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Among the many reasons why the Math department is one of the best at Williams is humor. This was from a recent all-campus mailing.

So I was walking through the math library earlier today and I heard the most
interesting conversation between Ed Burger and Jon Lovett. Since I know you
all need additional enticement to come to math snacks, I thought I would
relate it to you.

Burger: What did one vector say to the other vector?
Jon: This is why you have no friends.
Burger: That’s not what he said!

Come to math snacks tonight at 10pm in the math library. We can’t all promise to be this funny, but there will be yesterday’s doughnuts, and Aidan is very likely to make an appearance.

Although reading all-campus mailings is hardly an unbiased sampling technique, it sure seems that the math department does a lot more to make students feel welcome and excited than other similarly-sized departments.


Clarksburg / Lou Gehrig

This is such a tragedy. I used to make trips out to Williamstown with the primary purpose being to devour as many Wilderness Fantasy cookies as I could fit in me. I still believe those are the world’s best cookies. I’m not sure what else to say, except that I’m crushed….


Tell It To The Marines

Daniel Gura ’06 has a not-too-well-written op-ed in the Record arguing that “there is a real need to reinstate the universal national draft.” As much as I like to recommend most everything published in the Record, this piece is just too slipshod to be worth anyone’s time.

Moreover, Gura fails to confront the real logic of his argument. If Williams students like Gura really have “a responsibility to ensure that we uphold the very sacred principles of this great country,” then why doesn’t he enlist? Whether or not he is right about the desirability of a draft is independent of his personal responsibility. Indeed, I find it hard to take serious arguments for a draft made by people who decline the opportunity to volunteer.

Fortunately, Gura has an opportunity to do this in a meaningful way without interupting his Williams career. He can volunteer for Officer Candidate School in the United States Marine Corps. If Gura — or anyone else — were really interested in this, I would be happy to provide more details, but the basic deal is simple enough.

Come down to boot camp for officers in Quantico, Virginia this summer for 10 weeks. We will kick the bullcrap out of you. Think of it as Outward Bound for tough guys. Basic idea is to put you under as much mental and physical pressure as we can without actually shooting at you to see who can handle it. If you can’t take being hungry and tired and yelled at, then you are unlikely to do well in Fallujah.

If you graduate from OCS (attrition is high), then you go back to Williams. Enjoy your time at college. Spend the money you earned this summer — the pay is decent. Think about what you have learned about yourself and the Marine Corps. And then, after you graduate, decide if you want to be an Officer of Marines. You see, there is no obligation. If, after graduation, you don’t want to be a Marine, then the Marines certainly don’t want you.

So, to whatever extent Daniel Gura ’06 thinks that his priviledge generates responsibility, he can act on it. The Marines are just a phone call away.

I suspect, however, that like most folks who seek to make something mandatory for everyone, Gura lacks the fortitude and consistency to first make it mandatory for himself.


Cheer Yourself

Aidan quotes approvingly from a Record article by Grant Eskelsen ’05.

Shame on you. If you never made it down to Cole Field, never made it to Weston Field, have never watched your classmates in action, then you’re missing out. But you’re not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting the athletes and you’re hurting the college community.

How does the fact that I never went to Cole Field hurt anybody? Eskelsen seems to suffer from the common (jock?) delusion that the rest of us have some sort of affirmative obligation to cheer on our happy warriors on the playing field. There is no obligation.

I — and, presumably, all the others that fail to make the treck to Cole with the regularity that Eskelsen demands — have nothing but good wishes for Eph teams on Cole field and elsewhere. We hope that they play well, do well, enjoy their time on the field and learn from it. We realize that those athletes might like to be cheered on. (I certainly would have liked to have had more than a handfill of close friends cheer me on during squash matches at Williams.) But we hope that they are not so self-centered as to believe that we don’t have other things to do to.

The other problem stems from the attitude of many of these critics. They make no effort to understand that the things the people I admire do on Saturdays are not for themselves. They are for their friends, their school, even those members of the community who don’t support them. The games are the most important and most memorable events of their college careers. To fail to recognize that importance, and to consequently avoid experiencing it, is plain wrong.

“Most important and most memorable”? For all of them? Every member of the women’s field hockey team would describe her games as the central part of her Williams experience? Even those who don’t start? Even those who rarely play?

I doubt it.

As always, I stand second-to-none in my support of athletics at Williams. My coach, Sean Sloan, had as important an influence on me as almost any professor at Williams. I learned as much about life-its-own-self playing squash as I did in any classroom. But most important and most memorable? Hardly.

Of course, your mileage may vary. There are many athletes at Williams who, coming back for their 15th reunion, would agree with Eskelsen. But, I suspect, just as many would disagree. Athletics are important, even as important as the academic and social side of life at Williams. If athletics are ever more important than anything else at Williams for a majority of Williams athletes, then there might just be a problem.

