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Tips Data

I have been looking for more data on the tips debate. Director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt ’74 was kind enough to both reply to my e-mails on the topic and to allow me to reprint his comments here.

In response to your query about athletic tips, her are some things to keep in mind:

We have significantly reduced the number of tips from 75-80 in the late 80’s and 90’s to 66, beginning with the class of 2004.

Football has been most significantly cut back from a yearly average of 19-20 matriculated tips (in the 80’s and 90’s) to 14. This is the lowest of any NESCAC school, and compares with 25 per year at Ivy League schools.

While we have been reducing the number of tips, we have also reduced the number of “low band” tips by 50% over the number enrolling just five years ago.

While we do not normally give out SAT averages for any specific group, figure on about a 100 point differential [combined] for the 66 tips. That would make the average for the tips about 20 points higher than the average for the entire class of ’88 ;)


1) Many thanks to Nesbitt for taking the time to reply and giving me permission to publish his comments here. Virtually everyone at the College that I ask questions of — from Morty on down — is helpful and forthcoming. Many lesser colleges are not run but such open and honest folks. [Toady! — ed. I call them like I see them.]

2) I have been extremely anti-tip and pro-athletics throughout this discussion. I am much less anti-tip than I once was. I had, mistakenly, thought that tips were significantly different from the rest of the student population in their academic competence. But a 100 point difference on combined SAT scores just isn’t that important.

3) Moreover, all the changes that the College has made in the last few years — especially the decrease in low band tips — are ones that I agree with. To me at least, the College’s current admissions policy seems perfectly reasonable. I could even be pursuaded to be in favor of the changes advocated by Dave Barnard.

4) Nesbitt is, as his punctuation makes clear, somewhat joking in his reference to average SAT scores for the class of 1988. Since the SAT was rescaled a few years ago, you can’t compare scores from before and after easily. Back in the 1980’s, the recurring joke for senior classes was that, since Williams admissions were more competitive each year, the senior class was always the dumbest on campus. It would be really interesting to see some good time series data on this trendline. For example, has the difference between the median SAT at Williams and at places like Harvard/Yale/Princeton really been decreasing over the last 20 years? I don’t know.

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#1 Comment By Sam Crane On May 5, 2004 @ 9:01 am

So, I run into a new faculty member at the coffee shop yesterday. This is her first spring teaching here. I ask her how it is going. She says she is surprised how, in one of her classes, a significant portion of the class – a portion that is disproportionally made up of athletes – is so willing to shirk their academic work. She is new here and had believed all the stuff about how extraordinary Williams students are and, in that context, she is simply shocked at how mediocre a certain number are. Later in the day I run into a colleague, who has been here five or six years, and knows the ropes well. She says her classes are going well. In one, virtually all students are in the game, doing the reading, thinking things through. In another, there is a knot of students – again, athletes (how does she know? Their attendance is the worst because they bug out for practices and games), who are slacking. Her answer: ignore them! If they are unwilling to take class seriously, she will not take them seriously and just give out the Cs and Ds at the end of a semester. Not much different than community college.

I hear these kinds of stories often. I have experienced it myself. Are the slackers tips? Who knows. But let’s, at least, back off the inflated rhetoric about how great we are and how exceptional Williams is. It is not. It is just like every other college, where underacheivers weigh down the intellectual seriousness of certain classes.

#2 Comment By Eric Smith ’99 On May 5, 2004 @ 9:43 am

“how does she know? Their attendance is the worst because they bug out for practices and games”

Do they all stand up in unison and announce “uuhh, I like have a game or something”?

I would think that she would be better served by saying that she knows that they are athletes due to their thick necks and propensity to wear team hats and warm up pants than by judging their extra curricular activities based on when they leave class.

#3 Comment By (d)avid On May 5, 2004 @ 10:14 am

Come on, Eric. Conscientious athletes let the professor know why they are missing class. Good teammates will also tell the professor why their less conscientious colleagues are missing class. Thus, it hardly seems a great mystery as to why an athlete missed class. (Now, why I missed class was always a bit of a mystery. In fact, Gary Jacobsohn had to put a general call out for my attendance once. Kind of embarassing having half of the people you see over the weekend saying, “Dave, you better start showing up for class. Jacobsohn seems pissed.” )

And David, the time series you are looking for is readily available. The US News and World Report college addition provides information on SAT score (and they used to report median). I don’t know exactly when US News started ranking colleges, but you should have the SAT scores back to then. If I had an RA, I would put them on it.

#4 Comment By Eric Smith ’99 On May 5, 2004 @ 11:40 am

Hey now, I’m all for anonymity and the right to express opinions – but if you are going to be rude to the people of the site, at least do it out in the open.

