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Update on David La

David La ’01, found on the Web here, updated us on what happened.

I ended up visiting CMU and Williams during the same week in April of my senior year, and I stayed with a friend of my sister’s from the Class of 97. Though he was up to his ears with a senior thesis, he managed to find time to show me around, introduce me to his friends, and basically put a very human face to what ended up being a very easy decision to attend Williams. I’d like to think that having a sister who graduated in ’95 made a big difference, but visiting campus truly made the images of campus in the admissions viewbook come alive, and the student community is one of the things I miss most about my experience.

Don’t we all.

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This is part of the

This is part of the attempt to export our data out to the new MovableType system.

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David La ’01, found on

David La ’01, found on the Web here, updated us on what happened.

I ended up visiting CMU and Williams during the same week in April of my senior year, and I stayed with a friend of my sister’s from the Class of 97. Though he was up to his ears with a senior thesis, he managed to find time to show me around, introduce me to his friends, and basically put a very human face to what ended up being a very easy decision to attend Williams. I’d like to think that having a sister who graduated in ’95 made a big difference, but visiting campus truly made the images of campus in the admissions viewbook come alive, and the student community is one of the things I miss most about my experience.

Don’t we all.

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Political Science professors James McAllister

Political Science professors James McAllister and Mark Reinhardt were quoted in this iBerkshires article entitled “Democrats Slam Nader’s Run.”

Mark Reinhardt, another Williams College political science professor called Nader’s candidacy “indefensible.”

At this point, the naive reader might conclude that Reinhardt is a man of the Left. After all, most conservatives/Republicans think that Nader’s candidacy is not just defensible, but delightful.

“This will be the most momentous election in decades. It’s going to be close, and it’s hard to see how Nader’s candidacy will help,” said Reinhardt. “I’m reasonably hopeful he’s not going to be the disruptive force he was in the last election. A decent number of people who supported him then are contrite about what they did. Once burned, twice shy.”

He added, “Nader’s case in 2000 was that it really didn’t matter which of the two main parties won. I cannot believe that any sensible person, looking at the world, would believe that now.”

Yet, here we see that Reinhardt is not a true man of the Left. After all, Senator Kerry is anti-gay marriage, a paid-in member of the ruling plutocracy, in favor of the continued occupation of Iraq, a long-time proponent of economic exploitation of poor countries (i.e., a “free trader”) and unwilling to acknowledge the continued global disasters resulting from US hegemony.

Only in the restricted setting of Williams College could a man like Reinhardt ever be considered a true respresentative of the Left. The fact that some crazy alumni think that the College needs more “conservative” professors is just another sign of their disconnection from both life at Williams and, even, reality itself.

At least, that’s one way of looking at it.

;-)

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iBerkshires has this notice today:

iBerkshires has this notice today:

Art lecture

WILLIAMSTOWN –Sweetwood Senior Residential Community has announced a public lecture by S. Lane Faison Jr., the Amos Lawrence professor of art, emeritus, at Williams College, on Thursday, March 4, at 4 p.m. in the Sweetwood auditorium, 1611 Cold Spring Road (Route 7).

Faison, who served on the Williams faculty for 40 years and was director of the Williams College Museum of Art from 1948 to 1976, will talk on “Looking For Art in the Painting.”

The lecture is sponsored by the Garfield Republican Club.

I can’t even articulate why tidbits like this are so moving (to me).

Part of it is an appreciation of the dramatic influence that Faison and the other giants of Art History at Williams have had on their students and their field. There really is a Williams art history “Mafia”, and Faison, Stoddard, Pierson, et al started it more than 50 years ago.

Part is the knowledge that there is a Sweetwood “Senior Residential Community” in my future. I am still closer to Williams than I am to it, but that claim will not be true a few more reunions from now. I can only hope that I am still listening to lectures like this in 2044 or so. (My wife certainly hopes that I won’t be giving them!)

Part is the pleasure in seeing the Garfield Republican Club take part in such a non-partisan endeavor. Hats off to whatever Eph(s) put this all together.

