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The Wall Street Journal had

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on Friday about how successful students from various undergraduate colleges are at getting into “elite” graduate programs. Their summary measure is a “Feeder Score” — basically the percentage of an undergraduate class that ended up in an elite program. For Williams, the percentage was 9%, or 47 attendees out of a class size of 519. The key table rated Williams as the 5th best school in the country, with Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford in spots 1-4. Amherst and Swarthmore were 9 and 10.

Of course, as the authors note, this is a flawed measure on at least two levels.

1) A high school senior deciding between Williams and Princeton wants to know how her chances of getting into, say, Harvard Medical School, are effected by her choice of undergraduate college. This is a very hard question to answer.

2) The WSJ Feeder Score doesn’t control for the number of applicants from a particular school. It could be that every students from Williams that applies to an elite school gets in, or it could be that everyone applies and only a few get in. As a current Williams student, you care about your chances. Note that the reported numbers are further clouded by differential rates of enrollment. It could be that students from Williams and Princeton are equally likely to get in to Harvard Med, but that Princeton students are more likely to enroll if admitted.

But, it is always nice to see Williams near the top of a list like this. If we assume that Williams students are no more or less likely to apply to elite graduate schools (and to matriculate if admitted) than their peers at Amherst and Swarthmore, then Williams higher ranking has some real meaning. Whether this might be because of superior process at Williams (better teaching; good graduate school advising) or superior inputs to Williams (smarter, more ambitious students) is a topic for another day.


For those interested in athletics

For those interested in athletics at Williams, the “Striving for Balance in NESCAC” article in the Portland Press Herald is a must read. Highlights included:

To build a competitive program, everything really starts in the admission office. That’s one of the reasons Williams College, one of the top Division III programs in the region, has been so successful year after year.

“Athletics are important, but that’s not why people come here,” Williams Coach Dick Farley said. “But we do admit certain kids that otherwise would not get in if they didn’t play football.”

So what you will about Coach Farley, but he tells it like it is. This honesty is positively refreshing when compared with some of the boilerplate on this topic that the College occasionally provides for alumni consumption.

Success on the football field in the NESCAC is influenced by how much preferential treatment is given to prospective football players by admission departments. Williams, Amherst and Wesleyan, known as the Little Three, made a pact that allows them to admit 14 football players a year who don’t meet the general admission requirements. The SAT range for students at Williams is 1,320-1,510, but football players can have a score 100 points lower than the general student population, said Farley.

When those 14 exceptions are added to the exceptions made for children of alumni and minority students, Williams ends up with a diverse and well-rounded campus community and a pretty good football team.

So, out of the 65 tips that Williams had last year, 14 were for the football team. The article does not make it clear if minority/alumni applicants count toward these 14 slots.

Lippert [Colby’s senior quarterback] said it’s hard to understand why schools with academic reputations as good as Williams and Amherst can admit student-athletes who don’t get into Colby.

“We’ve had guys who come here on recruiting trips saying this is their first choice and they don’t get in,” said Lippert. “The next time we see them is when we’re shaking hands on Saturday after a game. Somehow the borderline players are getting in there. It makes people wonder.”

It sure does!


The Williams Blog gets results!

The Williams Blog gets results! At least, that is the claim of long time reader David H.T. Kane ’58:

Morty to Alumni Office–“Get someone on this Kane guy, Class of ’88.”

Blog, Thursday September 25: “With some help from Teresa Lucia in the alumni office, I can now say that Williams does a pretty good job of being transparent.”

The Blog is read in the Big Apple. Take a look at NYTimes editorial this morning on class spots to athletes at elite colleges, “Choosing Athletes Over Students”.

Alas, Teresa Lucia’s help was probably independent of Morty. I just called the number listed here. The Times editorial is worth reading in its entirety.

Swarthmore College is known more for classics studies than athletics. Its football team once lost 28 straight games. But when Swarthmore scrapped its football program, it did so not because of its record. The problem was that too many places at the 1,400-student college were set aside for athletes. Swarthmore feared that building a competitive football team would make it necessary to turn away too many would-be scholars in fields like humanities.

Elite colleges are largely free of the payoffs and scandals that dominate big sports-driven universities. But there is evidence that they, too, have been seduced by the belief that they need winning sports teams, no matter the cost. A new book, “Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values,” by William Bowen and Sarah Levin, argues that Ivy League and other elite colleges are setting aside too many seats for athletes — and giving coaches too much power in admissions.

This arrangement is hard to justify. Students who are accepted into the elite colleges because of their athletic prowess arrive on campus with lower SAT scores than walk-ons, players who were not recruited. The gap never disappears between recruited students and walk-ons throughout college. These trends are troubling enough at mega-universities, where athletes are a tiny fraction of the student body. But they are cause for concern at small colleges, where the Bowen-Levin book counted a quarter of the men and a fifth of the women on campus as athletes, more than half of them recruits.

Too many of the nation’s large universities spend huge amounts of money in pursuit of a winning sports season. It is discouraging to see the elite schools going in the same direction. Piecemeal reform, however, is doomed to failure. The only plausible solution is for regions and athletic conferences to adopt new, more sensible policies.

For Williams, however, there is another plausible solution: End the practice of “tips” — extreme preferential treatment given to coach-designated athletes — for 5 years and see what happens. Note:

1) Because of its incredible athletic performance, Williams is less in need of tips than any of its peers. Although losing tips might — might! — cause Williams to not win the Directors Cup, it is hard to believe that Williams teams would not still do very well.

2) Removing tips in not way diminishes the aggregate amount of athletics at Williams. There would be the same number of soccer games and swimming meets. The only change (besides, presumably, a decrease in the number of victories) would be that a different set of students would get to participate.

3) Williams styles itself a leader in elite undergraduate education. This issue allows Williams to demonstrate that leadership.


