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In honor of the Holidays,

In honor of the Holidays, the Williams Blog will be taking some time off for the next two weeks. We (or at least I) will be back in full force for the start of Winter Study on January 5th. In the meantime, we are looking for co-bloggers! If you have any interest in opining on all things Eph — either using your own name or anonymously — we would love to have you.

The Blog is getting some more readership recently. Of course, whether you can consider more than a thousand unique (computer) visitors a month and fifty or so a day a lot or a little depends on your point of view. In either event, it appears that there is an audience for thoughts on the wider world of Ephdom.

Ideally, we would have student, faculty, alumni and administration contributors to this blog. If you can type and surf the web, you can blog. Please consider joining us.

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Mike Needham ’04 is less

Mike Needham ’04 is less impressed with the College’s seriousness about fraternities than I am. He writes:

The Berkshire Eagle does a follow-up on the St. Anthony Hall situation at Williams, which prompted David Kane to implore members of St. Anthony to take the College up on its offer of amnesty: “Do not underestimate how seriously the College takes the issue of fraternities.”

Interesting. Let’s go back to the original Record article:

Shaw and other St. Anthony Hall alumni have spoken with Cappy Hill, provost of the College, and Steve Birrell, vice president of alumni relations and development, several times during the past few years to negotiate the use of the goat room.

It appears that College administrators have known about St. Anthony Hall for at least “the past few years,” a fact the Berkshire Eagle article actually gets incorrect. All I’ll say is that if College administrators have known about the group’s existence on campus for a few years but haven’t done anything about it, it’s difficult to draw the conclusion the College takes the issue very seriously.

It is, as they say, an empirical question. I would still take the amnesty. After all, what is the cost? They can still have a club, read poetry, hang out in Vermont and so on.

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A holiday card from Suz

A holiday card from Suz MacCormac ’88.

Suz reports that, as I predicted, she has found being a new Mom is even more fun than being a high powered corporate attorney.

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Continuing with our Eph Holiday

Continuing with our Eph Holiday Card Project (which will evolve, I hope, in to a Class of 1989 15th Year Reunion Project), we have this missive from Rob and Lynn Neuner (both ’89).

Emily and Bobby are twins and, as the saying goes, if you don’t have twins, you don’t know what “tired” is.

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A couple of articles recently

A couple of articles recently feature Williams professors. Here they provide insight into peer effects in elite education:

Similar findings [that being with smarter peers has a good effect] have been made by David Zimmerman and Gordon Winston, both professors of economics at Williams College, who discovered that students who ranked in the middle of the pack at three selective universities got slightly worse grades if they roomed with someone in the bottom 15 percent of the class. Earlier, Professor Zimmerman also had found a positive effect on midrange students who had a roommate with higher scores on the verbal portion of the SAT, but in neither case did studies show much effect from roommates on students at the top or bottom of their peer group.

Moreover, experiments in the psychology lab of another Williams professor seem to indicate that, in some cases, studying among smart peers can do more harm than good. In a three-year study, George Goethals assigned students of varying academic ability to work on simple tasks, such as critiquing newspaper articles. Students are very acute in gauging where they fall in the academic pecking order, says Professor Goethals. Often, those who perceive themselves to be intellectually overmatched simply disengage from the experiment.

“The answer seems to be yes, students affect each other a great deal,” he says. “But the effects are complex. You have to tell a complicated story about the influence students have on each other.”

I have blogged before about Zimmerman and Winston’s work on this topic. (Again, it is too bad that, unlike almost all other academic working papers, these are not easily downloadable.) I also think that some of this work has been turned into senior theses at Williams — sure do wish those were easy to read on-line.

Mark Taylor gets some nice press in The Washington Post in a story about the structure of higher education.

Back in 1998, Mark Taylor, a Williams College philosophy professor, and Herb Allen, a Williams alumnus and Wall Street financier, launched a company based on what seemed like a powerful insight:

Every year, they noted, there are thousands of college professors who twice or three times a week offer what is largely the same basic lecture course in a subject like molecular biology or Shakespeare comedies. A few of these professors offer the kind of brilliant lectures that fill auditoriums and provide the kind of educational experience that students remember all their lives. Many of the rest offer something that ranges from mediocre to awful.

So, asked Taylor and Allen, why don’t we identify these extraordinary lecturers, put their lectures on CDs, and sell them to universities that could supplement them with faculty-led tutorials or discussions? The advantages seemed pretty clear. Colleges that employed the celebrity lecturers could help defray the cost of superstar salaries while enhancing their own reputations. And schools that purchase the lectures could lower costs while improving the quality of their educational offering.

In business terms, this was nothing more complicated than bringing the proven benefits of scale economies, outsourcing and high-tech distribution to higher education. But as you might have guessed, it was not exactly welcomed by an establishment that prides itself on remaining a quaint cottage industry.

“To be frank about it, the resistance was astonishing,” Taylor recalls.

Elite universities worried about “diluting” their brands and “contaminating” their mission by joining in a profit-making enterprise. And faculties immediately saw a threat not only to their jobs and salaries, but a lifestyle and teaching model that had cosseted them for centuries. So after several years of trying, including a “no” vote from the Williams faculty, the effort was scrapped.