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Food Fight

At some point I will set up a proper blogroll (list of blogs) of Eph-related blogs. In the meantime, I link as I find them. Certainly, the nicest looking one belongs to Oren Cass ’04. Although most of his postings are not Williams-related, he does have some thoughts on a recent Black Student Union e-mail encouraging members to respond to a dining hall survey. Oren writes:

Do black students have significantly different views about dining services? (Of course they do! They’re diverse, remember?) So does that mean that black students have significantly different views about dining services? (Of course not! Don’t even imply that black students are different from white students, that’s racist!) So why is it particularly important that they, versus other demographic groups, fill out the survey in any particular numbers? (What kind of question is that? Are you saying that we should ignore the needs of minorities in our community? The environment is hostile enough as it is!)

Now, if I could just get Oren to help with the design of this site . . .

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Not sure your analysis holds

Not sure your analysis holds up.

I’ll grant you that the “depth” of relationships with a small group of friends would be better off under a system where you can pick into the same house with that entire group. The system I propose, like the current system, would allow students to live in a group with three other close friends. I fundamentally disagree with the idea, however, that close relationships cannot be made unless you live with people. I would be surprised if most people did not have many close friends whom they do not live with. Close friendships are also made on the athletic field, in the newspaper office, or at the Purple Pub so while I’ll grant that your system is more conducive to creating a really tight group of 10 friends, I don’t think mine hinders close friendship.

Incidentally, if we wanted to make depth of friendship our top priority in community decisions at Williams, we would bring back fraternities which allow a couple dozen people with similar interests to eat, sleep, drink, and party together. In terms of crafting community policy, however, I’d say depth of friendship is the least important: People are going to make close friendships regardless of what policies the college implements because intimate relationships are ultimately what life is about. Getting dissimilar people to interact, on the other hand, is not a natural thing — though it is something that is at the core of what Williams claims to be.

In terms of “breadth,” David largely falls back on citing a blind assertion in place of analysis. He claims in the late 1980s the average Williams student knew “50 to 150 members of her class” while now the typical senior knows “125 to 225 (perhaps more) members of her class.” This is such a silly, baseless assertion that I don’t even know where to begin. There’s just literally no way on earth to know whether people know more names and faces now then they did 15 years ago.

The analysis David does offer suggests that by having lots of flow between dorms, people start meeting more and more people. To some degree this is true. Clearly, under the current system I will encounter more faces as I walk through the halls of Mission sophomore year and Greylock junior year than I would being in one dorm. At the same time, because there is so little attachment to your dorm there is far less incentive to actually meet the people you live with. If I’m a sophomore living in Pratt under the current system, I could be quite content not knowing the vast majority of my house because I have my friends who I live with and I have my friends who live elsewhere and I’m only living in Pratt for one year.

On the other hand, if I’m a sophomore living in Pratt who knows that I’m going to be living with the same people for the next three years, I’m gonna be damn sure to get to know them sophomore year. And I’ll make sure I get to know the juniors as well who I’ll be living with for two years. And I’ll get to know the sophomores who come in next year because I’ll be living with them next year.

Further, and here’s where we get into the “variety” aspect, I’m far more likely to get to know not only all the people in my house, but as I start to get to know them better, I’ll get to know their friends better. On some relatively dead Friday night, if the WUFO players in my house decide to have their WUFO friends over for some beirut, I’m much more likely to go hang out with them if I actually know some people at the party.

A buddy of mine and I used to laugh about the awkward nod of the head you give to somebody who lives in your dorm, whose face you know, but you literally have nothing to say to. David seems to think there’s some great value in recognizing a bunch of faces. I’d rather really get to know a wide variety of people and then perhaps go talk to them and their friends for a few minutes when we’re all coincidentally at the Purple Pub together.

The bottom line is the house affiliation system provides not only the opportunity to meet an array of people, but more importantly a real incentive to get to know this array of people you live with. Under the current system, there’s no incentive not to ignore the rest of your house because you’re only living with them for one year.

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In other Eph football coaching

In other Eph football coaching related news, Dave Clawson ’89 has been named head football coach at the University of Richmond. See also here.

“I am very excited and feel privileged and honored for the opportunity to lead the football program here,” said Clawson, who was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year in 2001 and 2002. “I hope in a short period of time that we can produce a football team that the administration, students and alumni of Richmond can be proud of.”

Coaching, whether of football or anything else, has got to be a tough business on the family, given how often a coach-on-the-rise would want to move around. Consider that Clawson has coached at Albany, Buffalo, Lehigh, and Fordham.