The big event on campus

The big event on campus today (currently highlighted on the main web page) was a talk by Joseph Ellis. The College news release reported:

Joseph Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” will speak at Williams College on Thursday, Sept. 25. His talk on “Assessing the Founders,” is scheduled for 8 p.m. in Griffin Hall, room 3.

Ellis, who is a professor of history at Mt. Holyoke College, is known for discussing the American Revolution on a more personal level than is found in many other sources. His well known book, “Founding Brothers,” addresses several pivotal but unpublicized moments in early American history.

Ellis was educated at the College of William and Mary and Yale University. He taught at Yale and West Point before coming to Mount Holyoke in 1972, where he served as dean of the faculty from 1980-90.

I find this situation to be somewhat sleazy. Although Ellis is a Pulitzer Prize winner, his more recent claim to fame involves the controversy over his lies to his students. As Lance Morrow puts it in Time Magazine:

Why did Joe Ellis make up the stories about himself that he has apparently been telling to his students at Mount Holyoke — about his service in Vietnam on General William Westmoreland’s staff, about his work in the civil rights movement in the sixties, even about scoring the winning touchdown in a crucial game for our alma mater, Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C.?

No: Ellis’ lies were simply a disgraceful — and disgracefully stupid –business that betrayed his duty as a teacher and wrecked his intellectual credibility.

What message does Williams send to its students (and faculty and alumni) when it invites speakers who have, repeatedly and brazenly, lied in an academic setting? Was there no other (honest) historian available to make the trip to Williamstown? I realize that Ellis is a celebrity and that, by all accounts, he is a fine historian, but to give him an honor (or am I too old fashioned in thinking that being invited to speak at Williams is an honor?) like this so soon after his transgressions is unseemly. Maybe 10 years from now things would be different, but, right now, his lies are barely cold.

To add insult to injury, Ellis probably received an honorarium (read: speaker’s fee) for his talk. I will try to determine if he did so and, if so, what the amount was.

Your alumni donations (or tuition payments) at work . . .


Phil Culhane asked a few

Phil Culhane asked a few days ago “Is Williams transparent enough with its stake holders (alum donors) as to its finances?” With some help from Teresa Lucia in the alumni office, I can now say that Williams does a pretty good job of being transparent. She provided a hard copy of “A Report for Williams: 2001-2002″ which looks like it got sent to all alumni, although I can’t recall getting a copy.

Most importantly, for Phil’s question, it includes a two page summary of the College’s operating budget and trends therein. I haven’t been able to locate a copy on-line, but will see if I can scrounge one up. Perhaps the key statistic is that the college’s operating budget increased at an 8% annual rate from 1999-2002. There are many businesses that wish their budgets were going up at this rate. Of course, to even think about the College as a business raises all sorts of complex questions (e.g., given the huge demand for places in an entering class, why doesn’t the College raise prices (read: tuition)) that will be a topic for another day.


On today’s calendar, there is

On today’s calendar, there is a listing for an 8:00 PM discussion on affirmative action. The blurb says:

The panelists are: President Morton Schapiro, Provost Cappy Hill, Dick Nesbbitt, director of admissions, and Nancy McIntire, Assistant to the President for Affirmative Action. Come to discuss and ask administrators questions about the affirmative action policy in admissions and in faculty hiring at Williams, and the potential for these policies to change in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gratz v. Bollinger this summer.

Today’s Record also has an article on the forum. The Record notes that:

“The main goal of this forum is to clarify any questions about the policy of this school on affirmative action and related issues, such as [campus] diversity,” said Chin Ho ’04, CC co-president. Mike Henry ’04, co-president of CC, also added that the community forum is a place where students can ask administrators questions about issues related to affirmative action. Henry hopes it fosters “healthy dialogue.”

What questions would I (having put on my trouble-maker’s hat) ask if I were there? Hmmmmm.

The Provost’s office provides a handy breakdown of First Year students by race. It claims that there are, for example, 47 “Hispanic” and 359 “White, non-Hispanic” First Years. There are 0 students in the “Race/ethnicity unknown” category.

1) If my daughter (with one parent of Irish/German ancestry and one of Chinese ancestry) were a First Year, how would she be classified?

2) On the Williams application, providing one’s race is optional. On the diversity section of the admissions web site, there is a note stating that students may identify themselves as being of “mixed racial heritage.” Given this, how is it possible that the Provost knows the race/ethnicity of every single first year?

3) What percentage of First Years are Jewish? What percentage are Catholic? Given the reasoning in the Supreme Court’s opinion (diversity of student background improves everyone’s education), it would seem to be just as important to know these sorts of statistics as it is to know that 8.8% of the class is “Asian or Pacific Islander.”

And that would probably be about enough. To be truthful, I have a pretty good idea what the answers to the first two questions would be. (My daughter would get to classify herself however she wanted to and the Provost puts everyone who does not classify themselves into one of her boxes into the “White, non-Hispanic” category.) But, I could be wrong.

Moreover, one way to challenge Williams current policy on affirmative action is to point out its absurdities. My daughters have friends (blond hair) that are 1/4 Asian and are as (un)connected to Asian culture as I am to German culture. Should Williams really count applicants like this as being potential “students of color”? Should Williams really fail to keep track of the students (conservative, traditional Jews and Catholics) who would truly add to the cultural diversity of student life?


Jocelyn Shadforth ’88 had these

Jocelyn Shadforth ’88 had these comments on the Mellon research discussed a few days ago:

Aside from the trustworthiness of Mellon research, I thought the NYT article was notable in that it didn’t focus on Williams, but simply lumped it in with other elite schools. I sometimes think that the campus community spends so much time worrying about these issues, that papers like the Times, the Chronicle, etc. end up doing “in-depth” pieces that make it sound as if Williams is atop the top 10 party school list. Don’t get me wrong; I was a bit stunned this morning to see that athletes’ chances of admissions improve fourfold. (Believe me, if I ever have kids, I won’t rely on legacy status. They’re going out for everything involving a ball, racquet, and perspiration.) I just wonder sometimes if there isn’t an awful lot of hand-wringing going on without a whole lot of perspective, and that’s coming from the very antithesis of a college-athlete.