I think that it is great that Ephs play on Cole Field. I think that it is marvelous that Ephs like Eskelsen want to cheer them on. However, I like to think that they should respect my choice to spend my time elsewhere.


Smart Drinking

Aidan has a hilarious advice for underage drinkers.

There is nothing wrong with using your sister’s old ID, or sweet talking your way into the bar with an expired passport that belonged to Omar Abdul Rahman; such exploits can become the stuff of legend. No, what’s wrong is that our fair bars are clogged with underage “drinkers” that aren’t even purchasing alcohol.

Don’t be a liability to the establishment. When I turned 21, my birthday was heralded by some members of my class who had been drinking at the Pub since they were pre-frosh. However, they knew the ropes, were unobtrusive and fundamentally aware of how to behave in bar culture. We should all hope to graduate from Williams with this type of gravitas and practical knowledge.

The whole piece is full of useful tips and should be read in conjunction with the best article in the Record this year.

However, old out of touch alum that I am, could someone please explain what the drinking game “Beruit” is? I think that this is a post-80’s innovation.


Who Won Speech Code Debate?

The Record has a servicable article on Tuesday’s WCDU debate which fails to note who “won.” I thought that the House voted on the resolution at the end of the debate. Am I wrong or did the reporter drop the ball on this one? It also would have been nice to for the article to quote some members of the audience.

My favorite snippet from the article:

To begin his speech, Lukianoff recounted a short autobiography for the audience, but added that, “I find it disgusting that on a modern campus it matters what your background is, as if it would make my argument more just.”

At modern (elite) campuses, your background is everything.

The organizers of the debate deserve great credit for selecting Lukianoff to represent the non-liberal side of the discussion. He was the perfect choice.


Tea with Kent ’88

Alas, I failed to catch this ahead of time, but my classmate and former (political) sparring partner Katie Kent ’88 (now Associate Professor of English Katherine Kent) gave a talk at an English Department Tea earlier this afternoon. I’ll try to get Katie to send us an overview of what she talked about. Certainly, many Ephs in academia — including some of the ephblog bloggers — would benefit from any lessons that Katie learned in guiding her successful book to publication.


Lynch and “Illegal” Settlements

Associate Professor of Political Science Marc Lynch has a new article on “Humiliating Our Friends in the Arab World.” Lynch has made appearences in the blog before. He begins his mostly uninteresting article with:

Two years ago, George Bush stunned and outraged virtually the entire Arab world by warmly describing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a “man of peace” at the height of the brutal Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank. Last week, Bush did it again, endorsing Sharon’s demands to end the right of Palestinian return and legitimizing decades’ worth of illegal West Bank settlements.

Note the use of the word “illegal” here. Note that illegal is not in quotes. Lynch asserts as fact that the settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

Is that really true? Of course, I am no expert in the Middle East, but I thought that the basic story line was that, in 1967, there was a war that the Arabs started and lost. During the course of that war, Jordan lost a portion (or all) of the West Bank that it had previously controlled and claimed. Isreal now controls the West Bank and reserves the right to keep some of it.

Now, for an action to be, in fact, illegal, there must be some common body of law that the participants to the discussion agree is binding. I am unaware of any such body of law, agreed to by most Isrealis, that would apply here.

Moreover, the general rule of thumb is that, when you lose a war, you may very well lose some land and that is tough luck. I never hear anyone describe Santa Fe, New Mexico as constisting of “illegal” US settlements. The same applies to that portion of Germany given to Poland after World War II. So, why are Isreali settlements in the West Bank illegal while those of the US and Poland not, even though all were the result of war?

Oren Cass seems to have an interest in Middle East issues. Perhaps he can clarify things for me. Or perhaps Joe Cruz can explain why “illegal” is used fairly in this context.


Too Many A’s

Although Oren Cass ’05 makes this point in the context of a discussion of tips, I think that it is important independent of that debate.

Stop giving out As. I have little sympathy for a faculty complaining about rushed-through papers when they award those papers good grades. The GPA of a Williams student has been steadily rising. Either the work we’re doing is still OK, or faculty are giving out good grades for bad work. Stop doing that. The worst that will happen is people unserious about working hard will not take your class (which is what Professor Crane wants, isn’t it?).

If the rise of tutorials and the housing lottery are two of the most important changes for the best at Williams over the last 20 years, then surely grade inflation has been one of worst influences. I think that the situation may have actually gotten better, or at least stabilized, in the last few years. Much of the thanks for this goes, I hear, to the unsung work of College Registrar Charles Toomajian, forcing faculty to confront the problem.

But, from Cass’s comment, a lot more should be done. I can understand why an untenured member of the faculty might hesitate to center her grading curve around a B. I have never heard a good justification for senior faculty refusing to do so.