I wonder if Clawson expressed an interest in the opening at Williams and whether or not that interest was reciprocated.

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Lottery versus Affiliation

Now that we have settled the preliminaries of the history of housing at Williams (the Record has an excellent three part series on the topic), we can move onto the main question. Would the breadth, depth and variety of the community of students at Williams be better if the College switched from the current housing lottery to a house affiliation system, as during the mid 1980’s?

No. All these aspects of the Eph community on campus are better today than they were in the 1980’s. Of course, I have very little good evidence of what the community is like now, so I look forward to Mike and Scott chiming in.

Breadth
In the 80’s a typical graduate might know 50 to 150 members of her class. Whether this is a lot or a little, depends on your point of view. The campus was much more segmented over time. Most people (leaving aside JA and overseas time) lived in their housing area for all three years. Greylock people knew lots of Greylock people, but very few Mission people. Separation in first year housing was not ameliorated much over the next three years.

My sense is that the typical senior this year knows more like 125 to 225 (perhaps more) members of her class. I would wager that the campus community has a very different feel because of this. Having so many sophomores live in Mission and so many juniors in Greylock — with each year featuring lots of turnover in terms of housemates — changes the dynamic significantly. (Of course, it is not just the housing lottery alone that causes this. You need both a campus wide lottery and an area (Mission) that is widely regarded as the least desirable.)

Of course, what we really need is good data on this topic. Again, a Zimmerman supervised thesis would be a great place to start.

Depth
Nothing accomplishes the goal of nurturing deeper and longer-lasting relationships among students than living in small housing units with like-minded souls. This is one of the reasons for the popularity and success of off-campus housing in general and the co-op system in particular. The problem with co-ops in the 80’s at least was that there was much more demand than supply. A benefit of the current system is that many row houses become (I think) co-ops in all but name, dominated by groups of seniors who really want to live together. My wife lived with 8 other women her senior year (all of whom will be back for their 15th year reunion in a few months) and it was one of the formative experiences of her time at Williams.

To examine this empirically you might want to know things like: How many seniors live with other Ephs in the year after graduation? How many continue dating/marrying fellow Ephs? How many come back for their 5th and 10th year reunions? How many select fellow Ephs for important roles in their lives? (Both my daughters have Eph godmothers.)

Again, I realize that we lack the data to see how these things have changed over time and, therefore, the ability to ascribe (some of) those changes to the housing system, but the College really ought to at least think along these lines.

Variety
This is the one criteria by which the old affiliation system might do better than the current lottery, especially if there are a lot of examples of all swimmers (and no one but swimmers) living in Carter House. Yet even here, I think that current practice is better. You are much more likely to have a substantive relationship with someone who is both different than you (on whatever dimension you care to name) and who lives in your house if the two of you are in the same class. Moreover, in the lottery system, you spend a year in Armstrong, say, and then a year in Carter and, each year, have a largely non-overlapping set of students to interact with. The amount of “turnover” — for lack of a better word — was much less in the affiliation system.

That is surely enough of my views on the topic. I would wager that the institution of a housing lottery was the single best thing to happen at Williams in the 1990’s. I would hate to see it end completely. (Of course, improvements on the margin — especially to prevent large units like Carter House from being taken over — are often needed.) But, as always, contrary opinions are welcome in this space.

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A letter in the Record

A letter in the Record advocates the creation of a MASSPirg chapter on campus. I’ll leave the fisking of the letter to Mike Needham, but it is beyond pathetic for the author, Jeremy Koulish ’04, to claim that “MassPIRG remains clearly nonpartisan.” Their legislative priorities for 2003-2004 may be reasonable, even praiseworthy, but they are also almost totally liberal/Democratic.

What makes MASSpirg different than other groups is that it seeks to raise funds by imposing a fee on all Williams students, directly on their term bills, and then move some of this money off-campus.

MASSpirg was a scam 20 years ago and it is a scam today. Students at Williams should be free to do as they like and raise money either via their own means or from the standard funding mechanisms like College Council. No group should be permitted to use the College itself as a funding mechanism.

We fought about this in College Council 20 years ago. I guess that it is nice to see that Ephs are still fighting about it.