1) To the extent that one wants to use athletics to improve the odds in the Williams admissions process, it is important to think about which sports. Of course, if my daughters are Olympic caliber athletes, the sport that they play would be largely irrelevant. But, since they are not, the sport does matter. What to do? Best would probably be to specialize and squash and ice hockey. Both sports are expensive and regional. There would be many fewer competitors for those all important spots on the “tips” list than there would be in soccer and swimming. Both squash and (especially) ice hockey have largish teams. Also, playing three sports pretty well doesn’t help you in Williams admissions. Playing one sport really well does.

2) While we at the Williams Blog hate to spend our time hand-wringing, the issue of athletics at Williams is a concern. Note Bowen and Levin’s comments on the zero sum nature of competition for athletic teams:

Recruiting large numbers of athletes not only claims places in the entering class, it also results in greatly diminished opportunities for other athletically interested (and talented) students to play on intercollegiate teams.

I have never seen this point — if a “tip” gets to play quarterback for the football or goalie for the field hockey then someone else, perhaps someone who got into Williams on his/her academic credentials, does not — acknowledged by anyone in authority at Williams. In fact, what you generally see is something along the lines of “winning teams are more fun to play on than losing teams.” This is true, perhaps, but I would rather play on an 8-8 team than ride the bench on a 10-1 much less watch from the sidelines for a national champion.


Phil Culhane ’88, while resisting

Phil Culhane ’88, while resisting my entreaties to join the blog, sends in this comment:

If there is a dead moment in blog correspondence, how about the following question(s):

Does Williams need more money? If so, why? Could Williams achieve its current goals without an additional 400 million? Is Williams transparent enough with its stake holders (alum donors) as to its finances? I don’t know the answers, am on the fence a bit — but I do know that Williams competes for charity dollars in my house against institutions far less well endowed and I would like more from the school on “why give?”


1) There are many questions here. As always, your answers are solicited. (Yes, we realize that the blog needs a comments section, but our current (low) level of technical competence does not make that an simple task.)

2) In terms of “transparency,” I would say that Williams (financially) is almost completely opaque. I am unaware of any source (and I have spent time looking) that provides Williams budget, for example. A fair amount of information is provided about the endowment, however.

3) There are some dimensions on which Williams does a very good job of providing information to its stakeholders. The admissions office, for example, provides a pretty good overview. See here for some recent data. And, in terms of how the Eph teams are doing, there is a wealth of information.



One of the long term goals of the Williams Blog is to provide a (virtual) location at which alumni and undergraduates might interact. Perhaps one mechanism for doing so would be the tutorial system. Of course, the tutorial system is designed for a professor and two students, but what if it were possible for interested alumni to kibitz on this intimate setting?

Philosophy Professor Alan White and some of his students in PHIL 390T: Truth have kindly volunteered to give this idea a try. (Note that the “T” in “390T” stands for tutorial.)

Those interested in giving this a try might want to read the following outline, provided by Professor White to students in the class as well as to us, on the “coherence” theory of truth.

(1) Truth has a nature (consists in something or other).

[Being water consists in (1) being a colorless liquid we drink (concept), (2) being H20 (property)]

[Being red consists in (1) looking red under appropriate conditions (concept), (2) reflecting specified wavelengths, etc. (property)]

(2) The only candidates for what truth can consist in are correspondence and coherence (146)

“deflationists and their opponents” are, according to Walker, concerned not with what truth consists in, but with the use of the truth term (146) [although note: those who claim that truth is not a property – that the truth term does something other than name a property – will argue that it makes no more sense to ask what truth consists in than to ask what “of” consists in. So we might rephrase Walker’s claim as: if truth consists in anything, the only things it can consist in are correspondence and coherence].

(3) Various traditional arguments against coherence theories don’t work (II) [possible topic for part of paper: try to strengthen one or more of these arguments]

(4) Truth cannot consist in coherence (the pure coherence theory can’t work). (147-49) [An argument I’m having trouble pinning down as well as I’d like to, but extremely important to Walker’s overall claim. Dave — this is what I’ve attached]

(5) We therefore have to accept correspondence as being what the truth of at least some truth-bearers (propositions, beliefs, or some such) consist in.

(6) We therefore have to accept all the problems arising from correspondence to an independent reality (155) [Whether Walker gets this or not depends on just what argument (3) is supposed to be.]

Those interested coming along for the ride should start with a few of the pages from a reading for the tutorial. This sets the stage for reading a paper by Ben Roth, a senior philosophy major, responding to the article.


Phil Culhane sent in some

Phil Culhane sent in some more thoughts on ARTH 101/102:

I am with Mark; he displays solomonic wisdom on the topic of Art Hist 101/102. Here’s a thought (on a tired Thursday afternoon): sometimes a large lecture hall filled with other students all listening to the same lecture is inspiring–the collective, the group, present, maybe bearing witness, if the lecturer, the material, is good, to something important. No reason a college can’t have room for such a thing (in addition to the famous professor and student see-sawing on a log).

It isn’t that inspiring lectures are a bad thing, but having 7% of Williams classes being large lectures is a bad thing. Moreover, there is a bit of a conflict between large-lecture-as-inspirational and large-lecture-as-restful-veg-out-time — a previously noted benefit of ARTH 101/102.

In your notes to Mark’s missive you mention the idea of maximizing educational value. I forgot to take Econ–who determines maximum value in this context? Isn’t it the student? The consumer of the class? I wouldn’t have taken Art Hist 101/102 as a small discussion class. There would probably have been too much discussion about too few things–too much teaching, from only a few samples, of the methodology of how to talk about “art.” Me, at the time, I wanted lots of art, not lots of discussion.