Speech Codes

Today’s must-attend campus event is a debate on speech codes sponsored by the Williams College Debate Union. (I certainly wish that we had had an institution like WCDU back in the day.) Kudos to the Office of the President — which I would guess means Morty — for picking such a timely topic. The all-campus mailing notes that the resolution to be debated is “This House would support Campus Speech Codes” and that

Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy at the
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [FIRE] and Richard Delgado,
professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Words That
Wound, debate alongside Williams students Dan Bahls ’04 and Joanna Korman

There should be no doubt where my sympathies lie on this one. If it is legal to say on the corner of Spring Street, then it must be allowed on the steps of Chapin. The news release goes on to note that:

Delgado is considered the first modern activist to question the ideology of complete free speech. He argues that in the case of hate-based speech, the freedom granted by the First Amendment conflicts with the equality guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. In these instances, colleges and universities have the right to restrict certain types of speech because it is necessary to achieve a balance between the equally important values of freedom and equality.

There are so many things wrong with Delgado’s position that it is hard to know where to start.


Econ Quote Fest

The Boston Globe article on the increasing use of merit-based aid in college admissions is a veritable quote fest of Eph-related professors of economics. The article notes that:

As college becomes less affordable for many Americans, public and private institutions nation-wide are spending more of their money on people like Biehl — high-achieving students, generally from middle- and upper-middle-class families, who help bolster the schools’ reputations and rankings. Though the practice of offering aid to the most impressive students has brought payoffs in the college rankings for some schools, including Northeastern, many researchers say it is hurting students from poorer families.

“More and more schools have been shifting financial resources from poor kids to well-off kids,” said Gordon Winston, a Williams College economist who studies the financing of higher education. “They are moving away from a real sense of mission and egalitarianism to scrambling for high-quality students so they’ll do better in US News.”

Although the increasing importance of merit-based aid has been a recurring theme at ephblog, I had no idea that it had doubled in the last 10 years.

As colleges have become increasingly business-savvy, they view financial aid as much from a strategic “enrollment management” perspective as a charitable one, said Michael S. McPherson, former president of Macalester College, who researches college pricing.

“They think of it the way airlines price seats or Wal-Mart prices products,” he said. “It becomes more like `Let’s Make a Deal’ than the cloistered halls of academe.”

Older Ephs will recall that McPherson was a professor of economics at Williams prior to his move to Macalester. The Williams Economics department of the 1980’s featured two olther professors who went on to college presidencies — Steve Lewis at Carlton and, of course, our own Morty Schapiro.

It seems clear to me that the logic outlined by McPherson (and by several of the papers at the Williams Project of the Economics of Higher Education) is undeniable. Merit-aid will play and larger and larger part of the economics of higher education in the years to come. Since students are as much an input to the process as they are consumers of the result, high quality students will be in greater and greater demand.

Even staunch critics of merit scholarships don’t blame individual schools for using them.

“If I were president of those institutions I might be doing the exact same thing,” said Williams College president Morton Owen Schapiro, an economist. “The individual private interest of many of these campuses is increasingly at odds with what promotes the public good.”

I am not sure that the article is correct to label Morty a “staunch critic” of merit-based scholarships. While it is true that you need to demonstrate “financial need” to get a Tyng, my understanding was that a Tyng gives you a free ride, even if you could afford to pay a little. Also, the fact that a Tyng provides funds for graduate school can hardly be described as anything other than a financial inducement to attend Williams.

To my mind, that is a good thing. Williams is ill-served by pretending that it does not give out merit-based aid. I wonder how long it will be able to keep up the charade. (Or do I have my facts wrong about the Tyng?)


Stolzberg ’92 Resigns from BART

Sad to see that Simeon Stolzberg ’92 has resigned as the principal of the Berkshire Art & Technology charter school, just 5 months before the start of classes.

Stolzberg said the controversy surrounding the school’s creation factored into his decision. “It made me question how much I was enjoying it,” he said.

I hope that Stolzberg takes the time to write about his experience. It would make for great reading for Williams students who want to make a difference in education, or anything else.

North Adams Mayor John Barrett comes off sounding like a total jerk.

“It just bears out what I thought from day one. I never felt any sincerity on his part,” he said. “I always thought this was a group of individuals who wanted to create jobs for their friends — and do it with public money.”

I sometimes think that all you need to know to be in favor of charter schools like BART is that politicians like Barrett are against them.

BART opens in September for 88 students in grades 6 through 9. I wonder if there are any Eph kids among them.


Lest You Think Race Discourse At Williams is Troubling …

It could be a lot worse — just look to our neighbor. An entertaining, bordering on the ridiculous, article about the race-tinged tift between two MCLA professors:,1413,101~7514~2099813,00.html


Rodriguez ’06 on PC

David Rodriguez’s ’06 blog played host to an interesting discussion of issues related to political correctness. As always, WSO — and especially Topher Cyll ’04 —deserves a lot of credit for creating such a powerful system.