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Well, if you say

Well, if you say so then you certainly were here and I was not. That said, your version of events directly contradicts the version remembered by then-director of student housing Charles Jankey, then-Associate Dean Cris Roosenraad, and the 1980 Record editorial board:

By the late ’70s, more and more students were opting to transfer out of their houses, and were able to submit preferences for a new assignment. In a special issue titled “Housing at Williams” on March 14, 1980, the Record reported that 220 students applied for house transfers, “demonstrating the increasing desire among the student body to experience different living arrangements while at Williams.”

This was a substantial increase over the handful of students who requested transfers a decade earlier.

According to Charles Jankey, then-director of student housing, the transfer rules (adopted in 1976) stipulated that at the end of sophomore year, a student who wanted to move houses could submit a request, along with up to three others, listing in order of preference 15 of the 16 houses. The only guarantee was that a student would not get assigned to the house left out of the request. The Dean’s office and House Presidents then processed these requests and allocated the available rooms in the houses.

These increases in both the pervasiveness and acceptability of transferring spoke to a weakness in the system. As Cris Roosenraad, then associate dean, said in the special edition of the Record, “It’s awful, [the number of transfers] is way too high, and the system’s breaking down somewhere.”

By 1980, with the house system very much in place, increasing transfers had begun to shift the housing focus from house to class. A 1980 issue of the Record stated “the exodus of students – predominately sophomores – from Mission Park and the Berkshire Quad lends credence to the ‘typical’ housing scenario: sophomore year Mission Park or Berkshire Quad; junior-senior years: Greylock or Row Houses.”

It certainly doesn’t seem like house affinity existed in the same way in the 1980s that it did in the late-60s and 1970s. Regardless, I would hold that the system that existed in the 1970s, they system you lived under, and the system I propose — regardless of any minor differences that existed is better than the current system where Carter becomes the swim team house by default.

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Art History Professor Michael Lewis

Art History Professor Michael Lewis has a nice quote in a Boston Globe article on the new student center at UMASS-Boston.

“I suppose students are comfortable with malls, but at a certain scale I think it defeats the purpose of a community building,” said Williams College art department chairman Michael Lewis, who has written about student centers, but had not seen the new UMass building. “In many cases, they’re recruiting objects, meant to be seen in an hour, and to leave an impression.”

If Lewis’s writings on student centers are on-line, I would appreciate a pointer. Of course, the classic example of a “recruiting object” at Williams is the Chapin collection of founding documents. Or has that become a hot spot of undergraduate activity in the last few years? In my era, only the tour guides knew about it . . . ;-)

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Housing Systems

A great advantage of this blog (I hope!) is that it allows Ephs from different eras to compare notes on their experiences at Williams. In this case, Mike Needham’s proposal would almost completely replicate the housing situation at Williams from 1984 — 1988 and, I am pretty sure, the 5 or 10 years before and after.

Fortunately, I am not the only one who remembers this time period. Faculty members Katie Kent ’88, Will Dudley ’89 and Tom Smith ’88 could provide commentary as well. In any event, Mike is misinformed when he writes that:

by 1980 a change made in 1976 that allowed students to request a housing transfer had more or less created the situation that we have today.

Throughout the 80’s transfers were difficult for individuals and almost unheard of for entire rooming groups. The situation then was very different from Williams now. The “typical” student lived in the same housing area for three years. Whether the campus community then had greater breadth, depth and variety then it does now (and how/whether those differences are related to the housing process) is the question before us.

One nice aspect of Mike’s proposal is that, because Williams has tried it before, we can be a lot more confident of its likely effects than we could be if it were something brand new.

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House Affiliation

Dave, we’re not exactly on the same page in terms of terminology. Technically the house affiliation system lasted until 1996, though most discussions at Williams focus on 1980 as the year the house affiliation system broke down with the elimination of house dining recommended as a cost-saving measure by an ad hoc committee on residential life chaired by Don Gifford. More importantly, as I understand it, by 1980 a change made in 1976 that allowed students to request a housing transfer had more or less created the situation that we have today.

Quoting from the Record in 1980:

The exodus of students – predominately sophomores – from Mission Park and the Berkshire Quad lends credence to the ‘typical’ housing scenario: sophomore year Mission Park or Berkshire Quad; junior-senior years: Greylock or Row Houses.