I really don’t want to have to start deleting things. That’s like work or something.

#5 Comment By George H. W. Bush On May 5, 2004 @ 12:00 pm


I’d like to cordially extend an invitation for you to come and teach at my alma mater, Yale. I know some fine Williams professors who have moved to greener pastures, including our nation’s poet laureate (my boy has great taste) Louise Gluck. At Yale, Sam, you would be surrounded by the future leaders of America, and only a small portion of your students would be athletes, affluent, pretentious, not particularly bright, or legacies. At Yale, you could serve as a shining light for the next generation, just like Harold Bloom, and you wouldn’t have to deal with “community college” shenanigans like giving “C’s.” Everyone knows nobody at Yale ever deserves a “C!”

sincerely yours,


#6 Comment By David Kane On May 5, 2004 @ 1:28 pm

I deleted two comments that were both anonymous and excessively rude. Rudeness, within reason, is fine. Anonymity is fine. But the combination of the two is not what ephblog is all about.

#7 Comment By Joe Cruz ’91 On May 5, 2004 @ 2:52 pm

I can corroborate that Professor Crane’s comments, above, are an absolute commonplace in the sense that many faculty express to me surprise and disappointment about how the intellectual discussion and atmosphere of their classes is compromised by apathetic students. Not strangely, I do not experience this at all. I expect that the students who take philosophy classes are a self-selecting lot, and my courses are almost invariably vigorous and exciting (to me, anyway) semester-long debates. It is true that I see much more variation in enthusiasm for philosophical conversation at the intro level, but even there I am often impressed by the intellectual vigor of my students.

It appears to me that the faculty divide into two groups, namely the ones who regularly teach apathetic students and ones who don’t. This, in turns, leads to a difficult division between faculty perceptions, morale, and fondness for the institution. I think, “don’t change a thing.” My friends in Psychology, Political Science, and History (to name a few) think, “the sky is falling.” What to do?

I also think that it is useful to be frank about the students we’re talking about here. Are apathetic students and athletes co-extensive? In one sense, I have Cartesian certainty that the answer is “no.” As I think back as honestly and as carefully as I can over my last four years teaching here, I’m hard pressed to sustain the alleged covariation. Anecdote: Last Spring I taught PHIL 101. Among the best 5 students, one woman on the crew team, one woman on the equestrian team, one woman on the soccer team, and two men who are not athletes. (Footnote: How do I know these things about them? They tell me at lunch or when they are at my house for dinner, or I see them at their games/meets, or I can tell from the equipment they bring to class.) It is not the case that the best students I have ever taught at Williams were not athletes (I’m thinking of someone on the cycling team).

So, it seems to me that the general equation between apathy and athletics at Williams is completely mad. My view is that people have a different equation in mind when they lament apathy among athletes. The complaints I hear about (and have myself) are about football and hockey players, and skiers. Let me be careful here. There are exceptions to this claim; I am not naming a law of nature. Moreover, there have been football players among the better students I have taught, and some of the smartest, nicest guys I knew in college were hockey players.

Are athletes from the above sports disproportionately represented among the worst students I have taught, though? Yep. Would I worry if I found out that there were four or five students from the above sports in my classes? Uh huh. (And I’d also feel badly about worrying, as I would be concerned that I am failing my students by having preconceptions about them. That’s part of the reason all of my grading is anonymous.) Do I think that those teams have a culture of denigrating people who are really into ideas and books, of elevating a “just get by” attitude, and of treating classes as something to endure? You bet. Again, what to do?

#8 Comment By (d)avid On May 5, 2004 @ 4:17 pm

A couple quick comments:

1) It sounds like the number and extremity of the tips has diminished since I went to Williams. I take this to be a good thing.

2) In one of the earlier discussions of tips on Ephblog, it seemed that the concensus reached was that the low band acceptees (rated 7’s by the admissions committee) were the problem. Athlete’s may average 100 points lower on the SAT, but at least 20 of those 66 tips have SAT scores in the 1150-1250 range. The defensive lineman who is a great chemist isn’t the issue. It is the cornerback who will talk about the “B- barrier” that troubles the faculty. Why should athletics receive privileges that the symphony, radio station, or theater does not? There may be a low overall correlation between academic apathy and athletic participation, but I would wager that the correlation is extremely high among “low band” tips.

3) I can tell you that Yale is not immune to the problem of less qualified athletes. While I won’t name names or sports, there are several students who are used to receiving C’s for courses. When your final essay is devoted to the US nuclear bombing of Pearl Harbor and its implications on international law, something tells me that you’re struggling in other classes (earlier in the semester, the same student could not understand how it is possible to have different theories presented in the same course).