However, I would take issue with Rodriguez’s description on the Barnard/VISTA controversy last fall.

Problem is, and I can attest to this, that people on different ends of the spectrum have no idea what their counterparts are talking about. As a specific example, earlier this year coach David Barnard said some unfortunate things about Latinos in a radio address, and VISTA responded swiftly, denouncing any such thought and sending everyone to a frenzy writing this or that: blah blah blah, you were here, you get the point.

Going back to the Coach Barnard example… He argued that there was perhaps a correlation between violence/territorial behavior in baseball and Latinidad. To back up his claims he cited the fact that in the Pedro Martinez et. al. scandal, two of the three that were involved were Latino. Now then, anyone who’s taken intro Stats can undoubtedly tell you that perhaps a larger sample size should be taken to back up the fact that Latinos are indeed “territorial” or what not. In other words, had he gone about this in a more professional way and provided more than one example, perhaps we could have taken him more seriously. As it stands, he made a fairly outrageous claim without justification. Although I honestly didn’t lose any sleep over it, I found it rather inconsiderate and disrespectful.

When people of influence (e.g. Coach Barnard) spew similar types of ignorance making statements as fact, they perpetuate stereotypes that have no place in an intellectual setting without true justification.

Long time readers will know that I had my say about the Barnard/VISTA dispute here, here, here, here, here and here.

It is sad to see Rodriguez repeating many of the same inanities as the VISTA folk last fall. I especially dislike his claim that Barnard was not “professional.” In fact, Barnard was the very picture of professionalism throughout the entire dispute. He made a casual observation (outside of Williams), backed up that observation in writing, and offered to meet in public debate or private discussion with anyone honestly looking to explore the question of the influences of culture on baseball, if any.

It turned out that VISTA, or at least Perez and Smith, were nothing more than shallow, whiny activists with no interest in an honest and open exploration of the topic.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, seems like an intelligent and open-minded Eph. Which aspects of my defense of Barnard, and indictment of Perez and Smith, would he disagree with, I wonder . . .



Mark Orlowski ’04 gets a nice write-up in an Associated Press story about student activism about college endowments. Orlowski is one of the founders of the Responsible Endowments Coalition.

Students and graduates of about two dozen colleges and universities have banded together to help one another and other schools adopt socially responsible investing policies.

“What we found was that many of us were working on the same issues and didn’t know about it,” said Mark Orlowski, a Williams College senior and a founding member of the coalition.

For decades, student activists involved in a wide array of causes have pressured their schools to change their investment policies. In the 1980s, for example, anti-apartheid student activists criticized schools’ investments in South Africa.

But there has been no umbrella organization to unite the student activists and allow them to share information and resources.

Orlowski said schools had not been active in pressuring companies they invested in to change their policies. He knew of only one instance in about the last six years in which a school filed a shareholder resolution to ask a company to change or research a policy.

“While religious communities are filing resolutions every year left and right, the higher education community has been sitting on the sidelines. They’re barely in the stadium,” he said.

As best I can tell, Orlowski’s efforts here have nothing to do with the Williams Social Choice Fund, although perhaps there is some connection. My opinions about the (lack of) desirability of this sort of stuff haven’t changed much in the last 6 months (or 20 years). Keep politics out of the endowment.

A cynic might suggest that the main function of the Responsible Endowments Coalition is to pad the resumes of its founders — not that there is anything wrong with that! Orlowski, at least, has done some interesting work on the ACSR at Williams, especially on increasing the transparency of the College’s portfolio. In fact, the College’s portfolio as of June 2000 is available on-line.


Choose Williams over Harvard

Julia Sendor, an 18 year old high school senior in North Carolina, is deciding between Williams and Harvard.

How’s this for a potential headline: Award-Winning High School Journalist Turns Down Harvard.

Julia Sendor — an East Chapel Hill High School senior who on Monday night won an award named for the late Rick Kaspar, former publisher of The Herald-Sun — said she is considering snubbing the legendary Cambridge, Mass., university to study anthropology at nearby Williams College.

Julia would be better off if she choose Williams instead of Harvard. (I spent 4 years as a tutor — JA for upperclassmen — at Harvard so I know whereof I speak.) Williams would be a better undergraduate experience than Harvard because:

1) She would know the names of her professors at Williams and they would know her name. The typical Harvard undergraduate is known by name to only a few faculty members. Many students graduate unknown to any faculty. The typical professor at Harvard is primarily concerned with making important contributions to her field. The typical professor at Williams is primarily concerned with educating the undergraduates in her classes.

2) She would get feedback on her work from faculty at Williams, not from underpaid and inexperienced graduate students. More than 90% of the written comments (as well as the grades) on undergraduate papers at Harvard are produced by people other than tenured (or tenure track) faculty. The same is true in science labs and math classes.