This is certainly what the situation is today, and it is the one that I am advocating we move away from.

As far as I’m concerned, at the end of freshman year you get assigned a house and you live in that house until you graduate. Transferring, which apparently became the norm by 1980, would only be an option in the most extreme of cases — maybe a handful a year.

Dave, I don’t know what your situation was. If you lived in Carter for all three years then that is certainly what I’m proposing. As I understand it, transferring had become very common by 1980. Even if you didn’t transfer — even if not one person who lived with you in Carter transferred — I still think the prevalence of moving from house to house attacks the very premise of the system that existed from the end of frats until 1980, which is that house affiliation be a major, defining aspect of residential life.

Incidentally, I’m also in favor of bringing back house dining a few times a week, but that’s apparently too expensive for the College nowadays and is completely out of the question.

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I can’t speak for WSO,

I can’t speak for WSO, it has been over 5 years since I was a full member there – so I don’t know if they will allow MovableType on there or not. That said, I have my own dedicated server that I use for a variety of things – you are more than welcome to use MovableType on there. Another option would be a LiveJournal account – I don’t believe that they allow multiple people to post on that – whereas MovableType allows various user levels.
I already have MovableType setup on that system, but I need to make a few changes to it. We should also determine what domain name we want – if any.

It shouldn’t take too long to setup (a few days for the domain registration to propagate through the DNS system) – just need to think of a good name (if any). Otherwise I can just do a directory off of existing domain names.

I’m currently pretty sick right now and I’m not sure I have the energy to do all of this right now, but if someone will keep on me about it, I am willing to do it (just remind me in case I get busy and forget).

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Measuring “Community”

Our question today is “community” at Williams and the effect that different housing systems have on it. In particular, would an affiliation system strengthen or weaken community at Williams as compared to the current lottery system?

To make sense of this debate, we need some simple, yet specific, measures of community. Let me propose three.

First, “community” can be measured by how many fellow students the typical Williams student knows by name (and, conversely, how many know her name). Call this aspect of community “breadth.”

A second aspect of community might be termed “depth.” How many students does the typical Williams student know very well, how many close friends does she have? Reasonable people will differ about whether it is better to have two extremely close friends or ten moderately close friends, but depth is probably as important as breadth in judging the health of the Williams community.

Third, “community” can be measured by how varied the students within a given student’s know-by-name circle are. Different people will care about different aspects of variedness, but most would agree that a Williams students would be well-served to know Ephs of both genders, many races and religions and nations and orientations (sexual and political), from a variety of class backgrounds and with a wide ranging interests, both academic and non-academic. I think Mike captures some of this when he writes:

Houses would truly become diverse as a group of four theater majors might be randomly assigned to live in a house with WUFO players, chemistry majors, board game aficionados and varsity athletes.

Cater House in the late 1980’s certainly had all of these (with the possible exception of the board game people, although perhaps foosball was the period equivalent). Does Carter House today not have similar diversity?

Call this aspect of community, “variety.”

I suspect that most everyone would agree that a community with more “breadth” and “variety” and “depth” is better than one with less. Of course, there are all sorts of measurement issues involved here (although I am sure that one of David Zimmerman’s thesis students could do a fine job with it), and we will have trouble making sense of how these measures have changed over time at Williams. Yes these criteria — breadth, depth and variety — provide at least one framework within which we can discuss the choice between an affiliation and a lottery system.

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Yes, yes. I realize that

Yes, yes. I realize that we need a comment mechanism here at the Williams Blog. I realize that it is endlessly annoying to read a back and forth debate in reverse chronological order. Of course, what we really need is to move to Movable Type and set up our own server. The easiest way to do that would be to get WSO to let me run Movable Type on my WSO account. (I would just use the cool WSO Blogs, but they don’t allow for multiple authors on the same Blog or, I think, authors without WSO accounts.)

If anyone knew the key person to bribe, compliment, beg, whatever at WSO, I would appreciate the tip.

Goodness knows that I have sucked up quite a bit to WSO in this space. ;-)

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Housing History

Perhaps someone more expert on these issues can provide a thorough history, but, as best I know, there are have been three main eras in the last 50 years in Williams housing.