#9 Comment By Jeff Zeeman On May 5, 2004 @ 5:15 pm

First, as a non-athlete who was at times unmotivated in many of my classes, I can assure professors Crane et. al. that the problem, while correlated with athletics, is certainly not limited to the athletic arena (nor any other identifiable subset). I think, rather, that the problem of lack of intellectual engagement of certain students stems largely from two problems:

(1) certain faculty / classes just aren’t that inspiring. I am surprised no one has mentioned this yet. But just as professors are shocked that students as respected as Williams students can sometime perform below expectations, I was very surprised at times at the classroom performance of certain Williams faculty, given Williams’ reputation as a bastion of great teaching. I had lots of incredible teachers at Williams, but in more than a handful of cases, classes were just painful to sit through. In one history class (and I think to be fair this may have been a visiting appointment) the professor put on a video series that we watched for nearly half of every class — doesn’t exactly inspire me to be engaged, now does it?? This is an extreme example, but I definitely recall some classes taught by full profs that were just absolutely awful through no fault of the students involved.

I am of course not going to name names, and I want to stress that the awful classes were a decided minority. But speaking for myself, I was far more likely to regularly attend, do the reading, and put extra effort into papers and participation when I found a class to be stimulating (of course). Unfortunately, even at Williams, some professors are just not outstanding teachers, and I imagine some of the unnamed colleagues who like to complaint about student motivation might fall into this category. Professors with a reputation for being rigorous, provocative, and engaging tend to attract the most ambitious and motivated students. Professors (and believe me there were more than a handful) who are known for teaching classes where you can get by with minimal effort or participation or by espousing the political party line will attract students who are less motivated. Attracting students to classes is a market, and there are two ways to do it: by being known as being an easy grader who gives out minimal work, or by being known as an awesome, stimulating, intellectually challenging, passionate teacher. Water will find it’s own level, and so will the top students.

(2) Generational. I refer you to David Brooks excellent essay from a few years ago, the organization kid. An overgeneralization to be sure, but interesting nonetheless: while most professors at Williams came of age in an era of intellectual and political ferment, the current generation is far more focused on packing as many different resume enhancing activities into their high school years as possible to get into a place like Williams and, once at college, that attitude continues to some extent. Many students are more focused on securing credentials and getting top grades and having 18 leadership positions on their resume than truly living a monk-like scholarly life. I think this problem is certainly not isolated to Williams, but rather to all the “elite” institutions that Williams competes with, and much more difficult to combat than placing the blame on the 20 or so true reaches admitted by the athletic department each year.

I’m not saying that there aren’t football or hockey players at Williams who, unfortunately, frown on academics being the top priority, but I guarantee that you will find the same group of students at Amherst, Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Bates, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton etc. — even schools that have relatively bad sports teams, in order to be at all credibly competitive, have to recruit heavily and make exceptions, especially for football. The problem to me was the volume of tips and how far down in the academic pecking order Williams was reaching, both of which seem to have been, largely, remedied already.

I think also that emphasizing tutorials as Shapiro seems to be doing will help. You can’t hide in a tutorial, so if they constitute a greater portion of the curriculum and that is heavily advertised, it will hopefully scare away the less serious among the Williams applicant pool. And for those students on the fence as I often was, a tutortial can force you to perform up to your potential rather than take the easy road and sit on the sidelines and take your b plus and run.

#10 Comment By Aidan On May 5, 2004 @ 5:25 pm

having been in a number of classes with “torsos”–otherwise well intentioned kids that couldn’t contribute in class because of their sad lack of lips or vocal cords–I can assure you that there are many smart kids (I assume the torsos are smart) that just don’t contribute, except on papers, and can essentially wreck a discussion class. There are a number of factors that can make a DI/II class a miserable experience, and I don’t really think athletics play a disproportionate role. However, I emphatically agree with Zeeman that there are too many terrible profs at Williams, profs that mail it in, just don’t care, fail to manage discussions, et cetera. For some reason, many of them are concentrated in our problem departments–psych and econ, especially.

I can’t speak for Crane, as I’ve never had him…but some of his colleagues might want to spend less time bitching about athletes and more time preparing for class.

#11 Comment By (d)avid On May 5, 2004 @ 6:43 pm

The last two comments have inspired me. Let’s combine a couple David Kane’s favorite threads with the current one:

1) Morty should stop the low-band admits: after all, a 1200 SAT isn’t what it was before 1988 when ETS re-calibrated the exam (methinks David might be a tad jealous of all those 1600s now or at least feels they didn’t earn it);

2) Morty should dump professor who are good researchers, because they will probably leave anyway. Better to be the jilter than the jiltee.