3) She would have the chance to do many things at Williams. At Harvard it is extremely difficult to do more than one thing in a serious fashion. If you play a sport or write for the paper or sing in an a cappella group at Harvard, it is difficult to do much of anything else. At Williams, it is common — even expected — that students will have a variety of non-academic interests that they pursue passionately. At Harvard, the goal is a well-rounded class. At Williams, the ideal is a class full of well-rounded people.

4) She would have a single room for three years at Williams. The housing situation at Harvard is horrible, at least if she cares about privacy. Almost all sophomores and the majority of juniors do not have a single room for the entire year. Only at Harvard would she learn the joys of a “walk-through single” — a room which is theoretically a single but which another student must walk through to get to her room.

5) She would have the opportunity to be a Junior Advisor at Williams.

6) The President of Williams, Morty Schapiro, cares about her education specifically, not just about the education of Williams undergraduates in general. The President of Harvard, Larry Summers, has bigger fish to fry. Don’t believe me? Just e-mail both of them. Tell them about your situation and concerns. See who responds and see what they say.

Of course, there are costs to turning down Harvard. Your friends and family won’t be nearly as impressed. Your Aunt Tillie will always think that you actually go to “Williams and Mary.” You’ll be far away from a city for four years. But, all in all, a majority of the students who choose Harvard over Williams would have been better off if they had chosen otherwise.

Choose wisely.


Alums Know How to Party

Robert Scott ’68 had a big bash in his honor last night. Alas, I was not invited. Scott is certainly one of the most successful Ephs in finance and a generous contributor to Williams. (Steve Fix is the Robert G. Scott ’68 Professor of English.)

During his 34-year career at Morgan Stanley, Scott has held virtually every major post in the company, including head of investment banking, director of corporate finance, and chief financial officer, before becoming president and chief operating officer. Most significantly, he was part of the senior management team that structured the 1997 merger with Dean Witter Discover, as well as head of the Morgan Stanley transition team for the merger. He was named CFO of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter at the time of the merger and became president in 2001.

I think that Scott may have served as a trustee at some point, but can’t find any listing of previous College trustees to check against.


Smith ’55 on Athletic Recruiting

Phil Smith ’55 is quoted in an editorial on athletic recruitment.

In a perfect world, all students would be admitted according to the same standard. But in the real world, universities across America give athletes a break. A 2001 book, “The Game of Life,” documented this double standard even at Ivy League and other selective schools: “Athletic recruiting is the biggest form of affirmative action in American higher education, even at schools such as ours,” says Philip Smith, retired dean of admissions at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., in the book.

The more that I find out about this topic, the less true that I think Smith’s claim is. As Dave Barnard documents pretty convincingly, the size of the preference given to (potential) varsity athletes just isn’t that large, especially outside of some specific sports (football and hockey being two of the most important).


Room Draw

The room draw process is in full swing. I still maintain that the housing lottery is the most important change to student life at Williams in the last 20 years and that, overwhelmingly, that change has been for the better. A side benefit is the quotes that the process generates:

“You can dress Mission up however you like, paint it pretty colors and such, but the rooms are still tiny and stifling – not to mention bizarrely shaped – and the entire complex still has the overall effect of a futuristic prison as imagined in 1970,” said Scott Moskowitz ’05. Bryan Norton ’07 felt equally strongly about Greylock:”Greylock is far. Greylock is noisy. Greylock is ugly. No thank you. Only if Jesus himself were picking into Greylock would I consider picking in there,” he said.

See also Sarah Croft’s ’04 blog entry which takes a less sanguine view of the process.

T’was the night before the senior housing draw, as the underclassmen discuss their ideal spot, deep in the housing office, they are hatching a plot; to alter everyone’s plans at the very last minute, inevitably screwing up plans for housing draw and everyone involved in it.

Another side benefit is that the randomization process itself might facilitate all sorts of interesting senior theses. See the “peer effects” literature produced by Professors Zimmerman, Winston, et al for an introduction.


Tolley ’88 on Legal Issues

Since today is Law Day here at ephblog, it would be wise to consider what George Tolley ’88 has to say on the topic on Oren Cass’s ’05 citation — “we know from Williams’ Supreme Court brief that only one in three would be admitted without taking race into account” — of a recent Supreme Court brief that Williams was a party to.

The amicus brief is here.

Having read through the brief quickly, I think that it is a stretch to call it “Williams’ Supreme Court brief” — although Williams signed onto the brief with 27 other “private, highly selective residential colleges,” there was [to my reading] absolutely nothing specific about Williams College in the body of the brief (particularly when compared with Amherst, about which we learn quite a bit).

In any event, it is even more of a stretch to say that we “know” anything from this brief about what would happen to the racial makeup of the student body at Williams College if race were not taken into account.