Williams is solving this problem, via the tutorial program, in precisely the right way. It should do more along those lines. Indeed, there is no good reason, to my mind, why any class should ever have more than 20 students in it. This would require a lot of (small) sections of things like CHEM 101 and the like, but that would be a benefit, not a cost.

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Interesting article in The Berkshire

Interesting article in The Berkshire Eagle about everyone’s favorite underground Williams fraternity — whoops! I mean “literary society” — St. Anthony Hall. The article notes that:

Williams College officials say they have received no response to an offer of amnesty last month to members of an underground fraternity still believed to be active on campus nearly 40 years after the college began eliminating the Greek system locally.

Take the amnesty! Do not underestimate how seriously the College takes the issue of fraternities.

Some students have responded sharply to the acknowledgment of the group’s presence, in weblogs and columns in the Record, urging more aggressive disciplinary action against a group that clearly violates college rules. But Roseman said the overall response to the offer has been muted.

Hooray for Aidan! This is surely a reference to Aidan’s great blogging on the topic as well as to his Record piece. It is too bad that the Eagle failed to name him explicitly.

Roseman said exposing and punishing the members would be a difficult process. “I don’t know where to begin,” she said. “I don’t know any members.”

She added that official pressure “would drive it deeper underground.”

Hmmmm. Perhaps I am giving the College too much credit. Does Roseman really not know where to begin or does she just prefer not to know? Here’s a simple plan:

1) Find one member. This isn’t too hard. I’d wager that Aiden Finley could name a couple and certainly an all-campus e-mail on the topic would produce a student or two. Surely at least a couple of members of St. Anthony Hall have an enemy who wouldn’t mind dropping a dime on them.

2) Scare the heck out of the student that you find. Five or ten years ago, the College did this in a serious way when it felt that some of the athletic teams were getting too fraternity-esque (candle-lit initiation ceremonies and the like). In that case, Williams succeeded in stopping incipient fraternitization in its tracks. Similar tactics would work here. Tell the one or two students that you catch that they have a choice: 1) Be expelled or 2) Name all the other members of the fraternity. I suspect that the cookie would crumble pretty quickly.

Obviously, this is not rocket science. If the College really wants to get rid of St. Anthony Hall it has the way. Time will tell if Williams has the will.

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Exams finished up yesterday, so

Exams finished up yesterday, so Williams should be empty and beautiful and quiet. Although almost everyone in academia loves the hustle and bustle of having hundreds of undergraduates around, each pursuing her own vision of the good life at age 20, there is something to be said for the calm that comes with their departure.

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Perhaps if I just keep

Perhaps if I just keep posting holiday cards with pictures of my family in them, people will feel compelled to send me a card. I certainly hope that Brooks Foehl ’88 will send along something . . . In the meantime, we have:

Across the top are me, Kay (Fang) Kane ’89, David H.T. Kane ’58 and Brendon Kane ’90.

Those who are tired of looking at Kane Family cards should send in their own to:

David Kane
30 Washington Street
Newton, MA 02458

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Alas, my Eph Holiday Card

Alas, my Eph Holiday Card Project has only resulted in one card that I would have gotten anyway, but there is no reason to give up hope.

In any event, Ed Lung ’89 (although originally ’88 and my freshmen roommate) seems busy with four children and, given that three of them are boys, this is really the functional equivalent of 7 girls. I am doing my best to convince Ed and family to make it out for the class of 1989 15th year reunion but, so far, he is playing hard to get.

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All of us at the

All of us at the Williams Blog are pulling for Fountains of Wayne, led by Adam Schlesinger ’89 and Chris Collingword ’89, to win the Grammy for best new artist. In the meantime, they are getting some nice press, as well as this article in The Christian Science Monitor. Highlights include:

The two [Adam and Chris] met at tiny, almost-Ivy League-worthy Williams College, and never lost the sense of being tragically unhip.

Who are you calling “almost-Ivy League-worthy,” buddy? And be careful how you use those hyphens.

Also note the implication that going to Williams caused Schlesinger and Collingwood to be “unhip.” I don’t know about them, but I was unhip long before my arrival in Williamstown.

While Schlesinger cobbled together musical work, Collingwood took on computer programming work to pay the bills.

The lesson in that tidbit for all current Ephs is that computer programming is a much more useful skill than you might realize at age 20. Indeed, one of the problems with elite education in general is that it often takes a bunch of smart 18 years olds — many of whom were top notch math and computer science people in their high schools — and then puts them all together. Once at Williams, there is a tendency for only a very small subset to go in computer science. Others don’t go on and say, in essence, to do computer science at Williams, I need to be as good as Shimon or Ben or Eric or [insert your favorite WSO member here].

This is a mistake. Many Ephs, after they graduate, end up being the among the most math/computer savvy people wherever it is they end up. Most would have been well-served with a couple of more computer science classes at Williams.

To be concrete, I, for one, sure wish that I had taken something like CSCI 010 at Williams. I don’t know if Collingwood feels the same, but I know other Ephs that do.