First, the fraternities, lasting until 1962 or so. Students not in fraternities were affiliated with certain houses (they had to live somewhere) mostly in the Berkshire Quad. My father was a DKE (pronouced deek) and lived in the DKE house, since burned down. Fraternities had, essentially, complete control over who became a member.

Second, the “affiliation” system, lasting until 1990 or so. I am not sure that “affiliation” is the correct word, but the system was simple enough. At the end of freshmen year, you — either alone or as a member of a smallish housing group — submitted your housing preference the main housing groups on campus (Greylock, Mission, et cetera). By lottery, you were assigned to one of these groups and then randomly to a house within that group. My first choice was Greylock (as was many peoples in that era) and I ended up in Carter House. After this initial lottery, you were stuck in that house for three years (leaving out time as a JA or time abroad). House transfers were difficult and rare.

Third, the lottery system, lasting through today. See here if you need an overview of the current system, as best I understand it.

My understanding is that Mike Needham is proposing that Williams go back to an “affiliation” system in which students would spend three years in a given house, but one where the students currently in that house would have no say in which first years were admitted. Moreover, steps would be taken to ensure that each house provided a reasonable microcosm of the larger Williams community.

My claim is not that Mike is wrong in his “views on residential life at Williams.” Mike has clearly thought carefully about these topics. My claim is that the Williams community is stronger and better under the current lottery system than it was (or would be again) under an affiliation system. (I am assuming — correct me if I am wrong, Dean Roseman! — that the fraternity option is no longer viable.)

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Completely, Totally Wrong

Apparently, I am “completely, totally wrong” regarding my views on residential life at Williams. Unfortunately, I can’t really engage David’s argument as the analysis more or less ends there. As for whether anyone who lived under the house affiliation system agrees with my piece, the answer is “yes” as I’ve received far more positive feedback then negative from alums from that era (indeed, the only negative feedback from alums I’ve gotten regarding the piece is David’s blog post and, it should be noted, that as a member of the class of 1988 David not only didn’t live under the house affiliation system, but didn’t even go to school with anybody that did).

Anyhow, none of that’s important. Any system you implement will have advantages and disadvantages. We can argue about the relative merits of different systems or even the ends that the College should be pursuing, but I don’t know of one person who has seriously examined issues of residential life at Williams who is as dismissive of the idea of house affiliation as David apparently is.

David, I’d love for you to more fully articulate why a house affiliation system would be such a travesty.

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Tolley Clan

Here is the last of our Eph Holiday Card Project submissions, from George (’88) and Kirsten (’89) Tolley.

George reports that having 4 sons is a little like NASCAR racing: very fast, very loud and, every once in a while, a dramatic accident of some sort.

Those looking to see the action in person (especially folks associated with the class of 1989) should be sure to come to Williamstown for reunion week-end this spring.

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As often noted, nothing ever

As often noted, nothing ever goes away on the Web (a fact which will no doubt haunt the writers on this blog some day). As an example, we have this exchange, circa 1997, about the merits of Williams versus Carnegie Mellon.

Right now, I am having a tough time trying to weigh the pros and cons of Williams vs CMU.

I know that Williams was rated the #1 small liberal arts college for a number of years by US News & World Report in the past and was recently ranked #3 (behind Amherst and Swathmore, I think). I don’t have the stats for CMU, though…

Any thoughts appreciated! Also, if there are any other prospective CMU or
Williams people out there, I’d love to hear from you!

The author, David La, received helpful comments from several people, including Craig Ganzer ’94.

The kicker is that La, as best I can tell, ended up going to Williams and graduating in 2001. Yet here we have a (public!) record of his thoughts on college choices, available for all the world to read, almost 3 years after his graduation.

This is either very scary or very cool or both.

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Scott H. Heekin-Canedy ’74 has

Scott H. Heekin-Canedy ’74 has been promoted to President & General Manager of The New York Times Newspaper. The news release notes that:

Mr. Heekin-Canedy will be responsible for all of the business operations of the Times newspaper, including advertising, circulation, marketing, production, systems, human resources, finance, strategic planning, labor relations and New York Times News Services. Mr. Heekin-Canedy’s circulation responsibilities will be assumed by a successor who is expected to be named shortly.