Cass is undoubtedly referring to this language in the brief:

“Moreover, research and experience suggests that for small, highly selective, largely private colleges like amici, carving out race from all the other kinds of diversity that colleges consciously aim for will have a predictable, substantial resegregating effect, probably moving black students from roughly 5-7% of the student body to 2% or so.” (Amicus Brief, at 3).

Would “only one in three” minority students at Williams College be granted admission if race were not taken into account? I don’t know, and neither does Cass, if this brief is his only source of information. Let’s look critically at what the lawyers wrote in the brief — keeping in mind that this was written for consumption by Supreme Court Justices and their law clerks, and that as lawyers, the authors are highly trained at using the English language to make their point.

First, we learn that, based upon “research” (not clearly cited in the brief) and “experience” (completely undefined), the lawyers have drawn some conclusions.

Are these conclusions accurate? Do they properly reflect the research data upon which they are based? Do the conclusions comport with the learned experience of admissions officers at these highly selective private institutions? Who knows? The basis for the conclusions that these lawyers have drawn is entirely hidden from our scrutiny.

The lawyers’ conclusion is that eliminating race from the admissions equation will have an effect at unidentified “small, highly selective, largely private colleges like amici.”

But what schools are sufficiently “like” Williams College so as to allow an accurate analogy? UC Berkeley and UCLA!! I’m not kidding — if the “research” is what is cited at footnote 20 on page 11 of the brief (and it appears to be), then UC Berkeley and UCLA are the selective California schools whose experience apparently forms the sole research basis for these conclusions (I checked the UCLA Law Review article on Westlaw).

At last count, UC Berkeley had 21,137 undergraduate students, about 40 times the size of Williams (I googled their website; I didn’t bother to check UCLA). Is that “small” enough to justify the lawyers’ logical leap of faith? I can’t be sure. But it raises some doubt as to how accurate the analogy can be from UC Berkeley’s experience to Williams College.

At last, the nut of the argument: what effect would eliminating race actually have on enrollment? Well, we are not told the “actual” effect, but only what “probably” would happen — that eliminating race from consideration “probably” would reduce the percentage of black students from 5-7% to 2% or so (“or so” translating roughly to “another, different percentage that is no less than 2% but, perhaps, somewhat greater”).

Does this persuade you that “only one in three [black Williams students] would be admitted without taking race into account”? Me, neither.

Cass ’05 is not a lawyer — he’s a college student. Should Cass be expected to have vetted the brief’s argument as strenuously as I just did? Probably not (although but for the Westlaw research, everything I did was on Google).

However, Cass didn’t just parrot the argument; he translated it: “we know from Williams’ Supreme Court brief that only one in three would be admitted without taking race into account” (emphasis added). In doing so, he ignored the red flags in the argument — such as “like” and “probably” — and spun the argument to make a point that he wanted to make, but that was not completely supported by the language of the brief itself.

He was not “at his best,” as some might say.

Special thanks to George for taking the time and trouble to provide this analysis. I shudder to think what this would have cost ephblog should George have charged us his usual rate!

Thanks also to Preston Brooks for also providing a link to the brief.


Amicus Brief

The amicus brief filed by Williams College and 26 other private, highly-selective, residential colleges supporting the respondents in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger can be read here.


The Elephant in the Room

Oren Cass ’05 is always at his best when the topic turns to race at Williams. His thoughts on the issues of preferential admissions for athletes and others are worth a read.

Of course, the major comparison that no one wants to talk about is between Affirmative Action and athletic tips. It is fairly remarkable that the College feels comfortable launching the sort of inquisition that it has into the “value” of athletes, while aggressively guarding its minority student data.

For instance, consider this line from the report:

Educationally, the costs are distributed unevenly. They are concentrated in Division 2, and specifically in several large departments. It is, we suggest, unfair to expect students and faculty in a handful of departments to bear disproportionately the costs of our athletic programs in the form of less demanding and less interesting courses than would be mounted otherwise.

[T]hese departments are “bearing the burden” of our athletes? Would we say that departments with disproportionately high concentrations of African-American students are “bearing a burden” (we know from Williams’ Supreme Court brief that only one in three would be admitted without taking race into account). Would we say “it inevitably generates externalities for the rest of the College in the form of weaker students” about our Affirmative Action program? Of course not! Black students from the Upper West Side are diverse. Just look at a photograph. Students who actually differ in any significant way from the rest of the student body? A burden. It’s that simple.

The very fact that the College conducted a survey of student opinions about athletes is noteworthy. Where’s my survey where I can comment on the effects of students admitted because their parents went here, or because their skin is darker than mine? Do we not want to publish those percentages? The College would be absolutely ripped apart if it even asked some of those question.