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Lowell Jacobson ’03 has an

Lowell Jacobson ’03 has an interesting quote site, found via the Garfield Republican Club homepage, linked to by Aidan‘s blogroll. The Williams section is particularly fun. My favorite:

“If you wish to be happy for an hour, get intoxicated. If you wish to be happy for three days, get married. If you wish to be happy for eight days, kill your pig and eat it. If you wish to be happy forever, beat Amherst.” — Renzi Lamb

Although it should be noted that Renzi, despite the good sense he demonstrated in joining the Marine Corps, never married an Eph Women. It’s even better than beating Amherst . . .

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Miles Klee claims that this

Miles Klee claims that this random comic summarizes Williams College, at least as well as any random comic can.

If it does so now, it did so 20 years ago as well . . .

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Mike Needham sent this letter

Mike Needham sent this letter to a wide swath of Williams officialdom:

Dear Ms. Taylor and Mr. Berman,

I have no doubt that the demands of running technology at an institute of higher education are far greater than any of us can imagine and have the utmost respect for the challenges your jobs must pose. Nonetheless, I write to express my extreme frustration with the technology at this school, which has been a regular nuisance in my four years at Williams and currently amounts to something more than a nuisance.

At the present moment, I find myself incapable of proofreading, accessing, or printing my 31-page history research paper as every single form of technology at the College seems to be down. I further find myself incapable of writing any of my 25-page political science research paper for the same reasons. Similarly, one of my housemates just had one of his graduate school applications lost as the Internet unexpectedly cut out.

This is not, however, simply an isolated problem at Williams. E-mail at our College has been inaccessible countless times this semester. On the first day of reading period all web services went down: Williams.edu, WSO, and IMP were all inaccessible. There have been countless times where the Internet has been inaccessible or unbearably slow. Numerous e-mails that required timely responses went unanswered for many hours as they were not received promptly.

These are all issues that I have spoken to many members of our community about over the last four years and this semester in particular. Many members of the faculty have expressed similar frustrations to me as they feel their research is hindered by our woe Internet access. Virtually every student I have talked to finds the Internet and e-mail problems to have significant, negative effects on our research. Further, I have spent time talking to students at a number of other Colleges and it seems plain to me that the problems we experience at Williams are far greater than those experienced at other schools – this includes schools that are similarly isolated as we, such as Middlebury, Dartmouth, and Bowdoin.

Frankly, information technology at our College does not live up to the excellence we exhibit in virtually every other field. As one senior professor commented to me, “The status of our internet at Williams is utterly unacceptable.” That such a major technology crisis as we are experiencing right now could be allowed to happen in the midst of exams is incredibly unfair to the student body.

I have no doubt that there is a logical and defendable explanation for the current outage. That is not the point. The number of significant interruptions to our College’s technology over the last semester, year, and four years (at least) is a significant hindrance to our intellectual community and a situation that cannot be allowed to go unaddressed.

As I said at the outset, I have no idea what the cause of this situation is. I would like to believe it is not due to incompetence, but rather reflects inadequate resources being given to the Office of Information Technology. If this is the case, I implore you to please enlist the support of the community to encourage the administration to make the resource commitments necessary to get your office to the point where it supports the academic mission of the College. Otherwise, I hope the administration will consider whatever changes in the Office of Information Technology are needed to fix these problems.

Sincerely and more than slightly frustrated,

Mike Needham ’04

ps I have cc’d this message to Senior Staff and the Chair of the Committee on Information Technology.

I am too far from the scene to have a sensible opinion on this topic. I would recommend that Mike proofread such missives a little more closely (“woeful” instead of “woe”). When fighting The System, you need to not give The System an excuse for dismissing you.

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Matthew Maly sent in this

Matthew Maly sent in this note:

I was a Teaching Assistant in Russian ’85-’86. I have finished and published a book that I started at Williams. It is called Russia As It Is: Transformation of a Lose/Lose Society. Another site that describes my adventures is this one.

It was quite an experience to read about some of the people I knew at Williams: Cecilia Malm, Paul Ketro, Lisa Klem, Pierre Vincent… I wish your blog had a search feature or an index of some sort. I would love to hear from anyone who remembers me (I taught two Russian classes).

Thank you so much: I was deeply touched to learn how some of my long-lost friends were doing after all these years…

Comments:

1) It is always a pleasure to hear from anyone associated with community of Ephs around the world.

2) Maly’s adventures make for interesting reading.

3) Goodness knows that this blog could use a technological upgrade. Anyone out there with the right technical skills (this means you, WSO) interested in helping out? If MovableType were available on the WSO servers, much could be improved. In the meantime, Google is your friend, as always. For example, to find at least a few references on this blog to Lisa Klem, you can type:

“Lisa Klem” Williams

at Google and get this.