Far and away the most important judge of the value of a class is the student. But students are not perfect judges. I, personally, was only an adequate judge. There were some classes that, at the time, I thought were quite poor which now, in retrospect, I think of as quite good.

More importantly, the way to run Williams is not, for the most part, to have students vote on things. Students would vote for all sorts of things (more pass/fail classes; fewer papers; easier science labs) that would almost certainly not be in their long term interest, nor in the long term interest of Williams. So, even if every student in ARTH 101/102 said that they preferred a large lecture, I would still restructure the class into small sections.

Each sections would still look at as many slides as the lecture does now, but instead of listening to a lecturer talk (an incredibly inefficient way to teach) students would be expected to have “read the lecture” before class. That is, just transcibe what is lectured in ARTH 101/102 this year and pass that out as part of next year’s reading packet.


The Williams web site now

The Williams web site now provides a link to the new “Climb Far” fund raising campaign. There is lots of interesting stuff there. One interesting section features professor of chemistry, emeritus, Hodge Markgraf’s recollections about his undergraduate education at Williams. What is particularly striking is that five of the professors that Hodge recalls were Williams graduates themselves. I often think that the college underestimates the degree to which alumni (or at least alumni of small liberal arts colleges like Williams) make for better teachers, all else being equal. That is, if you come to Williams as a junior professor after having known only life in a large university, it may be hard for you to adjust. You certainly have no idea about the demands that the students will place on you.

In any event, it is nice to see how much of an emphasis that Williams places on teaching ability. Confirmation of this comes in the list of new faculty hires. Note that several of them (Barry, Kotchen, Love, Maruko, Pacelli, Ting, Tucker-Smith) won teaching awards as graduate students or junior professors. Of course, although Williams does place some emphasis on teaching ability, it probably does not do nearly enough of this. But that is a topic for another day.


Interesting article in the Record

Interesting article in the Record today on the book “Reclaiming the Game,” discussed here earlier in the week. The Record notes:

President Schapiro said Bowen makes a compelling case in Reclaiming the Game, but that Williams has already examined the issues over the last couple of years.

“If it’s a wake-up call, it is certainly not to Williams College,” Schapiro said. “The institutions that haven’t had active discussion of these issues might be spurred on. We’re not one of them.”


The book makes extensive use of the “Report on Varsity Athletics” written by the ad hoc committee, as well as reports by Middlebury and Amherst. President Schapiro said he was glad the authors used the Williams report as “we have nothing to hide.”

Hmmmm. Certainly the issue of athletics at Williams has been a lively one over the last few years at Williams. But does the college really have “nothing to hide?” If so, I would like to know the following.

1) Of the 65 tips in this year’s first year class, what is the breakdown by gender and sport?

2) What was the average SAT score and high school class rank of the 65 tips? How do their academic credentials compare to the other 450 members of the class.

3) The book makes clear that high profile men’s sports (football and hockey) are very special cases. What is the average SAT score and high school class rank of members of these teams? What is their average Williams GPA? Do these numbers differ significantly between starters and back up players?

Again, “nothing to hide” is an extreme claim. The College could just say, “We do fine and the rest is none of your business.” But, if you want to grab the moral high ground, you better be sure where you stand . . .


Mark Solan ’88 had these

Mark Solan ’88 had these comments on our recent discussion about lectures at Williams:

Listening to you and George go at it in the Blog is a little too reminiscent of our time together in a suite in Carter House. While I kept my mouth shut back then, I feel obligated to contribute this, now-
Am I remembering this correctly: in Art 101, did we not have large lectures, then split into smaller, classroom-size groups for further discussion and pop quizzes? I agree with Dr. Phil that there are times when students want the luxury of being able to simply download information, and with George that there are certain subjects that lend themselves, at least initially, to the ability to be simply downloaded. Basic calculus functions and pictures of Majas (both clothed and naked, thank you very much) fall into this category. My own ideas about art and its function weren’t created in the lecture hall, but in the smaller classes over in that wacky Charles Moore building with a handful of other students, an Art History prof and the occasional TA, or Eph version thereof. In my experience, the lecture provided the information, and the class provided the discussion.
On another level, the lecture examination schedule provided another way of fostering student interaction: how many of us studied for the tests in groups, sharing notes, discussing the lecture points and even acting out the pictures and sculptures? I know it is impossible for me to view any of the Renaissance ‘Davids’ without thinking of Blake Robison and Nick Beatty’s beautiful portrayals. Blake also had a remarkable gift for impersonating the entry arches of Gothic cathedrals…


1) Mark is certainly correct that ARTH 101/102 featured large lectures (3 a week?) along with a weekly discussion section. The structure is the same today.

2) The benefits (or lack thereof) of exams is a separate issue from class structure. Even in a (better) world in which ART 101/102 was taught completely in small classes, nothing would prevent the Art History Department from having exams, even the same sorts of exams that they have today. Indeed, I would argue that this is the best way to do things. You want the department as a whole to decide what topics will be covered and to determine how much learning has occurred. But you also want to maximize the educational value of the class and it seems obvious (to me) that this is best done in small classes.


Jocelyn Shadforth ’88 had these

Jocelyn Shadforth ’88 had these comments on the Mellon research and Williams.

It may not be entirely fair to besmirch Mellon research on the basis of their late 80s research projecting higher demand for PhDs, especially in the humanities and social sciences. The Chronicle of Higher Education has noted at many points that there were, in fact, a lot of retirements, but most colleges and universities elected to replace full-time tenured faculty, not with full-time tenure-track PhDs, but rather with itinerant adjuncts. The benefits to administrations are obvious: a small liberal arts college that has an annual courseload of 4-3 or 3-3 can staff those courses with a couple of adjuncts to the tune of $14,000-18,000. Assuming that the each class draws an average of 20 students paying approximately $6000 apiece for the privilege, and the profits start rolling in, thus underwriting such wonders as administrative bloat, senior faculty leave, etc. Hiring just one full-time faculty member to do this, though, will run at least $38K/year at most schools, plus health insurance, office costs, travel expenses, TIAA-CREF contributions etc. Mellon didn’t mis-forecast the event, just its consequences.