It would be interesting to read the Supreme Court brief that Cass mentions, but I haven’t been able to find it on-line. The other factor that connects athletic and minority admissions — but not legacy preferences — is the roll on effect that schools like Harvard have. Many of the students in these categories that “should” go to Williams (i.e., that have the academic credentials similar to Williams students but perhaps a notch below Harvard admits) are accepted by Big Three schools. Of course, Williams does the same to schools lower down in the academic pecking order.


Emily Eustis ’00 Weds

Emily Eustis ’00 married Mark Liggitt on Sunday. The new Mrs. Liggitt is the daughter of James Eustis ’67, I think.

Mrs. Liggitt, 26, is a bond sales associate at Lehman Brothers, the New York investment bank. She graduated cum laude from Williams College. Her father is a partner in Hawkins Delafield & Wood, a New York law firm. Her mother, who works in Bronxville, is a managing director at Management and Capital Partners, an executive search firm.

You can see more about the happy couple here. Congratulations all around.


A Little Bit Better than the Rest of US

The Eagle has more on the Berkshire Arts & Technology charter school, founded by Simeon Stolzberg ’92 and Charley Stevenson ’93.

Stolzberg and Stevenson — who enlisted a matrix of high-tech businessmen, many of whom attended Williams in the early 1990s and stayed on in the area — believe that technology is the future of North County, and that a specialized education program such as they propose is key to transforming the region’s economy.

The article is filled with fun stuff about the conflict between liberals and conservatives over charter schools. (Don’t worry, though, everyone associated with BART is “liberal.”) There are also great details about all the Eph connections. Alas, not everyone is a fan of BART.

That vision is not shared by all. Mayor Barrett says the school’s founders took advantage of revitalization efforts, like the Massa-chusetts Museum of Contempo-rary Art, after all the hard work and investment were in place.

“We’ve done more for them than they’ve done for us,” he said.

He is particularly angered by the group’s criticism of the region’s existing public schools.

“They think they’re just a little bit better than the rest of us,” he said.

A little bit better than the rest of us? Barrett may be a perfect charicature of a hack Massachusetts politician, but he knows how to frame a debate to his own advantage.


Time 100

Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights activist who will receive an honorary degree from Williams in June, has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Years before reformers like President Mohammed Khatami started talking about political freedom, Ebadi, 56, was demanding fundamental rights from an Islamic regime that systematically violated them. Her Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 gave Ebadi even greater moral authority inside Iran, injecting fresh hope into a pro-democracy movement that has suffered escalating repression at the hands of the mullahs. She refuses to be pessimistic. “When you are hopeless,” she says, “you are at a dead end.”

The Univ. of Pennslvania’s commencement speaker, Bono, also made the list.


The Best of EphBlog!

At David Kane’s request, I’ve added a section to my quotes page for EphBlog quotes, so we can save our gems. Maybe a PermaLink on the side would be appropriate… Anyway, email me the gems that you want on the page, and I’ll update it every 2 weeks or so.


Exaggeration of Campus Crimes

Daniel Drezner ’90 had an interesting entry on his blog earlier this week, commenting on an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune by Anne Henderschott that discussed the rising tide of hate-crime and sexual assault hoaxes on college campuses.

The truly troubling thing about this is that despite the legal reality of innocence until guilt is proven, accusations of these sorts can often ruin the reputation of the accused. If these accusations turn out to be a fabrication there NEEDS to be a very serious punishment, to deter these sorts of libelous accusations that often have no negative consequence to the frequently anonymous accuser.

Williams hasn’t been immune from these problems, despite its bucolic locale.

– The entirely fabricated incident in October 2001 later turned out to be a vindictive revenge ploy by a jilted female student, who actually went through the trouble of stabbing herself in the thigh to lend creedence to her lie. While it’s clear that she had psychological issues that were part of the problem, her false statements were only treated as a psychological issue, with no regard to the harm that her spurious accusations caused both to the community at large and to the reputation of her ex-boyfriend.

– And in terms of political hoaxes and hate crimes, we have the time when students from the BSU placed racist flyers around campus (in response to black history month, or a specific event… I’m not really sure, as it was before my time) and attributing the statements to the Williams Free Press. Naturally, this fit in with many on campus’ conception of something conservatives would do, so the Free Press didn’t have many believers when they asserted that they had nothing to do with it. Of course, when the truth was revealed, I’ve heard that the perpetrators received at most a slap on the wrist… but since I wasn’t there, somebody should please correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, I just wanted to raise the issue, since I recall a few similar incidents at Williams and Drezner brought it up… any ideas on how to fix the situation?


Sheppard on MGRHS

Professor Steve Sheppard was kind enough to send in a very detailed description of some of the changes that have occured recently at Mt. Greylock Regional High School in response to some of my sceptical comments. I am still somewhat sceptical, though less so than before, but I think that Sheppard deserves great credit for taking the time to educate those of us far away from Williamstown about some of the facts on the ground.