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Ben Roth responds: I don’t

Ben Roth responds:

I don’t know that I take myself particularly seriously, but I certainly think that public words matter. I knew, of course, that Mike’s comments had to be intended somewhat tongue in cheekly; unfortunately, that particular tone doesn’t seem to me to accomplish anything when it allows someone to slip into flippantly insulting a large group of respect-worthy people instead of subtly suggesting what is actually meant. It’s rather ironic (in the popular sense that the English Department — hey! — still teaches us not to use) that a conservative who just wrote against conservative polemics on his blog would be so careless with his exaggeration. He wrote: “I can tell you this: [conservatives’ climb of the Ivory Tower] is not going to be made easier […] by people who speak without caring about how their words will be received by their hostile audience.” Whoops.

Well done! Advantage: Roth.

It’s also just makes no sense to accuse the English Department as a stand-in for the entire college (or all of academia) of abandoning the teaching of core skills for sexuality, gender, and so forth. The Williams English Department is in many ways a shockingly traditional one. Whereas most English departments in the last few decades have morphed into cultural studies departments, Williams is an odd (odd said with no pejorative connotations; whether this is good or bad is a separate debate) exception with so many professors–like Fix, R. Bell, Tifft, Sokolsky, Case, J. Shepard, and Knopp, at least–who ground their classes not in trendy theory, but close reading. With the Rosenheim generation of faculty on the rise, the department is indeed shifting toward cultural studies and theory, but, I would argue, it’s still extremely grounded in (the) tradition and traditional skills by any standard.

I am more than ready to believe this and moreover, I am to far away to judge accurately, but the change in ENGL 101 — which I think used to mean (since it was a required course with a largely common curriculum) that virtually everyone at Williams who took any English course had to read some Shakespeare, for example — and the removal of the ENGL 301/302 requirement, means that the English department is much less traditional than it was just 15 years ago.

Perhaps this is progress, but I would argue otherwise. It is good news that Williams has gone less far down the po-mo path than other institutions, but constant vigilance is still required.

Then again, I am such a reactionary that I think ECON 101 should require at least a week of readings from Adam Smith and Karl Marx. So, what do I know?

I think Mike is quite right to point out the larger problem at Williams and nationally with writing — that’s something that is certainly worth seriously and straightforwardly discussing. It’s not obvious to me that teaching solid writing is at odds with focusing thematically on sexuality, gender, class, race, or anything else, but I’d certainly agree that writing on our campus isn’t as good as what you would expect at an elite(ist) institution, and that something needs to be done about that.

Seems clear that Mike and Ben agree on much more than they disagree on. I look forward to finding out how their frappe at the snack bar (my treat!) works out.

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Eric Smith ’99 has a

Eric Smith ’99 has a new LiveJournal home. If I were as savvy as Aidan, I would have a blogroll of Eph blogs to which this could be added. You can tell that Eric must be a smart guy because: 1) He lives in Bermuda, and 2) He is enganged to an Eph.

Eph women make the best wives.

Compliment or insult? I write, you decide.

;-)

On the topic of his current job, Eric writes:

I am the guy that people call when they can’t get Outlook to open correctly. I am the guy that people call when they need someone to move a monitor. I am the person that people call when they just bought a new mp3 player and they want me to install the software for it and then show them how to use it . . . as if I somehow either enjoy that or even want to do it.

Funny, but that sure does sound like my role in the Kane Family household. Not that I am complaining!

Eric is definitely well-prepared for life as a married Eph. I look forward to seeing his wedding picture in the Alumni Review.

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Mike Needham ’04 has further

Mike Needham ’04 has further thoughts on the English department at Williams.

Perhaps we should clarify that my statement — which was meant largely tongue-in-cheek — was meant to be more a commentary on the status of higher education in general, which has in recent years shifted away from teaching the things that I would contend are important — i.e., writing, actual history, etc. — in favor of focusing on sexuality (in the two English classes I’ve taken) and gender, class, race in the curriculum as a whole.

The English department course offerings are, of course, a topic for another day. 15 years ago the department required majors to take ENGL 301 and 302, thorough surveys of English literature from the Middle Ages through 1900. By all accounts, these courses were the guts of the major. The department now requires some amount of study from different historical eras, but has clearly given up on any notion of a canon. Also, I can’t help but to make fun of the fact that a course, ENGL 392, which fulfills the pre-1700 requirement uses Blade Runner as one of its “texts.”

I could point to a number of professors who would back-up my statement that the quality of writing in general on this campus is well below what you would expect of an elite institution. This is clearly a national problem as is the above mentioned problem.

Please point them to the blog. I would be eager to publish their views, anonymously or otherwise.

All that said, Ben Roth (whom I’ve never met or heard of except through your blog) seems to take himself way too seriously.

Glad to see that the blog is bring Williams seniors together! ;-) Ben and Mike should clearly get together for a frappe in the snack bar. If they do, I would gladly buy. Seriously.

My comment about Bob Bell was not from fear that he would read the blog, but from the highly intelligent comments he made in a Record interview last year.

I should have mentioned that I’ve heard great things about Stephen Fix as well.

One of my biggest course mistakes at Williams was dropping English 101 with Steve Fix 20 years ago this fall, taught in Perry’s great seminar room. Such are the follies of youth.

Again, to my mind the question is not so much how well or poorly Williams (or the English department) does at teaching students how to write well. The issue is how that can be done better and, in particular, what structural changes in how the College operates would further this goal.