3) Morty should also dump bad teachers. Tenure be damned, the point of a liberal arts college is to teach, so professors should at least be good at it (In fairness, I have never heard David Kane utter anything but praise for the the instruction at Williams — this comes from this thread).

4) Now that we have all those tenured and tenure track jobs open, Williams should hire alums who will never leave the institution because they love the Purple Valley so much. Furthermore, we’ll make sure all those alums are great teachers and on top of their field enough to fill student’s heads with up to date information.

5) We’ll make sure there is an ideological balance among the alums hired as faculty. While the current faculty skews left, Morty can create a faculty that resembles the 50-50 split of our nation.

6) These alums can sit around and learn R and eschew canned stats programs like Stata (well, this comes from private correspondence, but I’m sure David would go for it. He’s got a point, but I don’t have the time right now to learn a new piece of software).

Hell, maybe I could take advantage of the faculty vacuum and get hired. I haven’t been beaten at basketball by Alan White in years. Does participating in this blog provide enough neo-con credentials to be hired under the affirmative action policy for conservative alums?

#12 Comment By Sam Crane On May 5, 2004 @ 7:53 pm

Thanks to Joe for restoring a more constructive tone to the discussion here (something my own rant did not achieve). Jeff’s points are well taken. Bad teaching is a problem that should be discussed more openly. I have seen people denied tenure because their SCES scores were low (students perhaps do not realize how much influence they have, via SCES scores, in the tenure process), but I have also seen others sink into an embarrassing morass of bad teaching. It is obvious (most telling by dismally low enrollments) and difficult to address after tenure. I would push back, however, and ask: what makes for good teaching? I worry that performance skills may loom too large in the current definition. It may be that some of the “boring” or “uninspiring” teachers are actually imparting quite important lessons. But even with that caveat, bad teaching is still an issue. And faculty need to have a more wide ranging discussion of what makes for good teaching. Jeff’s generational point, while again well taken, is more problematic, to my mind. If the world has become more instrumentalist and materialist in recent decades, should we simply accept that and define “education” as that which allows for “success,” or should we resist and hold out for a definition of “education” that values the contemplative, the obscure, the deep, even the useless. After all Confucius said: “A gentleman is not a pot.” (the well educated person does not live by instrumentalist values).

Here’s a deal: we do away with all athletic tips, which serve no use except to increase the number of athletic victories (all other athletic virtues – which I recognize – would obtain without tips), and we also make an unambiguous commitment to hold teaching as the highest value in evaluating faculty (currently we equivocate by saying teaching and research are of equal importance).

#13 Comment By David Kane On May 6, 2004 @ 5:29 am

Sam: I accept the deal! I’ll inform Morty of our decision later today!

PS. The great thing about (d)avid’s “parody” above is that, accept for the firing part, I agree with most of it.


#14 Comment By Mike On May 6, 2004 @ 9:32 am

(d)avid – when did EphBlog become a neocon project? This raises important questions: Should we eliminate the website in order to plot in secret? Do we need to recruit more Jews (I don’t think there’s one other conservative person at my temple, but I can try to recruit elsewhere)? Has anyone warned Prof. Wood?

#15 Comment By (d)avid On May 6, 2004 @ 11:14 am

Maybe I misspoke. I was paraphrasing an earlier comment on a different thread. I doubt the American Enterprise Institute is directly funding Ephblog (though Eric could verify that). And the term “project” would seem to imply far more organization and direction than Ephblog would seem to exhibit (Can we discuss Israeli Settlements? Will David continue posting Christmas cards from alums?).

As for plotting in secret, is that what neocons do? When Wolfowitz and Kristol were working at think tanks, it seemed they published quite a few of their thoughts. It seems they even came up with a cool moniker, “neo-conservative.” Odd behavior for a secret cabal (though secret societies at Yale are fairly public — maybe cabals aren’t what they used to be). Ephblog is fairly secret when compared to the Weekly Standard.

Ephblog is a gathering place for anyone interested in Williams. We’ve had comments from: alums, students, professors, townspeople, high school students, students at other colleges and some random issue experts. However, if one were to take a survey of the political attitudes of regular Ephblog contributors, I suspect that it would skew right. No conspiracy, just a non-random sample.

#16 Comment By Eric Smith ’99 On May 6, 2004 @ 12:54 pm

“I doubt the American Enterprise Institute is directly funding Ephblog (though Eric could verify that)”

EphBlog is run by contributions from visitors (see the donation button on the right) and from my own wallet. It helps that I happen to already lease a fast server with a lot of bandwidth anyway, so it is not a huge deal to add another site to it (EphBlog is fairly static and doesn’t get a ton of hits, that said I also don’t have ads on here).

I wish I had some cool story about how we were funded by illicit sale of methamphetamines to housewives in the midwest, but that would be a downright lie.