Since I came in 2000:

1. There has been an increase in average class sizes – while this has not been enormous, the high school did have to lay off some teachers last year despite the generous gift from the College and other contributions, and the class sizes have moved up by a student or two, and advisory classes for grades 7 and 8 were eliminated.

2. The AP Biology course has been eliminated – this is a big concern for anyone interested in high quality science education in the school. As you probably know, many College admission departments consider the number of AP courses taken by an applicant as an important factor in admission. While there is some controversy about this, at the very least we can say that the availability of advanced instruction in biology is no longer available to our children.

But even worse than this …

3. All labs have been eliminated from all science courses at Mt. Greylock. I don’t mean some. I mean ALL. This is terrible and puts our students at a real disadvantage if they want to prepare for science education at a high quality College or University. Ordinarily, this would compel the end of AP Chemistry and AP Physics as well as biology, but the Williams College Chemistry and Physics departments, alarmed at this prospect, have arranged to send a van over to the high school every other week or so to pick up the students from AP Physics and AP Chemistry and bring them to the College where they can get a bit of lab experience. This is better than nothing, but hardly compares to two or three times per week in-school labs (which is what I remember when I took high-school chemistry).

From the National Center for Education Statistics, one can download financial statistics on most public school systems in the United States. The local high school is a separate district that serves only grades 7 through 12. I collected information on all the school districts that serve only grades 7 through 12 or 9 through 12, and are located within 100 miles of Williamstown as a comparison group. There are 47 such school districts, including Williamstown’s Mt. Greylock. Of these schools, 31 (63%) had higher expenditures per student than Mt. Greylock. We have a system that is inadequately funded.

If this were a school district in a large city, many of us would simply move out. Even here, we could move to Lenox, which in general has better schools. Such a scattering, however, would be not only bad for us but bad for the College, which works better when faculty live in the community and are available for attending evening lectures, meeting with students for evening study groups, etc.

I can understand the skepticism expressed in your blog about asking the College to underwrite the local schools. I think much of the problem is ultimately due to the failure of the State government to live up to its promises in funding local schools, coupled with the absence of local industry and development that would provide a more robust tax base. Some of this latter problem is perhaps ultimately traceable to the College and its faculty, which crowds out (or opposes) local development that would pay property tax.

One way or the other, however, the College will likely have to be part of the solution to our local problem. If nothing is done and the schools continue to decline, faculty will increasingly refuse to live in Williamstown or increasingly send their children to private schools. Both of these will impose a cost on the College – the first in the form of reduced faculty presence and availability on campus, the second in that the College will have to pay a salary premium to faculty that compensate for the cost of private schools.


Stolzberg ’92 Charter School

Simeon Stolzberg ’92 is the founder and principal of the Berkshire Arts & Techology School, a new charter school in Pittsfield. Today’s Transcript features an off-beat Q&A with Stolzberg. He notes that:

Free thinking is a dangerous thing if you get enough people questioning. When I was a teacher, I did a project on revolutions and I had the students writing revolution manifestos. Before I knew it, I had parents in the principal’s office wanting to know what was going on! They had to identify a problem in the city and it was everything from street violence to pot holes and things like that. But then they had to ask questions like ‘What is it going to take to change this?’ and ‘Is violence required to make these kind of changes?’ Look at the history of our country, it’s based on a violent revolution. And there was so much violence in their lives, I wanted to reflect on ‘Was that really necessary?’ When people start asking those questions out loud, I think it scares the heck out of politicians and leaders. How else do you explain the status quo of school systems that haven’t changed in 100 years?

ephblog is hardly the place to debate the pros and cons of charter schools, although it is always nice to see alumni passionately involved in their work. BART has other Williams connections; Charlie Toomajian and Charley Stevenson ’93 are both on the board.

BART also complicates the on-going budget crisis at Mt. Greylock Regional High School since the funding for any student who switches to BART goes with that student. I’ll be curious to see if any Williams faculty members send their children to BART.


It’s All About Who Gets In

If you want to be informed about the topic of tips at Williams, then you need to read “It’s All About Who Gets In” by baseball coach Dave Barnard. We’ve blogged about this in the past, but Oren Cass provided a handy reminder, albeit in a non open source format!

Barnard argues that strong athletes actually get less of a boost at Williams, at least in the last few years, than at almost any other peer school. He concludes with

Proponents of the “more representative” admissions approach for student-athletes contend that less competitive teams are a small price to pay for a 50 point increase in the average SAT scores of 100 Williams College freshmen. I would conclude just the opposite – that half of an admissions reader point decrease for one-sixth of the student body is virtually meaningless compared to a Williams victory over Amherst.

I still disagree, but not nearly as strongly as I did a year ago.


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