Another idea — along the line of public student papers and public professor comments — would be a formal Williams thesis archive. I would suggest:

1) All Williams theses should be posted on-line in an easily readable (and standard) format, perhaps html or pdf.

2) All thesis advisers/examiners should submit written comments which could be posted alongside the theses.

Although this isn’t directly related to the issue of writing better, it would be another small contribution to making the academic life at Williams richer. (And it would provide lots of great stuff to link to and comment on!)

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Ben Roth ’04 is not

Ben Roth ’04 is not impressed with Mike Needham’s thoughts on the English department. Ben writes:

I can’t imagine how Mike Needham possibly feels qualified to make generalized accusations of the English department, but I was rather disgusted by his smug comments. Further, in singling out positively only Bob Bell, apparently the one English Professor for whom he doesn’t have complete disdain (or the one English professor he’s scared will read this?), he’s lumped every single one of the other thirty-some members of the department in a very personal way into the category of “bad teachers”. But I’m sure Mike has, you know, taken a class with all of them and hasn’t received the help with his writing he felt he deserved. I bet he couldn’t even name all the people he’s insulting without checking the course catalog. I can only speak of the professors of the ten English courses I’ve had, but I think Professor Tifft in particular has been done a great disservice by Mike’s comments. He makes it a point to teach writing in his classes, and he has great success. Numerous others have been helpful as well, and never has one been unreceptive when I’ve gone to them for help.

The economics to accounting, English to writing analogy, while perhaps useful as an analogy, is misleading, of course. It’s the responsibility of every department at Williams — including economics, including the hard sciences — to teach writing. Econ majors may or may not need accounting skills (I don’t know enough to weigh in there), but they, along with every other student here, certainly need to write well. And it is true that this often isn’t an explicit focus. I’ve been a writing tutor since the beginning of my sophomore year and have been a course assistant for philosophy courses since the beginning of my junior year, so I’ve seen a fair bit of student writing. I’ve seen bad papers for classes in just about every department and heard plenty of stories of professors from each offering less than ideal help with a student’s writing. Blaming the English department isn’t going to get us anywhere.

I agree with most of this. I also suspect that Needham was not trying to demonstrate “complete disdain” for the English department — although perhaps he succeeded in doing so — but was instead making a general claim.

One great advantage of public papers and public comments is that it would allow all of us to judge just how well the English department, and particular professors within it, perform this critical task. Teaching people how to write well is hard, hard work. It would be good if the College made at least some attempt to monitor, and even measure, how well it is succeeding in this task.

By the way, Professors Katie Kent and Steve Fix have assured me that this blog is required reading in the English department.

;-)

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With regard to my analogy

With regard to my analogy below on how the Economics department should teach some accounting in the same way, and for similar reasons, that the English department teaches students to write, Mike Needham ’04 notes:

No worries, the English Department here, with the exception of Bob Bell, does not teach people to write well. Teaching that skill appears to have gone out of style a few decades ago.

Comments:

1) Harsh!

2) Needham, as a former editor in chief of the Record, has probably read a fair amount of undergraduate-generated prose, so his criticism can hardly be dismissed out of hand.

3) I have cheap, albeit potentially traumatic, solution to this problem. Or, to the extent that you believe that Williams does a great job of teaching students to write well, a way to make that process even better. Student papers should be posted on the web along with the comments made by the professors.

There are a lot of messy details to be worked out in any such plan. Should the papers be anonymous? Should public posting be a requirement? Should grades be posted along with comments? My answers to these questions would be No, Yes and No, but reasonable people might differ.

What I think is beyond dispute is, on average, that students should take more care with their writing and that professors should provide more and better feedback to students about their writing. Practice and feedback are the keys to better writing. A side benefit to such a plan is that Student A would learn something by seeing the Student B’s work and the comments that the professor has made on it.

But this is all a larger topic for another day. If Mike Needham has unfairly maligned the English department, then I would certainly like to hear about it.

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With regard to the issue

With regard to the issue of accounting at Williams, Professor Zimmerman of the Economics department pointed out that they regularly offer an accounting class during Winter Study. He also noted that almost no other departments of economics offer accounting and that it is almost always offered in business school.

All of this is, of course, quite true. Indeed, this year’s accounting course, ECON 014, looks good. I would be curious to know if it is. I would also be curious to know if many more want to take it than the 30 that are permitted.

Of course, the fact that the Amherst Economics department doesn’t offer accounting (or that Harvard Business School does) is largely irrelevant to the issue of Williams doing so. Moreover, now that I look, it turns out that some peer colleges (e.g., Smith and Mount Holyoke) do offer such a course. My main claims are that: First, such a course could be taught in at least as academically rigorous a fashion as other courses in the department are — we are not talking about basic bookkeeping. Second, many students would want to take it. Third, those students would be glad that they had taken it, both in terms of their understanding of the world in which we live (tough to understand the current wave of corporate scandals with knowing accounting) and in terms of future careers in business. Mike Nery and I are not the only alums who regret not having studied accounting, or at least financial statement analysis, at Williams.