This is another area where Williams has distinguished itself. As noted in the, I think, Winter Alumni Review’s President’s note, Williams is applying its very secure financial position to recruiting and hiring, at very competitive salaries, full-time tenure-track faculty in an effort to further reduce faculty-student ratio. (Certainly not a trend being replicated at a lot of other schools.)


1) Those interested in an inside view on the contemporary academic job market should check out the Invisible Adjunct.

2) I still think that Mellon is at fault. It claimed that more people (read: Williams students in the 80’s) should go to graduate school because the supply of tenure track jobs would be increasing. It was wrong and anyone who paid attention to its advice paid a price. If, instead, Mellon had been more humble (and, therefore, less newsworthy) and just forecast an increasing number of retirements, then its prediction would have come true. As always, you shouldn’t forecast what you don’t know.


Long time reader David Kane

Long time reader David Kane ’58 noted that there is a New York Times article today “suggesting 25% of Williams class are recruited athletes most of whom are under qualified academically and don’t get smarter while at Billsville.” The key paragraphs are:

The study looked at the four-year records of nearly 28,000 freshmen who entered 33 selective colleges and universities in 1995. Besides the Ivy League, the study included colleges like Williams, Amherst, Tufts, Wesleyan, Bryn Mawr, Smith and Wellesley.

The authors said that once it had been athletes mainly in football, basketball and ice hockey who lagged academically but that now it was athletes across the full range of men’s and most women’s sports.

They said the problem had more to do with the types of students recruited than with the time spent playing sports. The study found that the small number of students who walk on to intercollegiate teams did not lag in the same way that recruited athletes did, even when they spent comparable time playing.

Of course, athletics at Williams have been a long time interest of this blog. However, it is important to treat any analysis from the Mellon Foundation with some skepticism. Recall its work in the late 1980’s predicting “substantial excess demand for faculty starting in the 1997-2002 period. Particularly severe imbalances are projected in the humanities and social sciences.”

Anyone familiar with the academic job market over the last decade knows that this forecast could not have proved more wrong. I suspect that Mellon did a better job with this work, but I’d like to see the data myself.


Faithful reader George Tolley ’88

Faithful reader George Tolley ’88 sent in a snarky note about the fact that Blogger (the service that we use) has its features. In particular, he notes that the spellchecker is now free.

As if there have been spelling problems in the Williams Blog!?

The embarrassing part is that because we use the high-end version of Blogger (so that we can post pictures), the spellchecker has always been available, we (at least I) didn’t know how to use it. But now I do. So, George’s desire for better spelling will duely come to pass.


The College has kicked off

The College has kicked off a new round of fund raising. The Berkshire Eagle reports:

Williams College declared its commitment to remain the top liberal arts college in the nation yesterday, announcing a five-year, $400 million fund-raising campaign to build three new facilities and bolster the college’s curriculum and financial aid funding.

The campaign began with a weekend of events for alumni volunteers and college officials. The official kickoff was yesterday morning at Chapin Hall, with a program built around the campaigned motto, “Climb Far,” which is taken from an inscription at the college’s Hopkins Gate.

Note that this is a much more aggressive campaign that the Third Century Campaign of 10 years ago. It raised less than $200 million. The Record also has an article on of the campaign:

Alumni of the College will play an important role as donors and solicitors in the success of this initiative. A large majority of the alumni will make donations to the College through the Alumni Fund, while a selected few alumni, parents and friends of the College will be asked by the College to make donations to support one of the three building projects.

So expect to see those mailings from the alumni office any day now . . .



Lindsay Morehouse ’00 died 2 years ago today in the attack on the World Trade Center. I think that 4 other Ephs died that day, but I can’t confirm it. The New York Times article on Lindsay, from their Portraits of Grief series, is heartbreaking, like hundreds of other such articles.

Lindsay Morehouse, 24, was the archetypal young New Yorker: starting a career as a research assistant at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, sharing an Upper East Side apartment with two roommates, jogging in Central Park, spending summer weekends at her childhood home in Connecticut, organizing friends to go hear her favorite band.

Ms. Morehouse was an only child who had recently volunteered to be a Big Sister. She was unusually close to her mother, Kathy Maycen, and her best friend, Sara Sparks, whom she met at boarding school. “When she had boyfriend trouble, I’d ask what her mom said before giving her my advice,” Ms. Sparks said. “Her mom was her bestest, bestest friend. They talked five times a day.”

Ms. Morehouse was the event planner in her circle, and she brought so many friends to hear her favorite band, Seeking Homer, that the band agreed to play at her graduation from Williams College two years ago. On Oct. 18, they will play for her again, at a tribute at the Mad River Bar and Grill, an Upper East Side hangout.

I didn’t know Lindsay, but, in reading about her and the other Eph victims in the Alumni Review, I was struck by how easily it could have been my mother (New York City professional) or my wife (tennis playing Williams graduate) or my daughter (frequent flyer out of Boston) killed on that fateful day.

Semper Fidelis


Although it pains me to

Although it pains me to admit that I found this posting at Swarthmore, Timothy Burke does a marvelous job in outlining the current structure of hiring, promotion and tenure at elite liberal arts colleges like Williams. He goes on to proving some interesting thoughts on “building the liberal arts faculty.”

Alas, the article is so good and nuanced that it is hard to summarize briefly. His main point is that liberal arts colleges should do things differently from research universities becuase they have a different structure and purpose. He notes that:

A liberal arts college, on the other hand, should be encouraging exactly the opposite path of development in its faculty. Rather than rewarding professors for their increasing detailed expertise in a highly specialized area of research, it should reward them for broadening outwards from their initial base of knowledge, reward them for forging connections between disparate areas of knowledge, reward them for extending their work as intellectuals beyond the campus and beyond academia.

