up to be better businesspeople, soldiers, or whatever.

Additionally, I do not see why the test of Williams’ success as an institution cannot be whether a student is “a better writer, clearer thinker, happier person, more comfortable with diversity or whatever than she was 4 years ago.” I am confident that, if the senior class has a high rate of its members who meet that criterion, then Morty can consider it a success. Maybe not a competitive success — which is the difference — but these achievements cannot be presumed (as you imply), and the role of the College in making them happen in the lives of its students should not be disregarded (besides, assuming perfect information in the market, the better
that the school is at reaching 100%, the higher ts relative yield, right?).

But enough about that. I’m late for happy hour, and I really wanted to write so that I can claim my prize (see attached). The photo is somewhat out of date, but it’s the best I can do at the moment.

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