As a side note, it is nice to see that Zimmerman has been promoted to full professor. By all accounts, he has done a great job at Williams over the past 12 years. I especially like the way that he guides students toward projects that use data about Williams. Unfortunately, I can’t find any examples of this for linking to, but I know about work on grade inflation and roommate influences.

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Mike Nery ’95 wrote in:

Mike Nery ’95 wrote in:

I agree completely that the economics department should offer accounting. I took accounting as a winter study elective, but given how vital accounting is, it should be a required class for the major. Maybe if more people understood accounting, the US Government would have to use accrual accounting when talking about Social Security (yeah I know I’m dreaming).

Overall, I thought the econ curriculum was unhelpful. Although I knew by the end of my sophomore year that I wanted to go into finance, I ended up majoring in psychology. I took all of the econ classes that I needed for the major except for two. Truthfully, I wish I had taken fewer. With few exceptions (a Game Theory class taught by a mathematician that blew my mind), I found most of the professors to have little understanding or experience of real-world finance.

Comments:

1) It is tough for me to have informed opinions about the economics department since there has been so much turnover in the last 15 years. Fortunately, un-informed opinions are always available!

2) I would bet that the vast majority of Ephs in business would agree that accounting should be offered at Williams. I am not sure that it should be required, but that is mainly because of my bias against requirements. Certainly, the material in an accounting course would be used several orders of magnitude more often by graduates than, say, the material in ECON 252: Macroeconomics.

3) I suspect that the economics department would probably reply with something like: “Sure, we don’t teach accounting, but Williams doesn’t teach sheet metal fabrication or typing. Williams is not a trade school. Many topics, however useful they may be in the ‘real world,’ are not a part of the liberal arts curriculum.”

4) In my view, the real reason that accounting is not offered at Williams is because economics, as a field, is biased against accounting. Economists do not learn much, if any, accounting in graduate school and so are uninterested in studying it later and ill-equipped to teach it. Of course, that problem could be overcome with a little effort. Accounting as a field of study is every bit as rigorous in theory and well-grounded in application as economics.

5) My suggestion (to David Zimmerman, chair of the Economics Department) would be: offer accounting once and see what happens. It could easily be made a part of a class on security valuation or some other more traditionally economic topic. A great textbook for such a class would be Financial Statement Analysis and Security Valuation by Stephen Penman.

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Although I don’t expect my

Although I don’t expect my great Eph Holiday Card Project to work, Kim Jordan Daboo ’88 has done her part.

Kim writes that:

This was our card last year, a painting of our dogs. Happy Holidays from the Hoiho Clumbers. Not sure we can top it this year. We’re closing on our first house next week so we’ll probably just send out “we’ve moved” cards in January and hope to be forgiven!

All is forgiven! Although, as always, I hope that Kim can stop taking her day job so seriously and get back to regular blogging.

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Michael Nery ’95 has joined

Michael Nery ’95 has joined the Board of Directors of The Leather Factory. They report that:

Mr. Nery’s firm manages Nery Capital Partners, L.P., an investment fund that purchased Leather Factory shares in a private transaction announced in September. His prior experience includes securities analysis at Fidelity Management and Research Co. in Boston and later co-management of a Denver-based hedge fund. Mr. Nery is a graduate of Williams College.

Comments:

1) To have your own hedge fund at age 30 is an impressive achievement.

2) Nery seems to have done quite well over the last few years, at least as of this past spring. His 3 year Sharpe ratio is 0.8. (A Sharpe ratio is, more or less, the return in excess of your benchmark (high is good) divided by the volatility of that return (low is good).) Anyone with a Sharpe ratio above 0.5 — and a minimal ability to raise assets — will soon be getting a lot of calls from the nice folks at the Climb Far campaign.

3) Alas, the world of finance, or at least the subpart of that world concerned with asset management, is viciously zero sum. My (real) job is to try to take money away from people like Nery, just as his job is to do the same to me. We are all trying to buy low and sell high. Fortunately, Nery seems to operate in a different corner of the financial world that I do, so I can safely wish him nothing but the best.

4) I wonder if Nery thinks, as I do, that the Williams Economics department really ought to offer a course on accounting. Not doing so is, roughly, analogous to the English department declining to teach people how to write well.

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Happy Holidays to Ephs

Happy Holidays to Ephs Around the World!

One of the (many) crazy ideas that I have for this blog is as a collection of Eph holiday cards. There are a handful of people that I should send cards to but that, for all sorts of reasons, I never get around to doing so. So, to all of them, especially former roommates, I say Merry Christmas.

But I like to think that there are other Ephs in similar situations. I am here to help. Send me your holiday cards and I will post them here for the larger Eph community. The more holiday cheer, the better.

David Kane
Eph Holiday Card Project
30 Washington Street
Newton, MA 02458

Electronic submissions are also accepted.

(Pictured are Michaela ’18 and Cassandra ’21. Note that Michaela will share the reunion cycle with both her father ’88 and grandfather ’58.)