How can we possibly ask our students to gain an appreciation of the whole structure of knowledge if we ourselves rarely glance beyond the confines of a narrow specialization? If our students have distribution requirements and the like, then so should the faculty.

I get a little quesy when faculty want to extend “beyond campus and beyond academia.” The central focus must always remain on undergraduate education. But Burke’s larger point — that liberal arts faculty should spend less time working on articles in specialized journals that will be almost never read by their students and more time on almost anything else intellectual — is surely correct.


Lots and lots of good

Lots and lots of good stuff in the first edition of the Record.


Commencement Speaker Diversity

The Center for the Study of Popular Culture has some interesting articles on the spectrum of political opinion represented on elite campuses (campi?). This article, “One Last, Lefty Lecture” argues that graduation speakers are much more likely to be Democrat/Liberal rather than Republican/Conservative. The article demonstrates, in fairly convincing fashion, that the ratio of left wing to right wing speakers is more than 10 to 1. Better yet, they provide a listing of all the speakers and how they were characterized. Here is the section on Williams.

1994 Michael S Dukakis       Governor    L
1995 Bernice Johnson Reagon  Composer    L
1996 George Bush             President   R
1997 Grace Paley             Author      L
1998 Yo-Yo Ma                Musician    N
1999 Christopher Reeve       Actor       L
2000 George J Mitchell       US Senator  D
2001 Robert E Rubin          Cabinet     D
2002 Morris Dees             Lawyer      L
2003 Eric Lander             Scientist   N

2D, 5L, 0C, 1R, 2N

Looking at this list optimistically, it is nice to note that Williams (unlike both Amherst and Wesleyan) has at least one Republican/Conservative. Because of the inclusion of former President Bush, Williams also does better than the average elite school with a 7:1 ratio.

Looking at this pessimistically, it is sad to see Williams not doing a better job of providing balance. Of course, a sample size of 10 isn’t enough to draw serious conclusions, but I don’t recall graduation speakers being too right wing in the 1980’s. A good out of sample test going forward will be to see how Williams does over the next 10 years. If they fail to invite any of the three recent Republican governors of Massachusetts or any leading Republican Sentors and Cabinet Secretaries, it will probably be fair to conclude that there is as much bias at Williams as anywhere else.

Whether or not this outcome is a good or bad thing is a topic for another day.


Here is a fun website

Here is a fun website devoted to the class of 1954. It’s a fun site with an interesting collection of pictures from past reunions as well as a great scan of The Williams Record from their graduation day.


Faithful readers will recall that

Faithful readers will recall that one long term hope/dream for this blog is to turn it into a location at which alumni and current undergraduates at Williams might have some sort of meaningful intellectual exchange. It isn’t clear if this is possible, but we are going to give it the old Eph try. To that end, Scott Grinsell ’04 has kindly volunteered to join the blog.

If you have a taste for fame, a flair for writing, a love of all things Eph and no need for money, then we would welcome you as well. No volunteer for the Williams Blog has ever been turned down! Just drop us a line. We would like this blog to be more of a group effort than a solo act, more Volokh Conspiracy than Instapundit.

In the meantime, welcome aboard to Scott.


The Clock is Ticking

The Berkshire Eagle is marvelously well-written. Here is an article on the Williams Convocation, which happened on Saturday.

A member of the first Williams College graduating class that allowed female students, North Adams native Martha Coakley, who has gained a national reputation as a tough Middlesex County district attorney, yesterday instructed the Williams class of 2004 to “get in there and do the best hokey pokey you know how, ’cause that’s what it’s all about.”

It is nice to see the college inviting an alum to give the convocation address. Indeed, I’d like to see more of that, more using alums as speakers for important events like convocation and graduation, even when more “famous” speakers would be available. Certainly, a college of Williams’s statuture could attract (and has attracted) someone with a higher public profile than Coakley, but the fact that she is an alum probably lends a much deeper connection and poignancy to the event.

Also nice to read was this section:

During his remarks, Schapiro noted the crisp, clear, cool morning and, with tongue-in-cheek, suggested that graduation ceremonies begin at once.

“Maybe we should just declare this graduation day,” he said. “Blow off the whole senior year and just do it right now.”

When his comment drew thunderous applause and cheers from students, Schapiro grinned and said, “Oh, boy.”

Schapiro urged students to take advantage of the advice he gave incoming freshmen to experience every aspect of the college.

“If you haven’t taken a tutorial yet, do it,” he said. “If you haven’t invited a faculty member to lunch or dinner, do it now.”

Schapiro encouraged the senior class members to be among those graduates who accomplished what they intended at Williams, and not to be among those full of regret because they did not meet their college goals before graduation day.

“The clock is ticking,” he said.

The clock is probably ticking for all of us. How should we translate Schapiro’s advice to our own lives, now that the times of tutorials and faculty dinners have passed us by? For me, it would be “If you haven’t coached your daughter’s soccer team, do it now.” For my lovely wife, it would be “If you haven’t painted murals on your daugters’ bedroom walls, do it now.”

Loyal readers are invited to submit their own translations.


George Tolley ’88 suggests that

George Tolley ’88 suggests that there may in fact be pedagogical reasons for large lecture classes. I have intersperced my comments below.

online Math Department catalog which confirms that the following courses have expected enrollment over 50 students:

MATH 103 — Calculus I (expected enrollment 50-60)
MATH 104 — Calculus II (expected enrollment 50-70)
MATH 211 — Linear Algebra (expected enrollment 35-70).

In addition, MATH 105 and MATH 106 have expected enrollments of 45 — but there is no formal cap on enrollment, so there could be more than 50 students int hose courses as well.