In making the announcement, Ms. Robinson said, “Scott has played an integral role in setting the strategy for The New York Times and in increasing its national reach. His skills in finance, planning and circulation, along with his background in newspaper operations, will enable him to bring strong vision and outstanding leadership to his new responsibilities.”

I would wager that Heekin-Canedy has some great stories to tell about “labor relations.” The College might consider seeking him out as an alumni speaker for this spring’s reunion activities.

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Fellow blogger (and Yale graduate

Fellow blogger (and Yale graduate student) David Nickerson ’97 notes that “Keeping good faculty members at a liberal arts college like Williams is hard to do,” and provides a useful discussion of the issues involved. Fortunately, this is an easily solvable problem. But first a bit of background for those not in academia.

1) For all practical purposes, other schools only steal Williams faculty on the basis of scholarship. LSU does not care that much, if at all, that Tim Cook is a good teacher. LSU cares that he has in the past written (and will in the future write) books and articles that have a scholarly impact, that other academics will read and cite and be influenced by.

2) The job market in most of academia is horrible (if you are an academic). There are dozens of highly qualified applicants for almost every opening at Williams.

Now, with those facts as background, it is easy to come up with a plan that would decrease the number of faculty who leave Williams for elsewhere.

1) Hire more Williams graduates. People like Tom Smith ’88, Katie Kent ’88 and Will Dudley ’89 are much less likely to leave Williams than their peers because they feel a real affinity for Williams and Williamstown. They are truly Ephs. Faculty members who were undergraduates elsewhere are, presumably, not as Ephphilic.

2) Place a much greater emphasis on teaching talent and desire than one scholarly output, both in hiring and tenure decisions. This is an area of some dispute and goodness knows that Williams strikes a better balance than most schools. But, if your goal is to decrease faculty departures, you want to weigh things that other schools don’t care about (teaching) much higher than things they do care about (research). By hiring people like Russ Muirhead and Bryan Garsten, people with scholarly output that could get them positions at Harvard and Yale, the political science department is making a mistake. Instead, it should hire people who are better teachers than Muirhead and Garsten even though they might be worse scholars.

3) Focus on dual-Ph.D. couples. Anytime the College can provide academic positions to a couple, it can essentially lock them in for life because such opportunities are so raw. If Gary Jacobsohn’s wife had had a faculty appointment at Williams, there is no way he would have left for Texas. There are several (anyone have a list?) current examples at Williams. Of course, the difficulty here is coordination across departments. That is, the economics and biology departments would each have to take their second choice candidates (who happen to be married to each other) instead of their first choices.

These policies would decrease faculty turnover. But I am not sure that that is a useful way to frame the issue. The goal should be for Williams to improve the “quality” of it faculty — where quality is defined in terms of impact on current students. The way to do that is to give much higher weight to teaching and, pari passu, less weight to scholarship.

There are all sorts of reasons why this is unlikely to happen, but that is a topic for another day.

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Wasting time that should be

Wasting time that should be spent on my dissertation, I typed “Williams College” into Google and searched for images.

The first set of images are: 1) a picture of Chapin; 2) an eclipse; 3) students in a classroom; 4) a thesis; 5) a 110 year old picture of a frat; 6) a picture of Oxford; 7) students at a party; and 8) a picture of lame looking alums.

Strikes me as a pretty good balance between different features of Williams (though, the lack of mountains and sports is somewhat surprising). The pictures are colorful, show happy students, and fool a parent into thinking that a child will be exposed to higher learning.

Type “Amherst College” into Google and search for images and the first 8 images are:
1) a battered weather station; 2) a headshot of a basketball player; 3) a bad image of an old pencil drawing of the campus; 4) a better pencil drawing of the campus; 5) an old painting from the Philadelphia print shop (where Williams is also featured); 6) an old grainy photo taken from the library out onto a road; 7) the Amherst observatory; and 8) the back of a plate.

What would a student taken from these rather drab pictures? That Amherst is old and dreary. Admittedly, a trip to the Amherst College website would clear up such a misconception very quickly. I was just pleased that Google confirmed what Eph alums knew already (or jokingly tell themselves).