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Ephs for Dean continues to

Ephs for Dean continues to gather momentum. Walker Waugh ’02 gets a brief mention in a long New York Times Magazine article.

There seems to be something in Dean’s personality that inspires this sort of response. Although his spontaneous, unscripted manner has led some critics to label him as erratic, gaffe-prone and even mean-spirited, the young people at the Dean offices often compare the former governor to a favorite uncle, and speak tenderly about his frayed sweaters and raincoats. They think his jokes are funny. I watched one evening as Walker Waugh, a recent graduate of Williams College, sat wrapped in a blanket in front of a bank of televisions at the Burlington headquarters, laughing hysterically at footage of a 1993 Dean appearance on public access TV that he had been assigned to catalog. ”I’m sending this to all my boys,” he said. ”They’ll love it.”

The entire article is well-done. Alas, it’s focus is on the technical youngsters who are making many of Dean’s innovations possible. Perhaps if Waugh were more technical (perhaps a computer science major?), he would have gotten more attention.

One of the reasons that I was a philosophy major was that I figured that I would leave the technical stuff to the technical guys. I wanted to think about the structure of a just society. It was only latter in life that I learned that technical people run the world . . .

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David Nickerson ’97 kindly sent

David Nickerson ’97 kindly sent in these comments on conservatives at Williams.

I came across your Williams College Blog a few weeks back and read it periodically now because I enjoy the discussion of an institution I care about. I found your post this morning on conservatives at Williams a little less satisfying than usual (you win some, you lose some . . . I don’t pay anything to read your musings, so I have no complaints).

You don’t pay anything?! The bill is in the mail . . .

At least when I attended Williams (93-97), the ideological spectrum represented was extremely narrow, but not along a liberal/conservative dichotomy. The vast majority of people accurately characterized themselves as “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.” They were all for civil rights and free speech, but knew they would make a lot of money and wanted low taxes. I chalked this up to attending a school where investment banking, consulting, law school, and med school represent the majority of future employment. While my classmates were more conservative at the five year reunion, I would not have characterized them as liberal at age 18 (implying they had no heart?). Was it so very different during the 1980s?

No and yes. “Socially liberal” was certainly a fair description of students in the 1980’s, but “fiscally conservative?” Perhaps my memory is no longer what it was, but there were very few fiscal conservatives (defined as people who think that taxes and government services should be lower than they are) among Williams students in that era.

Of course, in that long ago time, foreign affairs — support for the Contras in Nicaragua, divestment from South Africa, relations with the Soviet Union — were the hot topics of the day.

But I am curious as to why you think the faculty is overly liberal? They certainly are liberal on average, but more so than the faculty at other elite colleges and universities?

I don’t think that the situation at Williams is any worse that at other elite colleges, but universities may be a different matter. A place like Harvard is so large that there are almost bound to be people like Harvey Mansfield to provide a conservative voice on the faculty.

My personal theories on why there are so few conservatives in academia are to boring to relate here.

I am dubious of claims that education makes individuals more liberal, but conservatives simply do not seem as interested in pursuing academic careers. The talent pool is thinner because they are more likely to go into law or business than are liberals. Should the college establish a quota system to “tip” the scale in favor of conservative faculty members? While the irony would be rich indeed, faculty members should be selected for teaching and research abilities not ideological predilection.

I disagree. While the College does not need to ensure that the percentage of faculty who voted for Bush mirror that of the population at large, it should ensure that there is a minimal amount publicly expressed ideological diversity. I am not talking about having 20 conservative faculty members. I am hoping for two or three who are actively engaged in the community (writing letters to the Record, speaking at campus forums and the like).

As a first step, I would like Williams to keep Dave Barnard around.

The story isn’t one of the academy persecuting conservative scholars either. Conservatives have a couple of inherent advantages: 1) Faculties realize that they are predominantly liberal, so they make some attempt to hire qualified conservatives for balance; 2) Journals also realize that most research agendas are driven by liberal ideologies, so they seek to publish articles asking conservative questions, leanings, or answers; 3) There is more grant money available for conservatives than liberals. Admittedly, some hiring decisions come down to idiosyncratic decisions such as “who would make the best colleague” and that can hurt conservative scholars. It is possible that departments at Williams are hiring “a liberal drinking buddy” as a colleague and ignoring qualified conservative candidates. If you have heard tale of such activities, I would be curious to hear.

I have some evidence of this, but not enough to go into right now. At the very least, the College should spend as much time worrying about ideological diversity as it does about gender and skin color.

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High among the list of

High among the list of phases that I never expected to see in print: “there are also a ton of right-of-center students at Williams” — but that is what Mike Needham claims. Twenty years ago, the percentage of “right-of center students” — defined as preferring, say, Ronald Reagan to Walter Mondale — at Williams had to be in the single digits, if not the very low single digits.

Not that this is necessarily a good thing, or a bad thing for that matter. Recall the claim, misattributed to Churchill that, “If a man is not a liberal when he is 18, he has no heart. If a man is not a conservative when he is 30, he has no brain.” I would expect that the range of political opinion among the Williams student body to be similar to that of the general population of elite college students in America. That range will change over time and has probably become more conservative (or at least more libertarian in domestic policy and assertive in foreign policy) over the past few decades, especially since 9/11.