Then there is MATH 170 — Mathematics of Finance (expected enrollment 42). This course was not offered while we were at Williams, but I expect that Econ majors such as yourself could see how such a course would be a boon to the Div II types who struggled through econometrics. This course is actively recommended by the Department for students interested in careers in business or finance.

Ahh, econometrics. It seems like only yesterday. Actually, my reading of MATH 170 is that it has nothing to do with econometrics, nor is it helpful preparation. MATH 170 may be a helpful introduction to math in business, but certainly some knowledge of basic accounting would be much more useful. Of course, whether or not Williams should have any “vocational” courses along these lines is a topic for another day.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to check other departments, but I expect that there are quite a few introductory and non-introductory courses offered in a lecture format.

In fact, it is shocking that you have the time and inclination to e-mail me at all. You have four small boys! Go take care of them . . . ;-)

When I mentioned this discussion to my own better half

Kirsten [Hasenfus] Tolley ’89

she reminded me that several of the courses that she took for Div III credit were large lectures. Regrettably (or not, from her point of view), these classes were “guts” — science courses for non-science types, with subjects like crime and forensics. It appears that MATH 180 — The Art of Mathematical Thinking (expected enrollment 50, but not offered this year) also fits this category.

I’m sure you have your own special criticisms for such courses, and their appropriateness in a liberal arts education. I do not rise to defend them, but I recall that they were very popular among the Div I and Div II majors.

As for whether these courses “should” be offered in a more intimate setting . . . I think I can see where you will be going with this, particularly when one considers the excellent example of ENGL 201 — Shakespeare’s Major Plays, an annual enrollment of 105 students, broken into three sections of 35 students each. Shouldn’t the College have enough Math professors in the Department to allow Calculus to be taught in smaller sections, to aid in the overall comprehension of that very difficult subject?

Yes. Or it needs to redesign the way that it makes use of the math professors it does have, Instead of being expected to do X amount of research each year and Y amount of teaching, they should be expected to do X/2 worth of research and Y*2 teaching.

But first, Art History 101 — Intro to Western Art — has an enrollment of 285 students — it is simply inconceivable that the most popular Art History course (at a school with a well-deserved national reputation in Art History) could be taught effectively any other way.

Why is this “inconceivable”? ARTH 101/102 could be taught in small classes just as easily as PHIL 101 is. The Art History department, like the Philosophy department, would probably want to agree on a common syllabus and assignment schedule. It might also want common exams. Perhaps, in the 80’s, one could make the case that, because of technological limitations, there was no way to have small classes because only Bronfam had the equiptment needed to display the slides, but, I don’t think that would be a problem now.

As for the Math Department, to be glib, Calculus is not Shakespeare; lim(1/x) = 0 as x goes to infinity, whether or not the class has an opportunity to discuss and debate the issue. Indeed, discussion and debate of that sort would interfere substantially with the ability of the class to cover the enormous multitude of subjects (limits, infinite series, 3-D graphing, etc.) that make up the very broad subject of Calculus.

In general, Calculus is taught by a lecturer writing on the board and talking very quickly “at” students, who are themselves typically taking copious notes — with office hours providing ample opportunity for any student who missed a step along the way. At least, that’s the way I remember it (maybe these days the notes are available on the web). There simply isn’t time for the class to get any of the benefits that a smaller class size might afford.

So these are two categories of examples of courses that, for one reason or another, are better suited to a large lecture format. There might be others.

I will join you in the position that 7% is too high, and in the hope that the number will be reduced; but I dispute that reducing the number to zero is desirable or beneficial.

If only you and I could sit in on one of the newest tutorials offered by the College:
— many of these questions could be addressed and answered . . . in an intimate class setting.

I look forward to your reply.

I’ll save further comments for tomorrow.


Passively Suck in Cocktail Knowledge

Phil Culhane ’88 sent in these thoughts on large lecture classes at Williams.

No pedagogical reason for large lecture classes and surely economic reasons for them. However, what about the desire, say, of a student to have a class or two in four years where he or she can sit in the dark and, gently, without too much engagement, look at pretty pictures on the wall? Is that so wrong? Williams could use some of that huge endowment to turn Art History 101/102 into an English 101 kind of thing, but would the demand be there? Maybe 100s of people per year take Art History 101/102 ONLY because they are ensured that they can sit on their butts and not have to do much of anything other than passively suck in cocktail knowledge? But I am biased — that’s why I took the class.

Students now, and us 20 years ago, desire many things. Sometimes the College is wise to fulfill those desires, sometimes it is not. The question is not: Did Phil (and I) have an relaxing time in Art History as lecture. We clearly did. The question is: Would we have been better off if the College taught art history the way it teaches politcal science and philosophy.

After all, nothing prevents the college from offering PHIL 101 and PSCI 101 as large lectures (along with a discussion section). Would it be so terrible if students could “sit in the dark and, gently, without too much engagement” think about truth and justice? Yes, it would. And, assuming that you think that there is are as many interesting topics to discuss, debate and arugue over in art history as there are in philosophy, it follows that as much is loss in treating ARTH 101/102 as a passive “suck” as there would be in other departments.

Of course, it could be that the reason that ARTH 101/102 is so popular is that it is (perceived to be, at least) so passive/easy. If it were taught like the old ENGL 101 (alas, the English department has reorganized things for the worst recently), perhaps fewer students would enroll.

But, big picture, it should not be a concern of the College how many students enroll in ARTH 101 versus PHIL 101 versus anything else. Let students study want they want to study. But it should be a central concern of the College that all the courses it offers be serious and rigorous. ARTH 101 taught in small sections would be a much more serious and rigorous course.


The article mentioned yesterday also

The article mentioned yesterday also featured these thought fron Jonathan Conning, turned down for tenure by the economics department:

Conning said that his denial came as a “big surprise,” and indicated that he would appeal the CAP’s decision.

“From the communication I’d had with the department I had been led to expect a different outcome,” said Conning, citing very positive departmental reports in the last few years and a significant improvement in SCS scores.