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An all-campus e-mail about Winter

An all-campus e-mail about Winter Study mentions that:

Events include:

THE HUMAN DOG SLED
TANDEM XC SKI RACE
DISTANCE LAWN SLEDDING
MOST EXTREME RELAY CHALLENGE

Costumes are highly encouraged, and will be rewarded extra points towards
victory.

That is certainly not your father’s winter study.

I hope that some of our on-campus bloggers and sources will send in or post pictures. Here is a shot from Winter Carnival almost 20 years ago.

Too bad that banana-eating is no longer one of the contests.

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Regular correspondent Eric Smith ’99

Regular correspondent Eric Smith ’99 has joined the Williams Blog. We look forward to Eric’s contributions from sunny Bermuda.

If I were smarter, I would live in Bermuda too!

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There is a nice article

There is a nice article in the Record about John Small’s ’86 fight to save Martha Stewart.

All fun stuff.

Interesting mention is made of ace financial journalist Bethany McLean’s ’92 New York Times Op-Ed on the case. A version of that piece lives on here.

Both Small and McLean seem clearly correct on the merits.

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Keeping Good Faculty

Keeping good faculty members at a liberal arts college like Williams is hard to do.

I learned yesterday that Bryan Garsten will be leaving Williams’ political science department for Yale’s (where my political theory brethren are very excited). The news of this defection falls on the heels of Gary Jacobsohn (probably the strongest academic in the Williams political science department and a very good teacher as well) announcing that he has accepted an endowed chair at the University of Texas.

Now, I didn’t have Bryan Garsten as a professor when I was at Williams. He was still a mere graduate school at Harvard with starry eyed dreams of a tenure track job. In fact, very few of the political science professors I knew remain at the school. Sam Fleischacker left for the University of Illinois at Chicago, Tim Cook moved to LSU, and Russ Muirhead is now teaching at Harvard. The reasons each of the professors left were idiosyncratic and personal, but all of them received offers from other schools that they deemed preferable to Williams. While the academy may seem like a warm and fuzzy place, the truth is that schools try to pilfer each other’s most talented professors.

I’m sure that the experience of the political science department is not unique at Williams (e.g., Louise Gluck was just hired away by Yale). Williams is faced with something of a dilemma. It wants to hire professors who are valuable contributors to their field because such professors offer unique insights and have an incentive to stay on top of the field. However, if Williams is successful in hiring academic stars, then the professors are likely to be lured away by research universities offering more salary, prestige, research opportunities, and bigger cities. Continuity in faculty is highly desirable in a college setting because it gives students and alumni a sense of place and increased ties to the institution. Maintaining continuity and hiring valuable contributors to the field are at odds with one another.

There is a further dilemma in the process. If tenure standards are low, then the most talented professors are likely to be hired away and the department will be left with a mediocre senior faculty. However, if tenure standards are high, then a department faces divisive tenure fights, uncertainty and stress among junior faculty members, and a generally uncongenial atmosphere. The poor atmosphere would provide increased incentive for professors to leave and hurt the students.

What is a college to do?

Answer that question and you can land yourself a job as a college president.

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Building Campus Community

My fellow blogger Mike Needham ’04 is too modest to point this out, but he has a new op-ed in the Record entitled “Building Campus Community.” He writes:

Upon reflection, the goals of the CUL – increasing interactions between peers who otherwise rarely interact while revitalizing a sense of common community – are exactly the goals we should pursue, but the recommendations the CUL made to achieve those goals were not sufficient for the task.

Reinvigoration of our community and sense of camaraderie is an attainable objective, but one that will come at significant cost. By requiring students to live in the same randomly-assigned house for their sophomore through senior years, we can recreate the feeling of fraternity many of our alumni talk about, but is lacking at Williams today.

Alas, Mike is completely, totally wrong on this one. Would anyone who lived at Williams during the old housing regime disagree? It wasn’t a bad system, but I would wager that campus community is stronger now then it was then.

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A senior correspondent for the

A senior correspondent for the Williams Blog suggests that I should not

be overly impressed with the Dean’s attack on the tone of the CC’s letter. It’s an age old device to attack the tone if you can’t handle the content of the incoming.

True enough, but any Dean who can cow the CC into silence must be a pretty skilled Dean, even if the methods that she uses are “age old.” That is, of course, the great advantage of being Dean: You can use the same set of tricks every four years since the student body turns over so rapidly!

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