The problem at Williams, then as now, is the lack of a range (especially in their public pronouncements) among the faculty. This is something that Williams could fix. For example, it would probably take only a small percentage of Morty’s salary, and tenure, to bring Daniel Drezner ’90 to Williams.

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There is a nice feel

There is a nice feel good story in The Transcript about how Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity is building a house for Angela Copeland and her four sons. The Williams connection is that Copeland works in the registrar’s office and 3 (unnamed) Williams students helped with the design of the house. The article notes that:

The news comes as a far cry from the position the single mother found herself in back in February 1987.

Then, the North Adams resident was 17, and she had just given birth to the first male triplets to be born in North Berkshire since 1914. But she had been dropped from welfare because some forms had not been filled out while she was in the hospital to give birth to her sons two months prior.

Next, the water pipes in Copeland’s apartment building froze and burst, so the city had to shut off the water main for the entire building. The following day, city’s acting building inspector, Paul Matrigali, found walls, windows, a ceiling and a split water tank in need of immediate repair. Her gas was shut off because the heater needed to be fixed.

Copeland stayed with a series of family members while searching for another place to live, leaving her belongings in the locked Pebble Street apartment. One by one, a washing machine, pots and pans, and a crib were stolen.

When our first daughter was born, my wife and I were overwhelmed even though there were 3 of us (including her mother) to care for a single child. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for a single mother at 17 with triplets and without a place to live . . .

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Humble Conservatives

Mike Needham ’04 has a thoughtful post on conservatives at Williams.

So fine, a lot of conservative students may have a bit of a persecution complex. Let’s not forget, however, that there are a lot of student groups with persecution complexes out there. The difference is when a conservative says he feels threatened or discriminated against, faculty members rightly call him on the nonsense; when other minority group students do, the faculty tends to trip over itself to condemn the “pain caused to members of our community.”

Note that the link features a letter signed by my classmate Katie Kent ’88. Although I disagree with Katie about this — just as we disagreed about so many things 20 years ago — it is pleasing to see that Williams continues to hire and tenure such intelligent and passionate individuals. [Full disclosure: I am hoping to marry my daughter to Katie’s son 20 years from now. Then we can be in-laws! ;-)]

In any event, Needham goes in to note:

Many of the conservative pieces submitted to the Record, show a complete disdain for opposing viewpoints and it manifests itself in ugly polemics that seek not to convince, but rather to fracture. For example:

That someone may be offended, or feel hated, by a comment or argument doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made (and if you disagree on that point, please don’t say so, it just might offend me). People need to be held responsible for their own feelings, and as politically incorrect as this may be: if my comments hurt your feelings, and I meant you no harm, it is your own problem.

Do I agree with the substance of this point? Whole-heartedly. Was it expressed in a way that showed any desire to contribute positively to campus dialogue? Absolutely not.

The question conservative students face is whether they are content to be angry and reactionary and feed fuel to the fire or whether we seek to engage ideas in a mature, humble manner.

Although I can’t comment on the typical style of conservative pieces submitted to the Record, the article by Oren Cass that Needham links to and quotes seem perfectly fine, even tame, to me. Then again, my own Record articles were not, uh, “humble.”

I think that Needham, perhaps only a little, undervalues the tone and style of discourse that Cass employs. It certainly isn’t humble. But, if you’re mind is even a little bit open, it does force you to think. I don’t agree with much of what Alexandra Grashkina writes at Rumor, but she writes so well (and in no way humbly!), that I am forced to think harder about my own opinions. Polemics, when done well, are an aid to education and dialogue, not a hindrance.

As always, and self-interestedly, I think that political discourse specifically — and overall education generally — would be better at Williams if there were a greater diversity of viewpoints. The real problem is not that there are too few conservative students (humble or otherwise), but that there are virtually no (outspoken) conservative faculty.

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Fountains of Wayne, led by

Fountains of Wayne, led by Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood (both ’89), has been nominated for a Grammy for best new artist. The Boston Globe comments:

Fountains of Wayne might be the most bizarre choice in any of the categories. They’ve actually been around for seven years (the band’s core songwriters, Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, originally met at Williams College in the late ’80s). Grammy voters have had a history of strange picks in this category, highlighted a couple of years ago by Shelby Lynne, who had also been around for many years.

The FOW web site has lots of interesting stuff. My favorite part is:

On their long-awaited third album, Welcome Interstate Managers, Fountains Of Wayne tackle such time-honored pop subjects as love, work, frustrated commuters, drunken salesmen, retired airline pilots, pressured quarterbacks, bad waitresses, vegan entrepreneurs, clip-on ties, exploding cell phones, lawn mowing, vacations without the kids, New England snowstorms, lousy directions, and, of course, Face The Nation.

With any luck, the class of 1989 15th year reunion committee will be able to convince Adam and Chris to do at least a song or two next June. And, all of we long-time ’89 hanger-ons hope to see a repeat of the YMCA sing-along (led by?) that was a high point of the 5th year reunion back in 1994.

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