“I think I’ve had as much success and influence in my own field at this stage in my career as anyone else in [the economics] department has had in their own,” he said.

Conning said that the reason given to him for the denial was that, “while [the CAP] recognized that [his] teaching had improved recently, they did not think it had risen to a sufficient level.”

Professors can only appeal a denial of tenure on procedural grounds; they can not, in Conning’s words, “question [the CAP’s] judgment.” Conning expressed optimism that he could “put together a well-reasoned case” and said that he “has faith in the methods put into place for an appeal.”


1) You have to feel for Conning. Being denied tenure (after 10+ years of graduate school and teaching) is a brutal experience.

2) It is nice to see that Conning has bounced back. He is now an assistant professor at Hunter College. Given his publication record, I would wager that he’ll either get tenure at Hunter or some place like it. He is lucky to be in economics since the job market for economists is much better than those for most other Division I and II fields.

3) Reading between the lines, it seems clear that the College made the right decision. Conning’s teaching evaluations were not good, although perhaps they had been improving in the last few years. Only excellent teachers should be given tenure. Of course, we can quibble about precisely what makes for an excellent teacher and the trade-offs among different aspects of teaching ability — i.e., how valuable is skill in teaching ECON 110 relative to a talent in supervising senior theses? But the central focus on a person’s influence on undergraduate education is key. Although the decision on Conning makes it clear that teaching matters (back in the 1980’s, teaching ability was described to me as “first among equals” in the tenure process), I would argue that the college should go even further in this direction, that the fact that Conning was hired is a sign that the college, or at least the economics department, puts too much emphasis on research ability and potential.

4) I would wager that Conning’s difficulties as a teacher were obvious before he ever set foot in a Williams classroom. So, while the college deserves credit for not tenuring him, it deserves criticism for hiring him in the first place. I would wager that the economics department turned down other candidates with better (obvious or demonstrated) teaching ability in order to hire Conning. The students who had Conning as a professor would have been better off if the economics department had put more emphasis on teaching and less emphasis on research in their hiring process.

5) Of course, it is tough to really know what is going on without having better sources closer to the action . . .


Although this article is more

Although this article is more than a year old (not sure when the Record will get around to its first edition), it raises a variety of interesting points. In this go around, W. Anthony Sheppard of the music department got tenure. The key quote is:

“The possibility of tenure is essential for attracting the best students to a career that requires more education and offers far less pay than other professions,” Sheppard remarked.


1) Sheppard is simply wrong. There are hundreds, even thousands, of highly qualified Ph.D.’s who would love to teach at Williams, even if there were no possibility of tenure. Indeed, the college could, tomorrow, abolish tenure (for all new hires) and go to a series of 5 year contracts (or even, perish the thought, treat the faculty in the same way that they treat all its other employees) without significantly affecting the quality of its applicant pool. Of course, there might be problems on the margin. Potential professors would rather have tenure than not have tenure. But the supply and demand of applicants is in such disequilibrium that Williams would still be able to hire more than enough Ph.D.’s from fancy universities with excellent teaching skills.

2) Sheppard might make the claim that his remark is directed not so much at what Williams needs to do today but at the structure of higher education in general. That is, the only way we — meaning American society — can entice enough talented individuals to go into teaching is by including the “possibility” of tenure as one of the rewards. Perhaps. I doubt that this is true. And, thankfully, the focus of this blog is not how American society is or should be structured. Instead, we care about how Williams is and should be structured.

It is not clear to me that Williams is better off for granting professors tenure. But that is a post for another day . . .


George Tolley ’88 sent in

George Tolley ’88 sent in these comments:

Been away from the blog for a while, and came back to find — to my indescribable joy and amusement — that you have managed to keep it going, and going strong. Bravo. For a moment, I thought your comments on the College’s quarter-million dollar donation to Mt. Greylock were dead on point. Then I read Jocelyn’s thoughtful comments . . . and quickly realized that I am much happier when I am not agreeing with you wholeheartedly. :-) As for Williams classes over 50 students, I think you are a little too categorical in your objection. Did you take Art History 101? Large lectures have a place in higher education. As a math geek at heart, I’d have never, ever read Faulkner in my life if I hadn’t taken English 216 (Introduction to the Novel, taught, inter alia, by former Dean Fix), a very popular lecture class with 100 students in the auditorium at least. Not to mention all the introductory math and science courses that are quite well-suited to a large lecture format.


1) Try as I might, I have been unable to convince George to join the Blog. I have a vague idea that the appropriate model going forward is something along the lines of the Volokh Conspiracy, but that will require some more volunteers with less than trying day jobs.

2) I did take ARTH 101-102. Although it is possible to teach that class as a large lecture, it is highly desirable. Who would argue that smaller classes wuld be worse? Students would ask more questions. Professors would get better feedback. More learning would occur. Although they may, perhaps, be economic reasons why the college has no choice but to have some large lectures, there is no pedagogical reason for them.


There’s a nice article in

There’s a nice article in The Transcript about JA’s. It is especially nice to see that the competition for a JA position is as intense as ever, with 150 applicants for 50 spots. Oldtimer’s will recall the mini-controversy from a few years back about whether or not the College should pay JA’s, or perhaps at least give them a break on room and board. After all, given how much time JA’s spend doing JA stuff and how important that stuff is, wouldn’t it make sense to compensate them for it, especially the JA’s that are on financial aid and have to work other jobs on campus?

The College, wisely, decided not to go this route. I believe that there was wide-spread agreement at the time that the current system worked fine. Having the JA’s as paid employees of the college would change their relationship with the first years, as well as opening a liability can of worms that the college would rather keep shut. Moreover, we should probably worry about the types of people who would apply for a JA job if the position were paid, but who currently don’t. Ideally, you want all your JA’s to be the kind of people who would want the job even if it were unpaid. The best way to do that is, of course, to not pay them.


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